So, you and your senior team have worked out what your company culture is and defined exactly where you want it to go.
And it’s a great culture too, you’ve really nailed the “why?” of your business and have written your core values on great big stone tablets. It’s more than just social events and coffee catch ups, it’s a living, breathing thing that sets the standard for how your business works, thinks and grows.
But here’s the thing: Just because you have a great concept for your culture, doesn’t mean it always works. You’d be surprised how many businesses build winning company cultures, but take their foot off the gas when it matters most.
Maintaining a company culture takes hard work, and part of its overall success depends on your ability to spot when things aren’t quite right, and know exactly how to fix it.
In this guide, we’ll show you some of the common symptoms of a declining company culture, take you through how a company can lose its way in the first place and offer some practical steps to get back on track.
If you want to jump headfirst into the full story on culture – check out the full eBook here.
Or if you want to learn more about fixing a sour company culture – let’s dive in.
How to spot a broken culture
To spot a toxic work culture, you need to first know the symptoms that can characterise one.
For employees this could mean:
- Fear of failure, leading to stress or burnout
- Lack of trust in leadership and other employees
- No support for employee growth
- Disengagement with the work employees do
- A blurry separation between employee’s personal and professional lives, leading to overworking, lack of privacy, or the inability to disconnect
For leaders this could look like:
- Lack of enthusiasm, engagement, and poor attitudes
- Constant dysfunction and confusion
- Never-ending gossip or drama
- High employee turnover
The most important way to identify these symptoms is through culture measurement.
This is the best way to capture hard and soft data surrounding employees’ experiences of working at your company. Here are some measurements you can use to spot bad company culture.
- Pulse survey scores: these surveys ask employees about their pride in and understanding of the company, and provide insights into cultural effectiveness. For maximum effectiveness, these should be run weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, rather than annually. These should include Employee Net Promoter Scores and measure the level of engagement with the survey.
- Employee churn: High employee turnover suggests problems, but so does extremely low turnover, which may indicate complacency or lack of progression. Monitor employee churn, conduct exit interviews, and maintain regular performance reviews to identify issues.
- Candidate pipeline: If there are few applicants for vacancies or many rejections of job offers, your workplace culture may not be competitive. Building a candidate pipeline through your network even without open vacancies indicates a healthy culture.
A quick note, while metrics are useful to spot the breedings of bad company culture, you shouldn’t forget to meet people in person alongside culture measurement. You can then combine your feedback from these conversations with the metric data you’ve been capturing. What’s most important is that you show your employees you’re willing to listen to them.
Reasons a company culture can turn sour
But how did you even get here in the first place? It can be a puzzling question to answer.
The life of senior management is busy, and it’s precisely this busyness that can lead to culture getting sidelined.
Let’s take a look at five of the most common reasons company culture could be compromised.
- Growth: Rapid business growth, though vital, can risk culture if mismanaged. Expansion leads to larger, geographically dispersed teams, potentially affecting communication and speed, and promoting silos. Increased staff size may also reduce familiarity, potentially causing employees to feel alienated and underappreciated.
- Treating culture like an ornament: If a company's values are merely displayed on a wall and not practised, that's how employees will treat the culture. Company cultures are dynamic, impacting all operations and need continuous nurturing.
- Letting employees snooze on culture: Ignoring high-performing employees who don't align with the company culture is detrimental, as they set poor cultural examples. Encourage these employees to adapt, but don't hesitate to let them go if they consistently resist engaging with the culture.
- Managers not acting on culture measurement results: Culture measurement data reveals workforce motivation and engagement, offering insights for action. Ignoring this can make employees feel unheard, negating the data's purpose.
- Leaders underestimating the breadth and depth of culture: Culture isn't just social events; it's employees' belief in their work and shared behaviours, values, and practices that influence business and differentiate from competitors. Overlooking this? No social event can compensate.
5 steps leaders can take to improve culture
1. Balance culture add with culture fit
While 'culture fit' is crucial when hiring, we shouldn't ignore 'culture add', which brings new, beneficial elements to our team.
For example, if our culture of consideration hampers decision-making, hiring someone more decisive can be beneficial, promoting growth and diversity in our company. This is especially important when maintaining culture while your company is growing.
2. Considerate onboarding
Cultural onboarding requires patience. Rushing it, particularly with senior hires or post-acquisition, can harm the company culture.
Empower culture carriers to set the standard, allowing new recruits time to adapt. Pair newcomers with a buddy to model behaviours aligned with core values. Enable everyone to contribute to culture development for a sense of company-wide involvement.
3. Reminders and recognition
When employees are reminded of how their work contributes towards your company’s purpose and are recognised for it, they are 30% more likely to believe their organisation inspires employees to work towards a common goal.
4. Open up transparency and communication
Effective communication and transparency are key to a company's culture, fostering trust and collaboration. Transparency increases employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention, while its absence can harm the culture. Honest team reviews also enhance psychological safety.
5. Lead by example
Culture comes from the top – not just in how it’s decided, but how it’s practised. Embodying your core values in the smallest actions or interaction will help your employees see what it means when you say you want your team to be endlessly inquisitive or fearless or kind. Step up. You’re setting the standard.
Want to know more about building a winning company culture? Download our eBook here.