Who’s Responsible for Fixing a Bad Company Culture?

Recognize This! – Everyone plays an important role in creating a positive, appreciative culture, but the effort must be visibly and demonstrably led from the top.

As I’m preparing for my last series of workshops in 2012 on “How to Build Your Winning Culture of Recognition,” I’m particularly attuned to what others are saying about company cultures.

A good case in point is this recent post from Chris Edmonds on the culture that developed in the Massachusetts compounding pharmacy responsible for releasing horribly contaminated medication and causing a massive spinal meningitis outbreak. Chris points to obvious signs of a culture in distress in the clear and very noticeable unsanitary conditions and work environments. More to the point, no one felt compelled to do anything about the noticeably unsafe and unsterile environment and final products.

In his “Strategy Focused HR” blog, Ron Thomas described an equally horrifying culture in another company where bullying was the norm – from the top down. Screaming at others in meetings, storming out of meetings in a huff – all just a normal day at office whether you’re the CEO, line manager or an individual contributor.

Both of these posts try to drive to a solution in a different way. Chris Edmonds points to “behavioral integrity” as a solution, noting:

“Simply stated, behavioral integrity is leaders keeping their promises (doing what they say they will do) and demonstrating the espoused values of their organization. When employees see their bosses have behavioral integrity, they apply discretionary energy. Customers notice and appreciate that energy, and profits go up.”

Who’s Responsible for Fixing a Bad Culture?

  • Executives – First and foremost, senior leadership must set the example. What the CEO demonstrates as acceptable, the rest of the company will emulate as “how we do things around here” (which is the very definition of company culture).
  • Managers – Once that example is set at senior-most levels, line managers then must be held accountable for demonstrating similar behaviors to their own team members and colleagues. Those who do not need to be retrained or exited.
  • Every Employee – Some would argue employees can change the culture themselves. I’ve seen this work in small, insulated pockets for short amounts of time, but grassroots efforts to change an entire organization’s culture in the long term simply aren’t sustainable. That said, every employee is responsible for living the behaviors demonstrated by executives in a positive, appreciative culture.
  • Human Resources – Some would lay the blame (and the responsibility for fixing a culture) at the feet of HR. This is not possible. HR is responsible for shining a light on negative cultural behaviors and building the business case for how changing the culture would benefit the organization’s bottom line (and then providing the tools and techniques to see that happen), but HR cannot change a negative culture to a positive one in a vacuum. Senior leadership must visibly be in support of the change.

What other recommendations do you have for fixing a bad culture? Who do you think should be responsible?

Derek Irvine

About Derek Irvine

The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

3 Responses

  1. Edmundo says:

    Very interesting,

  2. […] Employee engagement is a two-way street. Yes, we as individuals are responsible for choosing to engage in our work, with the people around us, and with our company’s greater mission, vision and values. But it’s also up company leadership to create an environment in which employees want to engage – to create opportunities for employees to bring out their best. […]

  3. […] Employee engagement is a two-way street. Yes, we as individuals are responsible for choosing to engage in our work, with the people around us, and with our company’s greater mission, vision and values. But it’s also up company leadership to create an environment in which employees want to engage – to create opportunities for employees to bring out their best. […]

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