Regurgitative mission statements and exhaustive lists of values does not make a culture
Culture eats strategy for breakfast — Peter Drucker, pioneering management consultant
The most effective company culture fosters how team members act both as individuals and in groups. The best leadership in a healthy organization is affected through actions and not words. Good leadership in a company relies more on listening rather than talking.
This means that anybody in an organization can be a leader. You might be a leader yourself and not yet know it. Or you have the leadership potential, and it's a matter of cultivating it over time.
The culture you want to encourage is one where decision-making thrives at all levels of your organization. If you are a person of action, people are likely to follow suit regardless of your role in the organizational structure.
What if your company culture is broken?
I'm a super-sensitive person — It's both a gift and a curse to be an empath. I can walk into an organization for the first time, and within a short time, I can get a pretty good sense if the culture is positive, neutral, or toxic.
I pick up on how the staff interacts. Is the environment cluttered and untidy? The general disposition of the people speaks volumes. Even their posture and tone reflect the general climate of the organization. How the managers talk to their staff is most telling.
Culture, in many ways, is like concrete, according to Chris Hirst, the author of the book, No Bullsh*t Leadership. While concrete is easy to shape when wet, it's impossible to manipulate once it sets. You'll need to smash the concrete and start all over.
Too many companies I've seen have a culture littered with toxic or unhealthy elements, such as petty rivalries and top-down hierarchies. A workplace where people are only workers with no empowerment would kill me. I couldn't survive it, at least not for very long. I would make efforts to change it or leave it for more fertile ground. What's bad for the hive is bad for the bee.
Some companies promote a negative culture without realizing they send a poor message to their workforce. For example, I work closely with a packing and fulfillment company where I occasionally need to be onsite to oversee our product packing and shipping. A common hallway connects the company's offices to their large warehouse space.
The restrooms in that hall are shared by both office staff and temporary, long-term warehouse personnel. There was a sign fit into a stand where the shared hallway enters the office area — In bold black letters, it reads NO TEMPORARY EMPLOYEES BEYOND THIS POINT.
I've become friendly with the warehouse workers as much as the management. Though it was just a poor choice of wording, the message bothered me as it sounds exclusive and restrictive. I had to say something to the management. Even though it's their company, I felt we had a good enough relationship where I could share my thoughts freely.
I suggested changing the wording on the sign to read something like Only full-time employees beyond this point. The management seemed receptive to my suggestion. They never did change the language as I suggested, but the next time I came onsite, they removed the sign, and I haven't seen it since.
One way to smash the concrete of unhealthy company culture is to modify the environment. Get rid of the "corner offices," "Executive Restrooms," and all other signs of hierarchy.
Provide common meeting areas that have a casual feel. Hold meetings on sofas instead of a conference room table. These physical changes may seem trivial and might not transform your business overnight, but they'll create space that will be a step to improvement.
Lead by surrounding yourself with ambitious and dependable followers
The author says that adopting an open organizational culture could be the best course to achieve your goals as a leader; you'll still need the right people on the team.
So what about those people who are getting in the way of your organization's success? Harsh as it might sound, these people should be removed if they can't get with the program.
Ex-CEO Jack Welsh came up with two questions to help determine who is holding your company back:
First: Does the employee fit in with the culture of your organization?
Second: Do they deliver results?
If the answer is yes to both, then this person is a great fit—those who don't get your culture and don't deliver need to go.
So, what about the employee who's all about the company culture but doesn't deliver? The company should retain these people since culture trumps delivery. These people should be re-assigned to a coach or mentor to work on improving their performance.
How to handle those people who deliver but don't fit in with the culture you're trying to establish is trickier. This has been an enormous dilemma for countless leaders throughout history.
Welsh, who has decades of experience, believes that these employees restrict the growth of the cultures within their teams and hinder their organization's progress in the long term. He recommends they be let go.
When Bringing New Team Members On Board, Think Diversity
Diversity always wins. The best recipe in my decades of experience is staffing with a good mix of "dependable professionals" and "unpredictable mavericks."
Think about the dynamic of a typical football team. There are reliable defenders and maverick playmakers. If the whole team was playing defense the entire game, their chances of getting anywhere greatly diminish.
Homogenous teams of dependable people are easier to lead, but these types are also less likely to push the envelope, take ownership, and make quick decisions. Ambitious, eclectic team members help create a group that thrives on radical decision-making.
According to a 2015 Mckinsey report, public companies with the highest ethnic and racial diversity are more profitable than their less diverse competitors. And the most diverse quarter of public companies was 35 percent more likely to earn more than the industry average.
As with working for a company with toxic company culture, I couldn't survive very long at a company that lacks diversity in all areas. Thankfully I work in a company culture where most everyone has something unique and special to bring to the table. The company puts a lot of energy and focus to improve the quality and diversity of the future workforce.
The Advertising Research Foundation has announced C+R Research, along with four other industry leaders as the newest partners for its Workforce Initiative for Diversity and Excellence.
It's not only our culture that makes our company succeed and thrive as a unit, but it has made me a better human as a result.