Posts Tagged ‘culture’

What Can I Do About A Toxic Culture?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Have you been a part of group of people where the atmosphere was just fantastic? It could have been a sports team, at work, a group of volunteers or a hobby group, but it was just great the way people worked together, everyone performed well, and it was fun.

Have you been part of a group that was the opposite? You know, one of those situations where the word “toxic” comes to mind?

We’re talking workplace culture here, right? I like to think of a group culture as being what people say about it behind its back – how they would define what it was like to be part of the group if asked by someone not connected to it.

The worst part of being in a toxic culture is the feeling that you can’t do anything about it. But can you do something? What if…

Here’s an idea: Start by getting those around you to open up to the possibility of change, and getting a mental image of what it would be like if the culture changed for the better. Start by asking, “What would it be like if we didn’t work in such a toxic environment? Can you imagine what it would be like if this was a fun and productive workplace? Let’s talk about what that would be like.” Then do that. Talk about a non-toxic workplace culture, getting a clear mental picture of what that would look like, what it would feel like, how people would act. Ensure that it’s not all focused on others, but also on how you and the person you’re talking to would change and behave.

Have that conversation with every one who’s a part of your team until everyone sees what could be. This may take some time, for changing people’s mindsets can take time. But help them get the vision of a better workplace culture.

Begin modeling the behavior that will lead to the desired culture, and encourage others to do the same by giving confirming feedback to anyone who behaves the way you want, reinforcing the desired actions. People will repeat what they’ve been rewarded for, even if that reward is a simple bit of confirming feedback. And the more they repeat that behavior, the more others will follow, until one day you’ll realize that the culture has changed.

It’s easy to be a victim, and resign yourself to a miserable working environment, but you don’t need to. It’s easy to expect that the culture must be driven from the top down, and that you’ll have to wait until your bosses do something about it. But you, no matter what your position within a group, can have an impact on it. And what do you think would happen once people realized that the workplace culture had changed, and you were a major contributor to making that happen?

If you have any questions about how you can change a workplace culture, let me know. I’d love to help.

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A Culture-Developing Book

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time is Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Why? Because it’s all about what I believe may be the most important factor in the success of a business. Oh, and I like the way it’s written.

For years I’ve been asking successful business owners, executives, managers, and founders one question: What do you hire for, fit or skill? In all but one time, the answer I’ve gotten from the most successful leaders is “hire for fit.” In other words, hire people who fit the company’s culture, who will fit in with co-workers, because anyone can learn skills – they can’t learn to fit a culture.

That’s not to say that I haven’t had many managers, owners, executives, and founders claim to hire for skill. Quite a few, actually, answer that way. But I can’t recall a single one that would be considered successful by many on the outside. In fact, there’s been a direct correlation between mediocre managers who claim to focus on a potential employee’s skill, and successful ones who hire for fit. Okay, it’s not a scientific study, but my anecdotal surveys are many enough to demonstrate more than a trend.

If you know much about Zappos, you know that the company is all about providing an incredible customer experience. They’ve built a culture focused on customer service. They hire people who will go out of their way to give customers an experience they will rave about. That’s not a skill that people either have or don’t have; it’s an attitude, it’s part of a person’s values. The skills to do so are developed.

What’s interesting is what inspired Hsieh to build a company so focused and committed to building the company’s culture. It was a personal experience at a company he founded. One day, he awoke and realized his company had changed, and it wasn’t pretty. The culture – the collective values – of the business had turned into something he didn’t like. The business had turned into something ugly. He couldn’t say exactly who, what or when it changed, but it had.

I’ve experienced the exact same thing. That’s probably one reason I enjoyed Delivering Happiness so much. Read it. I bet you’ll get more than you expected from it.

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Destroying a Company’s Culture

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Former IBM CEO, Lou Gerstner, said, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game.”

Let’s take a look at company culture. We could look at how you build it, but since I’ve done that – including a list of steps – in a previous blog post (Corporate Values & Culture), I want to look at how you destroy it (for entertainment value only!).

You destroy company culture by not protecting it. You destroy it by not reinforcing it. You destroy it by not communicating it. You destroy it by hiring people that don’t fit.

Imagine that you start a business making widgets, say, Acme Widget Company. Almost immediately you hire three people – an office manager, a sales person, and someone to head up operations. You all get along great, the business is growing, you’re getting new customers, and production is kicking in. So, your Operations Manager starts hiring staff to run the widget-making machines. Wow, you’re really in business, now.

From the beginning, it was important to you to do things right, and your attitude toward the business was “We don’t need to be the biggest widget-maker in the world, but we do need to be the best.” You also felt that taking care of employees and working as a team – no, a family – was important. You wanted a business that was professional, but had a bit of a mom & pop feel about it.

Moving into your second year of business, as you walk around and talk to your staff, you get a great feeling: Everyone enjoys their job; they feel they’re making the world a better place because of the high-quality widgets you’re making; there’s lots of collaboration in the workplace; formal and informal communication is clear and plentiful; and everyone is performing well. No, better than well. The company is already turning a profit. You couldn’t be happier.

As your business grows, you focus on hiring. You need more widget-makers, more people to run the widget-making machines, and supervisors for these people. You empower your Operations Manager to hire – it’s part of your plan to delegate, and to give your people the responsibility to grow the business.

Your Operations Manager hires a Shop Supervisor based on his skills, knowledge and experience in the business. The new hire is GOOD. He knows his stuff. And he, then, hires more staff, more widget-makers.

Six months later, as you walk the floors of the business, you suddenly notice something. The feeling of the business has changed. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know something’s not right.

Here’s what’s not right: The Shop Supervisor was hired for his skills, knowledge and experience, but not for cultural fit. The Shop Supervisor does not care about the warm and fuzzy feeling of a business. He’s all about numbers. How many widgets did you produce today? He doesn’t care about communication, or collaboration. Just do your job! And he’s hired people that fit that kind of culture – more people like him.

Within a short period of time – just a couple of months – the culture of your business has begun to change. The critical mass of the business has shifted – there are more people who think like the Shop Supervisor than think like you. It’s building momentum, like a snowball rolling down a hill getting bigger and bigger and eventually knocking down everything in its path. Culture is like that.

I’m not saying that one culture is better than another – some could argue that the culture of your business was too touchy-feely, and it needed some focus on the bottom-line. But if the current culture is not what you wanted, who’s at fault?

It could be your Operations Manager for not protecting it, for hiring for skills, knowledge, and experience and not for cultural fit. It could be you for not clarifying, communicating, reinforcing, and protecting it. It could be not having a formal process or strategy for promoting and protecting the culture. If left to chance, who knows where your company’s culture will end up?

By the way, this doesn’t just apply to small startups, or even small businesses. Divisions of companies have cultures. Departments have cultures. Large corporations have cultures. Non-profits have cultures.

IBM’s Gerstner said, “I always viewed culture as one of those things you talked about, like marketing and advertising. It was one of the tools that a manager had at his or her disposal when you think about an enterprise. The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything.”

What are you doing to build and protect the culture you want? Are you leaving it to chance?

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Corporate Values & Culture

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

A company’s values and its culture are interlinked. Some would say they are the same thing, but I disagree. Values are what you begin with; culture is what you end up with.

For example, honesty may be a core value to you and your company, but if enough people in an organization act in a dishonest way, eventually the company’s culture will be one of dishonesty.

A company’s culture should be the enactment of the core values. While values typically come from the top, the culture will develop through the actions of the people within the company. The only way to control these actions is through a process of communicating and reinforcing the values.

One can state what the values of the company should be, but if enough people – and key people – do not act in alignment with the stated values, the culture will be driven by these actions. Action and behavior drive culture more than words.

This is why it is critical that a company define, communicate and consistently reinforce its values. If not, don’t be surprised if the company’s actual culture is not what you want – and not in alignment with the desired values.

The process that best enables an organization to control and develop its values and culture is as follows:

  1. Identify – List the company’s values – what is important to the leader(s) and key people in the organization.
  2. Communicate – Tell employees what the values are… often. An organization cannot over-communicate their values.
  3. Hire – Hire people that best fit the stated values – that have personal values that are in alignment with the company’s.
  4. Train – As part of the onboarding process for new employees, and ongoing training for existing employees, explain why the company’s values are what they are, and why they are important.
  5. Model – Act in ways that support and demonstrate the stated values. Actions are more powerful than words, so back up the verbal communication with behavior that supports the values.
  6. Reinforce – Positively reinforce employees for acting inline with the company values.

When an organization follows these six steps, it will develop a culture in alignment with the desired values.

Why are Values and Culture Important? Values drive decisions, from who to hire to strategic business decisions.

An employee whose personal values are not in alignment with the organization’s will eventually make decisions incongruent with these values. They will do something that is not in alignment with the company’s strategic plan, and/or hire the wrong person. Hiring the wrong person – someone else that does not have the same core values as the company, and often the same as the person doing the hiring – will reinforce a value that does not match the company’s. This will develop the wrong culture – one not in alignment with the organization’s desired and stated values. A critical mass of people with values incongruent with the company’s will impact the culture more than any amount of communication.

When hiring, it is best to hire for values fit before skills, experience or knowledge. Skills and knowledge can be trained and experience acquired. A person’s core values are something deep inside them, and not something that changes over time, if ever. A person with core values that do not match the company’s they work in will ultimately be unhappy, and less than highly-productive. And those are the least of the company’s worries. This person will eventually do things that are not in alignment with the company’s values, likely causing a negative situation.

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