While we talk a lot about what makes a good company culture, it’s equally important to understand the signs of a problematic one.
There are many valuable articles out there (here and here) that will help you spot some of the visible cultural problems either in your own organisation, or one you’re considering working for. However, culture is complex. Things may look good on the surface, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t something beneath which is less than ideal. There may be signs that at first glance aren’t all that apparent or don’t seem cultural in nature at all. These subtle signs can be incredibly important indicators that all is not as well as it might seem.
Over the next couple of months we will discuss some of the more subtle signs of cultural issues from our four culture categories: People, Purpose, Proactivity and Process.
Today, let’s start with people.
People are at the core of any organisation. Study after study confirms that employees who are engaged and happy in their work are also more productive and create more value to the company.
Some countries believe in happiness so much, they mandate its implementation from the top level. http://en.happinessagenda.ae/#overview.
Yet, a recent large-scale study by Gallup discovered that employee engagement is a massive issue worldwide. It found that only 15% of the global work force is actually engaged with their work – and an additional 18% are actively disengaged with it. That means that a whopping 85% of the world’s work force either doesn’t care or actively dislikes their job. What does this mean for the global economy? A $7 trillion annual loss in lost productivity. Or, to put that number in another perspective, that’s enough money to buy Apple. Seven times over.
When it comes to people, there are some very visible indicators – from unusually high staff turnover to noticeable lethargy, tension or unhappiness amongst employees. But these things don’t happen in a vacuum and even when they seem all under control, there are more subtle cultural problems to watch out for when it comes to your people.
Here’s our top 3 guide:
- Working in companies, big or small, one thing almost all of us have in common is going to meetings. Think back over those you have attended - does everything usually go smoothly with few people raising any issues? That’s surely a good sign, right? Well not necessarily. There are multiple reasons why people don’t raise or confirm issues or problems, and only in a small number of cases is this because they have none! More often than not, people keep quiet because they don’t feel sufficiently empowered to speak up, or they don’t perceive it to be an appropriately safe space to do so. They could fear being judged, being blamed for something, or worry about causing negative consequences for other people.
- Another common scenario for cultural clues is in a training session. Reflect critically on the last few you have been involved in – when the trainers asked if anyone had questions, was there a flurry of questions from which interesting and relevant discussion emerged? Or did silence descend, perhaps interrupted by a handful of questions focused primarily on the assessment? Now it could be of course that the trainer was so clear and thorough that they covered everything and anticipated the group’s every need. But there are other more likely causes, including a lack of interest in the topic, a lack of understanding of its importance, a misaligned selection of courses and candidates, or perhaps a level of work or stress that requires getting through the training as quickly as possible and back to more urgent tasks.
- Finally for now, let’s consider the team of people around you in day-to-day operations. In the last couple of months, how often have you experienced them coming to you with their own ideas on how to improve things, to volunteer for something, or to share a positive experience with you? How often do you have to remind people to go home at the end of the day rather than work late, or encourage them to take a break when they have been working particularly hard for a specific project or deadline? If you are not experiencing any of these things, it may be that people are simply doing the minimum needed to get by, indicating that they lack engagement and incentive to do any more. In this case, an area you might want to investigate is how you reward your people, and we’re not just talking about financial gain. Acknowledging a job well done goes a long way.
At the end of the day, whatever you’re selling, the first people you need to sell it to are your employees. They need to believe in the importance of your work. If they don’t, they’re not likely to give it their all and your productivity will suffer as a result. And of course, it’s not about just the individual – in companies where they do, everyone buys into it, with teams creating their own set of social norms that naturally vastly improves on team work and cohesion. It’s not easy, but it is absolutely worth it.
These are some of things that can lurk in the background, that we hope you’ve found useful. Next time we will look into Process and see how it too can affect your culture in hidden ways.