7 Steps to Clean Up Toxic Work Cultures

"Culture is everything" - Louis Gerstner, IBM

In my last blog post, I highlighted statements that are often said in toxic work cultures. Thank you to those who contributed other examples of S&8# that is said at work.  

I’m going to start with some bad news. Here it is: Gallop recently reported that culture at many U.S. companies is still starving. Only 20 percent of U.S. employees are engaged. The balance is either trying to figure it out or actively disengaged.

Remember, Drucker said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. To prevent culture from continuing to act like a teenager at the Golden Corral buffet, here’s the good news: Strong cultures can be built. Here are a few ways to satiate culture’s appetite so you can execute your strategy:

C – Calm – Strong cultures know how to handle stressful moments. They lead short, focused meetings, provide autonomy and flexibility (e.g., flextime), and encourage meditation and other wellness practices. That means your glass of wine tonight isn’t for detox; it’s just for enjoyment.

U – Understanding – Great cultures are built on meaningful purpose and/or a great challenge. Strong leaders communicate mission, vision, and priorities clearly and consistently to build understanding. But understanding is a two-way street. Leaders should also intuitively listen to team members’ concerns and ideas to strengthen empathy and innovation.

L – Learning – The strongest cultures are learning cultures. They protect 1:1 time, encourage growth and development for all employees and leaders, and celebrate the learning that successes and setbacks provide. Learning cultures also understand that leaders can’t lead until they learn to lead themselves. Leading oneself requires learning about you.

T – Trust - Culture gets hungry without trust. About as hungry as you do two hours after Chinese food. Building trust is a one-person-at-a-time process. It’s about ensuring your words and actions align, that you are present with your people, and you authentically care about their success and happiness.

U – Unity – Healthy cultures have a unifying purpose and a strong sense of collaboration. Their union is based on mission, values, and the fact that everyone’s paycheck includes the same company logo. That is, they know they are on the same team and seek win-win-win opportunities. 

R – Refocus – If you find yourself in a work environment that needs to do more with less and/or needs to flawlessly execute, then refocus. Whiteboard all your priorities and pick the top 3 that will drive you forward. Throw away the rest. 

E – Effort – The willingness to give discretionary effort is a hallmark of a strong culture.  If you strengthen your C-U-L-T-U-R then discretionary effort (E) will follow.  It’s the final piece of your success puzzle, and you can’t solve it without it.

Some more good news: It’s possible to strengthen any culture, but it often takes an outside perspective to clearly see the real problem and find solutions. I can be your team’s outside perspective. Let’s set up a time to talk to discuss how you can prevent your culture from eating your strategy.

 Perhaps we can even have lunch, as long as it isn’t at the Golden Corral.