Potemkin Village: Is This Your Company?

Does your company just "put on a show" or are they "for real?"

Potemkin Village: An impressive facade or show designed to hide an undesirable fact or condition

Does your CEO talk a good game, and then fail to practice what was preached? Do you feel that your work environment is just a “show” for your co-workers and your customers? Are your peers disgruntled with the lack of transparency on the part of your leadership team? If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, maybe your company is just another Potemkin Village.

Grigory Potemkin, a special lover of Empress Catherine II, was a governor that led the Russian army in the Russo-Turkish War from 1787-1792. After Russia took over southern Ukraine and Crimea from the Ottoman Empire, Potemkin’s mission was to rebuild the territory, and bring in settlers to an area that had been previously devastated by the Russian army.

Disputed legend has it that Potemkin, in order to gain special attention from Empress Catherine II during her six-month trip to New Russia, constructed fake “mobile villages” along the Dnieper River. When she and her court came to a particular location along the river, Potemkin would populate the structures with his men dressed as settlers. When her entourage passed, the “village” would be disassembled and established again downstream.

Today, the phrase Potemkin Village is typically employed in both economic and political circles to fool others into thinking that a construct, tangible or intangible, is better than it really appears.From a corporate perspective, countless businesses today give the impression of “doing the right thing.” They have their mission statement and core values proudly displayed in the workplace; their advertising touts their commitment to legendary customer service; and they even make donations to charities that support worthy causes. But after careful scrutiny of their culture, the “show” dimension of their company is merely a façade for a toxic environment governed by an executive pirate or profiteer, and sometimes, both.

Here are a just a few measurements that we employ to assess a company's predisposition toward being a Potemkin Village:

1.Turnover percentage is significantly higher than industry standards

2.Employee morale and engagement surveys are either non-existent or reveal poor results

3.Organizational communication is hierarchical and not concentric

4.Established policies and processes are either absent or only followed when it is convenient

5.Decision-making power resides with only a handful of executives that are farthest away from the actual work itself

6.Customer surveys reflect dissatisfaction with empty promises and misleading representations

There’s an old adage in golf that you “drive for show and putt for dough.” Choreographing a show for your employees and customers may have worked when Potemkin was trying to impress Catherine II. It doesn’t cut it in our 21st century economy. The “putting for dough” part is what we’re missing in many corporate cultures today. One short stroke of a golf ball can mean so much more than the behemoth swing that got the ball to the green in the first place.

If the most amateur of golfers can sense the texture of the green, meticulously assess the slope, accurately judge the speed of the ball, and then sink a 10ft. putt, why can’t C-suite executives employ the same measure of professionalism, precision and passion to create an internal work dynamic that’s healthy and profitable for themselves, their employees, and our economy?

Article co-authored by Major General Karl R. Horst (US Army, RET), and Tom McQueen www.americanfamilyfoundationinc.com

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