How do you know if you have a broken culture?

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

Toxic Culture Impact

According to wikipedia - A toxic workplace is a workplace that is marked by significant drama and infighting, where personal battles often harm productivity. ... Quite similarly, Harder et al. (2014) define a toxic work environment as an environment that negatively impacts the viability of an organization.

When your culture is broken you have too many smart and talented people who end up leaving their jobs not because of the work itself or the compensation plan, but because they were tired of pushing a rock uphill every working day.

Anybody and everybody complains about when the culture is broken but everyone finds a reason not to speak up about it.

Low-level employees can say "I can't speak up! I might get fired." Mid-level managers can say "What can I do to change the culture? I'm just a first-level manager." Vice presidents can say "I can't jeopardize my position! My CEO doesn't want to hear the truth." Even the CEO can say "My team doesn't tell me anything. What am I supposed to do if people won't communicate?" This sounds a lot like the problems that caused so many issues for the CBA just prior to the recent Banking Royal Commission.

So, what are the signs your culture is broken? According to a Forbes article in late 2016 by Liz Ryan there are ten unmistakable signs. I've paraphrased them below.

- interactions are more formal than friendly and that no one seems happy to be working there

- people are very concerned about titles, job descriptions and levels in the hierarchy

- rules and policies are very important, even more than good judgement and experience

- managers and employees make up two completely separate groups that seldom interact

- it's well known that employees are unhappy, nobody talks about it openly

- talk is more about failures and problems versus recognition of extraordinary efforts and success

- people do not speak up but later they complain to their friends about the stupid ideas and foolish goals.

- informal grapevine is many times more effective as a communications network than any type of official company communication

- employees have little to no latitude in performing their jobs

- fear is palpable in the environment

Now you know the signs and can confirm 'yes, we have a broken culture'. What are you going to do about it? If you read anything about the prudential inquiry into CBA or the subsequent Royal commission you will surely know that doing nothing is no longer (not that it ever should have been) an acceptable option.

Take stock of where you are, the problems you have and the visible behaviours that are driving or reinforcing the problems. Then, make a plan and put it into action. Review progress, learn and repeat. The culture didn't get where it is overnight and it wont change overnight. Strong Change Fitness, amongst other things, will be essential for leaders and employees alike.