How Leaders Can Fix a Negative Company Culture

Guest post from Chris Dyer:
When company culture fails, it’s usually on one of two
planes: the work environment has gone rotten, or the way in which work is
transacted has deteriorated. The two realms are linked, though, so once one aspect
has been infected with negativity, the other one may well catch the disease.
Business leaders have two choices. We can build or rebuild
culture from the ground up. Or we can address the most glaring symptoms first
and make improvements from there. If you’re already suffering from an adverse
cultural situation, here are some quick ways to regain control and turn things
Supportive Atmosphere
The purpose of workplace culture is to support employees in
their quest to do their best. And culture is not “out there.” It comes from the
top. Leaders should be directly involved with untangling workplace snarls. If
your environment is not supportive—or
doesn’t feel that way to your staff—you may need to take one of these steps:
Say yes instead of no. Negative responses are often the default
when a boss wants to maintain power, or a direct report wants to avoid hassles.
Instead of automatically denying requests for a raise or flex time, for
instance, let your first instinct be to agree … with strings attached.
Condition the perk on something you want from the employee, such as reaching
certain objectives or adding skills that increase their expertise.
If it’s managers or staff who tend to reject requests or new
policies, take some time to set firm boundaries and expectations: We expect you to accept new assignments, protocols, or crunch-time duties. Create
consequences for noncompliance. And add incentives for going with the flow or
above and beyond typical demands.
Bridge divides with team bonding. Harmful gossip and hostile
cliques can’t take hold when your workforce feels like a team. If those
problems already exist, go all out to remind your people that you all bat for
the same side. First, make sure that you and your top leadership don’t indulge
in backstabbing or blame games.
Then, use transparency and other trust-building measures to
bring everyone together. If you are transparent about the company’s financials,
for example, every staff member will understand how their actions affect the
organization’s viability—and, by extension, everyone’s job security. Make sure
your employees know each other professionally, by sharing individuals’ roles
and goals, and socially, by including ice-breakers in meetings or company
Recognize routine and extraordinary efforts. They don’t call
work “the daily grind” for no reason. A little acknowledgement goes a long way
toward showing your people that you appreciate all they do. From personal gifts
to annual bonuses, gestures reinforce thank-yous and demonstrate sincerity.
It’s important for leaders to acknowledge performance in
front of coworkers, and it’s a good idea to let employees broadcast their kudos
to their peers as well. You might hold an award ceremony, or reserve meeting
time to name names. In my company, we designed a special emoji that staff can
use in company-wide chats to thank someone who helped out or saved a big
Unrestricted Work
If we ask employees about pet peeves, a top choice will be
that leaders make it more difficult to do their work. Sometimes this is a
control issue; sometimes just poor planning. Removing the obstacles to
accomplishing daily goals and solving problems—and giving employees the leeway
to make their own decisions—turns this negative into a positive.
Ask for feedforward,
not just feedback.
Whether you’re setting new policies or monitoring the
status quo, ask your people for their opinions frequently. Don’t limit
questions to past activities. Go all out and ask what would make it easier to
do their work—then act on it.
In your usual project debriefing sessions, take what you
learn and apply it to the future. Pair off and have team members ask each other
what they need from one another going forward. This is a way to unite teams and
get an instant dose of positivity.
Redefine problem
Break the cycle of putting out fires by treating trouble as a
learning opportunity. Use positive approaches such as appreciative inquiry,
which identifies what works when parts of initiatives fail, and which uses
brainstorming and strategic planning to arrive at an ideal solution.
It also helps to get out in front of a crisis by proactively
setting up alternative paths before
things go wrong. It’s much easier to envision plans B and C without a deadline
or domino effect clouding your judgment. Include this tactic in project team
meetings and larger management planning sessions.
Hire to innovate. Business
and HR leaders can cover all the bases by keeping innovation in mind as they
select new hires. It may feel good to have a homogeneous staff, but this
stifles innovation. To avoid forced consensus, take generational and background
diversity in job candidates into account.
A staff of mixed ages and personal backgrounds brings with
it a healthy mix of viewpoints. Different thinking styles strike more sparks,
providing more and better ideas to help face challenges and improve workflow. Broad
diversity also discourages clique-forming by a majority group, actually
strengthening the bonds of your teams.
Even as you address the negative aspects of your company
culture, you are entering a positive zone of opportunity. As a business leader,
follow the golden rule to restore or enrich your organization’s work
environment: model the behavior you want to see, and then remove any obstacles
toward achieving it. Good culture will follow.
Author Bio
Leadership speaker Chris Dyer is a recognized performance and company culture expert, as well as
Founder and CEO of PeopleG2, a leading background check company. He has
channeled what he has learned in his business and research into his
best-selling book,
The Power of Company Culture (Kogan Page, 2018). Chris is also the host
of TalentTalk on OC Talk Radio and iHeartRadio and speaks at events around the
world on company culture, remote workforces and employee engagement. He is a
regular contributor to Forbes, Inc.,, the Society for Human Resources
Management and many more business publications.