Today, one of most common buzzwords among companies is “culture.” And while most companies say they are dedicated to developing an attractive culture for their employees, many tend to focus on elements that are largely superficial and often irrelevant to the actual core culture of the organization.
Study.com defines organizational culture as “a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organizations. These shared values have a strong influence on the people in the organization and dictate how they dress, act, and perform their jobs.” Developing a strong culture for your company fundamentally relies on developing trust through integrity and consistency.
However, many companies miss the mark when it comes to understanding the foundation of a strong culture, focusing on superficial elements. From ping pong tables and pet-friendly offices to unlimited snacks and unrestricted vacations, many of the employee benefits businesses provide in an effort to boost the brand’s culture may end up contributing to an attractive working environment, but do little to enhance the actual, genuine culture of an organization.
Unfortunately, there are many simple habits and trends that can quickly derail a company’s culture. Here’s a look at some major ‘culture killers’:
Superfluous Spending: Failing to manage a responsible ‘burn rate,’ or pace of the organization’s spending, not only places tremendous unnecessary pressure on the company, but also can create disruption and distrust among employees. Superfluous expenditures and “investments” that misalign with or distract from the goals of the company can create concern and foster frustration across the organization, resulting in an invasion of bitterness, stress and doubt within the culture. Worst of all, it can place the company in a position of weakness, forcing it to raise subsequent funding prematurely, which can result in project cuts, employee terminations or the end of the business.
Cultural Kicker: As straight-forward as it sounds, leaders that spend the organization’s money as if it’s their own, with discipline and responsibility, illustrate to their employees and investors that the value of a dollar is fundamental to the company’s culture. That’s not to say that organization’s should be cheap and fail to invest in their employees or initiatives, but it’s pretty clear when the spending gets to unnecessarily superfluous levels and creates unnecessary pressure on the business.
Double Standards: As elementary as it sounds, few things kill a culture more rapidly than differing sets of expectations, rules or standards for employees. There are many dimensions of double standards that can arise from favoritism to nepotism and are easily identified across an organization. The problem with all of these situations is the resulting lack of accountability that typically comes with the situation and the fact that it breeds resentment and frustration among employees. This sends a message to teams that the organization is comfortable with an unfair set of standards. Leaders are human, but can, and in many cases certainly do, have ‘blind spots’ that are rooted in favoritism that can ultimately damage the culture and organization. The problem is these ‘blind spot’ typically live their namesake and are unseen by the individual, which ends up damaging both their organization’s culture and their personal reputation.
Cultural Kicker: True leaders tend to be on the lookout to recognize their biases and keep them in check. Focusing on establishing the organization’s balanced standards, documenting them and adhering to them on a consistent basis is a major step towards building a strong culture. Hiring for skills, promoting on merit and making decisions on fact not only fosters integrity in the organization but also eliminates the cancerous trait of favoritism.
Weak Strategy: While nearly every company says it has a ‘vision,’ this often ends up often being little more than a sentence or two on what the business wants to accomplish…someday. Despite this, too many companies lack a genuine, executable strategy that is communicated to the organization resulting in incongruent initiatives that distract and deplete precious resources. Aside from creating confusion and conflict, this often results in a massive cultural deficiency due to the frustration of employees pulling their oars in conflicting directions. Where some companies fall short is the belief that strategy comes from a single point in the organization; nothing can be further from the truth. Genuine strategy is generated across the entire organization. Many of a company’s greatest innovations come from the break room rather than the boardroom. It’s leadership’s responsibility to cultivate strategy as an initiative that spans the organization.
Cultural Kicker: Devising a strategy should be rooted in logic and clarity and focused on the ability to execute against it for the team. Communicating this on a consistent basis to the entire organization not only fosters trust and inclusion, but also cultivates a culture of honesty and openness to generate ideas and innovation.
Inability to Adapt: An inability to adapt to change or simply listen to those on the frontlines of business cannot only result in frustration and apathy from those employees, but also loss of confidence in the leadership. Worse yet, it can push the business into a tailspin that can be incredibly challenging to pull out of. Ego is often a catalyst of this, with management that thinks they are all-seeing while ignoring the perspective of those employees who are experiencing the realities of the business in the market.
Cultural Kicker: While having the ability to be versatile and adaptive is important to a business, listening to the team is fundamental to developing a strong culture. Keeping things on autopilot with an inflexible approach often ends up steering the business onto a collision course.
Deficient Discipline: While a company’s failure to adapt can curse a culture, so can pouncing on initiatives that distract from the fundamental focus of a business. Brands that regularly chase the latest trend base on isolated or no data in the hope of a revenue grab end up frustrating all sides of the company with massive development shifts and business revisions. The major problem is that these initiatives are often so rushed to “hit a closing window” that they aren’t given the time or resources to develop properly and the core solution of the business ends up suffering due to a lack of attention. Worst of all these ‘patchwork’ solutions often lack congruency and end up confusing clients and prospects as to how they exactly fit together.
Culture Kicker: Focus is as much what you don’t do as what you do. The ability to maintain discipline and actually say “no” to concepts and ideas, no matter how appealing they are, can give a major boost to a company’s culture by allowing employees to focus by doing something great in lieu of providing several incomplete solutions.
There’s no big secret to building a culture that creates passionate, loyal employees. Rooting it in integrity and consistency in lieu of beanbags and bar-b-ques is critical in fostering n environment that individuals embrace and gravitate towards. While this sounds easy, the fact remains that humans make it abundantly difficult. It’s those genuine leaders that focus on the fundamentals in lieu of just “fun” that are able to construct cultures that drive the success of organizations.