Signs Of An Unhealthy Culture

Signs Of An Unhealthy Culture

By Lance LeBlanc

A quick Internet search for the phrase “company culture” yields more than 1.5 billion results in less than half a second. I’ve heard culture simply defined as a system of beliefs that guides a community’s behavior. While this may be oversimplified, it’s incredibly accurate. Achieving a healthy company culture is increasingly becoming a strong focus of organizations, perhaps because a healthy culture is so rare.

 “Without a consciously created culture, your leadership won’t last beyond the moment you leave the building.  Any vacation — or even lunch break — you take is an invitation for disaster…But with a great company culture, employees will be motivated, regardless of management’s presence or absence.”  – Micah Solomon

There’s no denying that when an organization has a healthy culture, it can rest assured that it will produce healthy leaders who produce healthy employees who in turn produce great results. But what happens when the culture is sick? What kind of results does a sick culture produce? How can you tell if your culture is unhealthy? Here are just 3 indicators that you have an unhealthy culture:

Lack of Trust 

Truth rings at a certain tone. You can just tell when people aren’t being open and honest. We all have finely tuned senses when it comes to noticing how genuine and truthful people are being. When an organization has a healthy culture, its team members trust each other, which allows them to be open and honest. When there’s a lack of trust, people hide ideas, are afraid to risk giving feedback and they become very guarded. They end up caring less about the health and growth of the organization and more about protecting their interests, their team, their turf and their own rear end. When there’s no trust, real communication breaks down. People are talking; they’re just not talking to you. The question is do you want to be a part of their conversation about you? Trust is built when employees see integrity, authenticity, clarity and care from their leadership.

 “An absence of trust is directly correlated to frustrating office politics and passive-aggressive behavior among team members. Leaders must call this behavior out at the time it occurs in order to work towards creating a successful team.”  – Patrick Lencioni

Hazy Expectations

Another sign of a sick culture is when people don’t know what’s really expected of them, they aren’t sure of what to focus on or there’s no accountability when people don’t meet expectations. These can crush morale on any team. Your expectations must be clear and understood. Notice I said, “and understood”. Being clear doesn’t cut it if they don’t get it.  I’m amazed at the executive level how often leaders think they are being clear about what they want from their people, but when I ask their people to articulate those expectations, they simply can’t. Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”. So how sure are you that your expectations are clear and understood? I’ve met with leaders who are frustrated with their team members and feel their people aren’t giving their best effort. They often say things like, “My people are incompetent” or “I wish they’d show more initiative” and my all time favorite, “They’re just not on board…maybe they don’t belong here”. Not on board? On board with what?! Part of the issue is that your people aren’t sure what to be on board with. It’s a leaders job to make absolutely certain that everyone is on the same page.

“Expectation clarity is an element of fair process…employees should know up front what standards they will be judged by and the penalties for failure…When people clearly understand what is expected of them, political jockeying and favoritism are minimized, and people can focus on executing the strategy rapidly.” – Blue Ocean Strategy

Diminished Passion

This one is often a result of the continued presence of the first two issues we discussed. There are always exceptions, but when a lack of trust and hazy expectations are allowed to exist long enough in an organization, diminished passion is sure to follow. When the culture is sick, people are present in body only. In fact, zombies come to mind. Mindlessly going through the motions, wasting resources and contributing little more than a dystopian adherence to procedures and policies. It’s a gruesome picture, but I’ve been in numerous meetings with important issues where team members had clearly checked their minds and their hearts at the door. They weren’t really present. The fire in them has gone out. This level of disengagement is typical in a setting where people don’t feel heard, their ideas are often rejected, or they feel uninformed and underutilized. Do your team members have a voice? Does their voice even matter? Are they burning with ideas and energy? Do they have fight left in them? Or do they just sit there, clock in and go through the motions?

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” – Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch


So where are you with this? Noticing anything in your organization? What will you do?

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