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3 Signs Your Company Culture Is about to Implode

Recognize This! – Cultures don’t fail overnight. There are many signs along the way that can save your culture if you only take the time to see them.

I write often about company culture – the importance of culture, how to proactively manage your culture, how to measure your culture – but I’ve never written about signs you company culture is in dire need of correction and how to do it. So today, here are

SIGN 1: Someone could get hurt if they stand too close to the door at 4:30.

Regular readers know the New York Times “Corner Office” column is one of my perennial favorites. In this recent column, Tracy Streckenbach, president and chief operating officer of Innovative Global Brands, explains this sign of a bad culture:

“It’s really bad when you have a clock-watcher culture. I did some consulting work for one company where you could get hurt if you were near any exit at 4:30. You had the feeling they were literally waiting for the bell to ring.”

Tracy goes on to offer excellent advice on what do to instead. (And no, adding a ping-pong table isn’t the answer).

“You want to create an environment where people want to be at work. I lived through that whole Internet craze where you couldn’t hire people fast enough. During those days, you thought of culture as Ping-Pong tables and disco balls. Now I think the big focus on culture, particularly in a down economy, is on how you get people invested so that they care about what they’re doing and feel like they have a hand in things. The only way you can do that is if you have very clearly defined and measurable goals. Then you make sure each and every department knows them, and how their work will support the overall goals.”

The best way to ensure every employee knows the goals and how to achieve them is through frequent, timely and specific recognition for their contributions towards achieving the goals.

SIGN 2: Your best attempt to fix a bad work environment is to list worse environments.

If, when your company is ranked the worst company to work for, this is the best you can say, then you know your culture problem starts at the top:

“The lowest scoring company on the list was Denver, CO-based Dish Network. In an article in the Denver Post, Dish CEO Joe Clayton is quoted as saying, ‘I’ve worked in lots of worse places – this isn’t one of them.’”

Chris Edmonds pointed to this story in his Cool Culture blog, a favorite of mine. When employees are telling you there’s a real problem, you as the leader must listen. Sadly, this response is more common. “Helping” employees see how they could have it so much worse isn’t a strong motivational technique.

Instead, leaders who are lucky enough to get this kind of detailed feedback would be well advised to act upon it. Change what you can, and set a plan in place to change the rest over time. Communicate these efforts and goals to all employees. Then communicate it again. And again.

SIGN 3: It takes a jury verdict to force you to implement necessary management training.

The Respectful Workplace blog (another favorite) pointed to a jury verdict that not only found for $3.5 million in damages for harassment at work, but took the extra step to outline – in detail – non-harassment training programs the defendant must implement as part of the “damages” rewarded to plaintiff.

If it takes a jury of a court of law to tell you to do what should be obvious, your culture needs to be fixed.

What other signs reveal a culture in need of repair?

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