6 Ways to Sabotage Your Company Culture

How do you know your company's culture is slipping? Watch for these six warning signs.
April 25, 2013

At a recent speaking engagement, a vice president of HR stopped over to chat with me. Over the last few years, her department had rolled out a new employee engagement initiative with phenomenal results. Her CEO was so impressed that she received a bonus and a promotion. But there was a problem. She told me: “To be honest, I feel that our new culture is going backward. We made all these great strides, but every day we seem to lose a little more ground.”

This was disturbing to hear, all the more so because it’s not that uncommon a scenario. We all recognize that having a strong organizational culture is critical to success, and invest funds, resources and time accordingly. We work tirelessly to move the needle, and we rejoice when we achieve stellar results. But too often, the good news doesn’t last. Sometimes, we are even worse off than before we started.

How can you prevent your recent cultural shift from vanishing quietly into the organization’s history books? Here are six warning signs that you’re headed in the wrong direction.

Your culture change program is just another initiative. You know what they say about initiatives. People get really excited about the shiny new toy until the novelty wears off and the unpleasant work of caring for and feeding the change begins. Make sure your leadership and team understand that your cultural shift is meant to be long term, and continually reinforce their commitment.

You talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Though you have done a terrific job communicating your change in organizational materials, speeches and training materials, your culture as experienced by actual employees is totally different from what you’re advocating on paper. For example, you can talk up work-life integration all you want, but if your managers don’t support some flex time in practice, your pretty words will eventually sound hollow.

RELATED: Can Work and Life Be Integrated Into One?

Your new hires are square pegs. Nothing will sink a blossoming culture faster than a bunch of new arrivals who want to take the organization in a different direction. Leaders are of course the most damaging, but a vocal majority on any team can be problematic. Combat this by making sure all interviewers are provided with a consistent definition of your new culture, and consider using a cultural fit assessment like Kenexa’s.

You are giving an inch to the old guard. It’s no secret that people don’t like change, especially people who have been doing things a certain way for a long time. But don’t let naysayers manipulate you into changing course and don’t let them slide if they attempt to go back to the old ways. All it takes is a little poison to kill the entire water supply.

You aren't analyzing your progress. True culture change involves positive behavior adaptations that you can factually measure. If you’re relying on anecdotal evidence, it’s only a matter of time before that house of cards comes down. (Be certain that your new culture stands up to scrutiny by following these guidelines.)

RELATED: How to Change Your Company Culture

You rest on your laurels. It’s very easy to bask in the glow of a program that has exceeded expectations. But sustaining a winning organizational culture requires constant follow-up and reexamination. After all, times change, and if your culture doesn’t change with them, the ideas you once considered revolutionary will eventually become stale and irrelevant.

Read more articles on company culture.

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