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3 Signs Your Company Culture Is Unhealthy

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In most circles it’s no longer a question of whether company culture exists or whether it’s key to an organization’s long-term success. Culture is real and it’s organic, which means it grows — whether we like it or not.

If leaders aren’t careful their culture can evolve into something they don’t want. We talked to Charlie Judy, founder and president of WorkXO, which uses technology and analytics to empower leaders with business intelligence, to learn his three telltale signs that your company culture is unhealthy.

No. 1: We Don’t Do What We Say

Judy defines culture as everything an organization does — the words, the reactions, the behaviors — that reinforces and clarifies what drives success for it. Lots of companies talk about their values, but he makes a distinction between that and what is truly valued. If you’re saying that something is important to your company but you’re not acting in that way, it isn’t valued.

“So the first sign on healthiness is when those two things aren't in sync. When we say one thing and we behave another, when we purport to be one thing and we act another way, our people experience it another way, and that can come down to the nth degree,” Judy says.

For example, if you say that transparency is a core value but employees and stakeholders aren’t invited into the decision-making process, it leads to cultural discord. The same applies if you promote work/life balance but then expect people to work 24/7.

Saying one thing and doing another can lead to foundational risks for an organization, Judy says. You’ll attract people who want to be in that environment, only to find culture shock when they arrive as new hires.

“If you start trying to pretend like your culture is something other than what you truly value then all bets are off,” he says.

No. 2: We Try Too Hard to Copy Someone Else’s Culture

A common mistake made is trying to copy someone else’s culture instead of thinking about and managing your own. Leaders read business media and learn about the “hot” companies getting a lot of buzz, and their instinct may be to say “We can do that too.”

“We think that we can go and find all the culture cool kids out there and just do what they do. We think that, ‘oh, foosball tables and beer in the fridge, that's a good thing for our culture because the cool kids down the block do it,’ ” Judy says.

When it comes to culture, Judy’s advice is: do you. Don’t try to emulate a competitor or a colleague. What some other organization is doing is unlikely to clarify and drive your company’s success.

Instead, look inward and think really hard about what drives success for your individual company. Create and project a culture that reinforces what is truly valued. Don’t be tantalized by magic formulas or cool trends.

“Get introspective, and keep your eyes on your own paper,” he says.

No. 3: We Don’t Do Anything to Manage Our Culture

It’s still possible to believe what you say about your company culture and not worry about anybody else’s, and still wind up with a sick culture. That’s because organizations don’t commit the time, resources and will to actively manage their culture. Too many leaders, even in the HR department, operate under the delusion that culture happens on its own.

“We may even have a healthy culture, but we don't do anything really to manage that culture, to maintain that culture, to preserve that culture, to adjust that culture on an ongoing intentional basis. Culture is not one and done,” Judy says.

Organizations spend tons of time, attention and technology on things like accounting and financial reporting, but not nearly enough on culture. People treat it as an outcome, instead of what Judy says it is: an “operating system.” Culture should be seen as the root of everything a company does and stands for.

To ward off sickness in your organization, seek out the tools, resources and strategy you need to align your culture with what will help the company succeed.
 

Stephen Loy