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Chameleon, Company culture

Its Halloween season, and everywhere creepy decorations with ghosts and spiders have been making their appearance, both in homes and public spaces. Halloween has its origins in an ancient Celtic festival 2,000 years ago to mark the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with death.

Halloween seems therefore the right moment to shed some light on how company culture can be poisonous enough to scare away your most talented people, and when this leads to an organisational decline.

Your values, your culture

Culture refers to the work environment in your company, the setting and conditions you supply for your teams and staff members. Your company culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviours shared by your members of staff as a group.

You can observe a company’s culture through behaviour, noticing how people interact with each other, collaborate together, communicate and deal with conflict situations. These behaviours come from (usually unwritten and tacit) understanding and rules on how people work together within the company.

A company culture is highly influenced by founders and senior managers’ values and ideas, namely because they have high influence in shaping the strategic direction of the organisation and are the key decision makers.

Is your culture toxic?

There are telling signs that your culture is killing your company, but these go very often unnoticed. So, don’t wait until it’s too late.

How can you therefore recognise if your company culture is poisonous? Well, you need to consider 2 things: indicators and behaviours. If you have high staff turnover, increasing sickness rates, high absences from the office or cases of burnout these are indicators you can be in the presence of a toxic workplace. A lower engagement level is another pointer (if you don’t have a measurement for this conduct an engagement survey).

The other aspect to notice is behaviour: how people actually interact and behave on an everyday basis with their colleagues. Many times, an observation of your teams already reveals the dark sides of your company culture. An example? In a meeting the director presents a new compensations and benefits scheme linked only to personal results. Everyone remains silent, no comments or questions. But when leaving the room people start gossiping about the scheme, and how it will do more harm than good. If staff members are too afraid to speak up or to disagree with the founder or the senior managers, this is a sign of lack of psychological safety. And studies say the lack of psychological safety is one of the main reasons why people leave companies.

Culture killers

Culture isn’t a killer in itself, as it has no personality of its own. It’s the behaviour of staff members who display and continue the harmful corporate culture that causes problem. This is also the point of view of Dr. Sinoway, who, together with Harvard Business School Professor Howard Stevenson categorised employees that help an organization’s culture and those who hurt it.

            • Stars are the employees we all love — they perform to the highest standards, many times exceeding expectations, and act the right way (i.e. in a manner that is congruent and supports the desired company culture). These are the people we need to develop, care for and openly show appreciation to. 

            • High potentials are the team members whose behaviour we value — they do things the right way, and with whom you spot the potential to further develop within the company. Train, support and prepare these people and they will become your rising stars. 

  • Zombies are the living dead in your company – they just don’t show up as living to your organisational values, and their performance may be just slightly above ok. These are the people who, when problems arise, were ‘only doing their job’. Although they may not actively be doing anything to damage your culture, because they lack engagement they are also not bringing you any value.

Vampires are the real threat – they perform really well at a functional level (they get things done and produce results), yet they are completely misaligned with the desired value and behaviours. An example of this is someone who is great at acquiring new clients (produces excellent results) but who pushes his/her team to exhaustion in order to achieve it when one of the company values is teamwork.

However, because their functional performance is high they acquire power and influence, and can move up in the ranks. Over time, they acquire followers: the zombies who are also in dissonance with the company values and aspire to better performance.

Where culture comes in

As Dr. Sepah highlights : ‘your company culture is who you hire, fire, and promote’ and therefore you have a choice in promoting the culture you want to have internally. Most companies have good intentions but are sometimes naïve concerning the values and culture they wish to install. They identify aspirational values which they genuinely intend to respect. Nevertheless, these good intents get lost in everyday actions which become contradictory to the culture that you want to install. One example of this is the Libor scandal in which financial institutions were accused of fixing the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). At least one of these financial institutions held integrity as a core value, yet this proclaimed value didn’t reflect their practiced values.

This is what Sepah calls a gap between aspirational and practiced values, and considers as an indicator of how much your company’s culture needs to improve. The actions you take to bridge the gap is predictive of whether it will.

If you don’t act on these internal conflicts to build the culture you want, you will get vampires and zombies attacking the stars, the high potentials and the team members who are doing the right thing. The actual company values, as opposed to the aspirational values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go. And talent sticks with companies that are congruent with its values.

If you want to start actively building the culture you want get in contact with us. We’ll help you upgrade your organisational culture, or define the organisational values you want to live up to.

Your staff will appreciate the improved culture and reward your company with improved performance, but also with lower staff turnover. We’ll give you a hand in building an awesome culture!!

#Halloween #organisationalculture #HR #organisationalvalues #talent

How is your company culture doing?

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