How to Transform Your Company’s Culture

Company culture is admittedly a hard thing to quantify. Nevertheless, it is one of the most critical components of a healthy, successful, and sustainable organization. In fact, one survey found that over 90% of executives feel that culture is very important in their firms, and 92% believe that an improvement in culture translates into increased company value.

However, what if you sense that your organization’s culture is not where it needs to be? Or worse, what if your company is struggling under an oppressive, “toxic” culture? The following information will discuss key indicators that point to a toxic culture, some factors that contribute to the negativity, and ways to effectively transform your company’s culture for the good.

Top Signs of a Toxic Culture

1. Fear

One expert on corporate culture puts it this way:

“Company culture is dictated by the level of fear coming down the organizational chart from the top.”

Fear can manifest itself in a wide variety of ways. Perhaps a co-worker is afraid to point out the shortcomings of a business process to a superior out of concern that the manager will react angrily, and even fire the employee. Mid-level managers may be reluctant to give honest feedback to executives for similar reasons.

Whatever the case may be, fear is the number one sign of a toxic, unsustainable culture.

2. Mistrust

Along with fear comes mistrust. This lack of confidence is usually expressed on several levels. For instance:

  • Employees may refrain from expressing their personal opinions, or even aspects of their personality, because they lack faith that supervisors and/or colleagues will truly listen, and accord them the respect that they deserve.
  • Managers may hold back important feedback points from their subordinates because they doubt the employees will respond appropriately, or they don’t believe that their team members are interested in improving.
  • Communication at the office manifests an excessive formality; everyone is scared of offending the other person.
  • Employees don’t trust in the long-term future of the organization, and thus engage in furtive job hunting.

3. Disengagement

It’s no surprise that fearful, distrustful, stressed-out employees will quickly lose interest in the job at hand, and in promoting a stronger, more profitable company. When employees do only the bare minimum to get by, and refuse to take ownership of work processes, all too often laziness is not the root problem: a negative culture is.

Factors that Contribute to a Toxic Culture

It’s true that corporate culture is generated from the top down. However, in many situations there are company-wide infrastructure issues that also feed into a negative atmosphere at the office. Some of these issues may include:

  • Inadequate survey programs. Many organizations use periodic surveys to keep a pulse on their employees’ mindset, and to identify areas for improvement. Unfortunately, a large proportion of these surveys become a circular exercise in “telling the executives what they want to hear.” Some surveys only allow for multiple-choice responses, thus robbing employees of a forum to freely express themselves. Furthermore, surveys sent out once or twice a year can hardly be considered an effective way to learn about the day to day culture in which employees work.
  • Ineffective “open door” policies. An organization that does not claim to have an “open door” policy would be a rare find nowadays. Sadly, such noble statements often belie a less promising reality. All too often, only a scattered handful of employees take advantage of such a policy to air their concerns before management, while the majority of the company’s workforce remains skeptical about the truthfulness of such a claim.
  • Sub-par hotline education. Almost all major organizations have an ethics hotline for employees to report serious issues. However, the reality is that a large number of employees fear retaliation should they appeal for help via the hotline. Conversely, many employees feel that there’s no real incentive to seek assistance through this channel. In fact, one study found that although whistleblowers accounted for the number #1 source of initial fraud detection in the business world, whistleblower rewards are the least used anti-fraud control.

Of course, these are just a few examples of the myriad issues that may contribute to a toxic culture. The question then becomes: how can a company begin to transform its negative culture into a positive one?

How to Transform Your Organization’s Culture

Transforming a company’s culture can be a steep task, but remembering (and implementing) the three C’s can help you circumvent many obstacles on the road to a positive work climate:

  • Continuity. It’s simply not enough to have your employees fill out a survey once or twice a year. In order to effect real, sustainable change, organizational leaders must implement a continuous program of open communication. This could include regular 1-on-1 feedback sessions between team members and managers; up-level meetings between employees and executives; and of course top-down training to inculcate the skills and values needed to make such an initiative successful.
  • Confidentiality. It is essential for employees to trust that the concerns they express to management will remain confidential. In this regard, companies should never use negative verbiage to discuss the hotline. Instead, executives, HR managers, and others should promote it as a positive tool that can bring about actionable results, even to the point of developing and distributing material designed to spread hotline awareness.
  • Conversation. From the top down, management should be willing to engage employees in honest and open dialogue. This means more than scheduling occasional meetings; active listening, coupled with appropriate action taken as needed, is an absolute must.

While a complete culture overhaul may seem like a daunting task, you can succeed with perseverance, forethought, and buy-in from key stakeholders. Moreover, at Tellzen we offer an innovative solution to help you solve any infrastructure issues that may be hindering your transformational efforts. Among other things, our platform will help you to:

  • Dispel the climate of fear
  • Initiate and maintain an ongoing dialogue with your employees
  • Empower your workers to speak up and be heard

If you’d like to learn more, reach out to Tellzen today.