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Written by The performHR Team
on October 11, 2018

performHR article- Toxic CultureThe performHR team have been fortunate to work with countless organisations across a multitude of sizes, locations, and sectors.

One of the most consistently identified contributors to success across the board for our clients is the impact of a positive culture.

This isn’t a new observation however, and it is widely researched and recognised that a positive workplace culture is linked to extraordinary results such as increased productivity and engagement, reduced recruitment and turnover costs, and higher levels of well-being and job satisfaction for your team.

Culture, of course, cannot be manufactured; it has to be authentic if it is to truly make an impact. And, while it cannot be manufactured, it has to be led by example – and led from the top. As the saying goes, “the fish rots from the head”.

As a CEO, monitoring and protecting the health of your organisation’s culture on a day-to-day basis can often prove difficult. You’re not always on the ‘shop floor’ to witness every interaction between your team. Because of this, it is both important and expected that your senior leaders are also living, breathing and demonstrating your culture every day.

With this in mind, it can be said that workplace culture is formed and moulded by those in the organisation. So, our question to you is: Are you helping shape culture in your organisation, or is it shaping you?

From our years of experience, here are a few key warning signs that every CEO, should keep an ‘ear to the ground’ to identify.

No one knows your values

An organisations values should form the basis of how your team operate each day.  However, many value statements are consigned to a dusty drawer, or, are wonderful pictures on the wall that we become blind to. Your company values are the verbal representation of your culture, and every single person should be able to articulate what they are and, what they mean. If they can’t, quite simply, your leadership team have work to do.

It’s essential that your company values should fall as second nature to the individuals in your team – they should underpin communication styles and the way decisions are made, have behaviours (both desired and unacceptable) attached, and should be used to drive and measure performance.

Solution:

Look at the reasons why your company values have been lost. Is there a disconnect from outdated or over used values? Or is it that the messaging around them has been lost? A simple solution for relaunching both values and expectations around them is to hold a team values session, in which you and your leadership team take the entire organisation through what they mean, why they’re important, and what those values look like in practice. Ensure your values are visible in the workplace through physical representations and verbal ones as well. Your leadership team need to be referring to them regularly, incorporating the meaning of the values in the way they communicate. Touching on your values and reinforcing your messaging frequently will allow your team to ‘buy in’ or actively ‘opt out’.

Innovation is non existent

Of course, the role of both your leadership team  and wider employees alike is to actively help you execute your business plan. However, if your team are doing precisely (and only) what you tell them to do, you could have a toxic culture – and you may need to look close to home for the reason.

Gone are the days of dictatorial cultures thriving. As a CEO you need a team that will challenge you, give you pause for thought, and come up with new ideas to help the business thrive and succeed.

If you continually make the decisions and ask your team only to execute on what you say, you’ll end up with a team who are nodding politely, doing the minimum you require, and as a result, miss out on the huge opportunity that both innovation and collaboration bring.

Solution:

As CEO, you need to invite and encourage your team to solve problems, not just carry out orders. The best outcomes for any business come when people have emotional investment and accountability – as a CEO it’s your role to get your team working optimally,  and shouldering some of the weight, too.

It has been said that ‘if we are to preserve culture, we must continue to create it’. What does this mean for your organisation? Does this mean celebrating diverse thinking, rather than stamping it out? Does this mean encouraging opinion, rather than refusing to understand and listen?    

Decisions are made by a small group of people

The best decisions are made by considering different perspectives. If you have a leadership team that makes decisions without getting input from their teams or seeking input from customers or external experts, then you’re operating with a very limited mindset. A culture that doesn’t invite input from staff results in a fragmented company and a team focused solely on the day-to-day operational execution rather than long-term success.

Solution:

Question how your leadership team have arrived at a decision, and encourage them to consider alternative viewpoints. Establishing a working group of people from across the company with different backgrounds and experiences can be a productive way to ensure new thinking permeates throughout. Once you’ve established consultation as a norm, more informed decisions and recommendations should flow. Collaboration really is key.

Turnover rate too low or too high

Turnover is an interesting one. When looking at turnover you need to be thinking about who is leaving, and why they are leaving in addition to the total %. A level of staff turnover should occur in every business – no change in staff can mean no change in business performance. It is the ‘regrettable hires’ and ‘regrettable losses’ that are the real measures we need to be talking about. If one or more of these are too high, questions should be asked.

Solution:

Assess your turnover rate and the calibre of people that are leaving. Direct managers often contribute to the reason a team member leaves, but not always. And, it can be a combination of factors, so dig deep, ask questions and, listen. Exit interviews are valuable to gain insight and look too at the selection criteria and recruitment process. Again, this needs to be aligned with your company values and be as objective as possible. 

The time for action is now.

So, how can CEO’s work with their Leadership team to drive cultural change?

  • Agree on a starting point 

You need to know your current state – you can’t move the dial if you don’t know where you are starting from. Conducting an employee engagement survey or, a culture review to confirm the health of your culture are great options. When you get the results, listen and accept – whether you agree with them or not, your team have spoken and provided their point of view. 

  • Be honest about wanting to improve 

Talk to your team and ensure open and transparent communication channels, ensuring you provide the ‘why’ behind the review and drive for change. Welcome feedback and accept it gracefully. Don’t justify, ignore or disregard what they have told you.

  • Be present 

It may be time to ‘re-involve’ yourself in operations during the review period so you can observe interaction first hand, and so your team have easy access to you.

  • Commit 

Culture change does not happen overnight, so don’t look for quick solutions.  You will have to spend the time to build the culture. This means aligning tools, processes, structure and mindsets to mirror and drive the organisation. If your value statements and the reality of the working experience are not aligned, you have a problem.

Your workplace culture cannot thrive without your leadership team being the walking, talking embodiment of your culture. So ensure you’re all aligned and are all keeping each other accountable.

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