Corporate culture is the key to building a great organization. A positive or healthy culture creates an environment of unity and encouragement and fosters innovation. The results are progress, high quality of work and advancement. The byproducts are high productivity, profitability and innovation. A negative or unhealthy corporate culture, however, causes disunity, apathy and may even lead to the demise of the corporation. Behaviors determine the quality of the culture. Here are 7 habitual behaviors that are indicators of an unhealthy organizational culture and should therefore be avoided at all costs.
- Dwelling on the negative
All actions lead to outcomes, some desirable and some not so desirable – successes and failures. Naturally, we are pleased to see the desirable outcomes, but what about the undesirable? Recognizing them and taking remedial action is necessary, but dwelling on them is unhealthy. Savvy leaders know that everyone in the company carefully watches how the leaders respond to failures. Do they see failure as an opportunity to learn or an opportunity to punish? The first is positive. The second is negative. The first reinforces action and encourages creativity and innovation. The second discourages action and causes fear of failure with the consequence of squelching creativity. Dwelling on the negative should be avoided at all costs. Instead, acknowledge the failure, make sure learning has taken place and focus on the successes as the lever with which the failures could be more than compensated for.
- Acting defensively
When criticism comes your way, you have a choice of ignoring it, considering it an opportunity for improvement, or acting in a defensive fashion. Of the three choices the most destructive response is the last one. There is nothing to be gained by being defensive, except calming your ego. Okay, maybe the criticism was not fair and the accuser was trying to put you down for his or her gratification, but how would a defensive reaction benefit you? It would probably further alienate the accuser and reinforce the accusation. When you act defensively, you tend to seek out ways to minimize interaction with your peers or direct reports, and deprive yourself of valuable input. This doesn’t mean you should not defend a concept, a principle or a value. You should, indeed you must. What we are talking about is avoiding a defensive discourse based on taking the message personally. The culture of defensiveness should be avoided. Instead, people should be encouraged to be detached and try to let critical input bounce off and take the message as feedback for their improvement.
- Giving in to Apathy
Apathy saps the energy the organization needs to achieve its vision. When apathy sets in and grows beyond a few people, the organization is in trouble. Leaders should be on guard to notice cultural patterns that cause apathy and change them immediately. A person is usually apathetic because the real purpose of working in the organization has been lost. The sense of mission, of helping others, of serving the customers and making a difference is no longer meaningful. It is an indication that the person may s never have understood or bought into the mission and vision of the organization. Hence the person sees no reason to serve others and to collaborate with peers to achieve a common goal. The way to combat apathy is to facilitate involvement, ownership of the mission and vision of the organization and, most importantly, a clear definition of how each person can add value.
- Introducing fear into the organization
Some leaders introduce fear in the organization in order to force people to perform. But this tactic at best produces a temporary result. Under the threat of fear people freeze their creative contribution and perform only what is necessary to avoid their actions getting detected. They would not go out of their way to do great things for the company. Fear sets up the organization for mediocrity and mediocrity gives market share to the competitors. In today’s business environment, what keeps you in the business game are new creative products and services that would differentiate you from your competitors. With differentiation, you can demand higher prices and the income needed for growth. By bullying and creating fear amongst your team you are extinguishing creativity as well as multiplying the problem, as those who succeed in such a culture are likely to be bullies, too.
- Hiding the truth
There is no other destructive habits as damaging as hiding the truth. Truth is information, and without accurate, timely and complete information a business cannot survive. The culture will soon degenerate into dishonesty and corruption. Some people feel that when something unpleasant appears, hiding it will protect them and guard their position. Far from it. Hiding the truth is cause for immediately getting fired. Leaders should make every effort to stop this behavior at all costs. Instead, people should know that the truth is their best friend, and any news, however unpleasant, can only help them if they deal with it in a responsible fashion.
- Protecting turfs
Protecting turfs also stems from the lack of understanding and ownership of the mission and vision of the organization. When a person applies for work and is placed in a particular function whether it is human resources, finance, information technology or a line area, the tendency could be to focus only on strengthening their position in this function. Yet, there is a higher purpose beyond the functional silo. It is to help the organization to fulfill its mission and achieve its vision. When there is conflict, one can have the temptation to serve the immediate master. That is unhealthy and should be avoided. What a healthy culture requires is selfless effort to serve the good of the whole, not be blinded by the requirement of the part and be tempted to protect a turf. Sadly, many large organizations tolerate a culture of silos and turfs. This should be avoided at all costs.
- Causing disunity
An organization is a collection of people who are brought together to accomplish a common goal. Unity of these people creates the energy to advance toward the goal. Imagine someone causing disunity among this group. It saps energy, causes people to blame each other, to protect turfs, act defensively, hide the truth and other toxic behaviors we have discussed in this post. What sets in is apathy and lethargy. Such an environment is not attractive to talent retention. Your good people will escape and without talent, the organization will lose its ability to succeed. When failure becomes imminent in the organization, that is when leaders should be sure that people don’t lose faith, don’t move into a survival mode and cause disunity. Their faith must be restored and the habit of causing disunity must be avoided at all costs. Instead, people should be encouraged to gain an understanding of the purpose of the organization and explore how each person can contribute to its advance.
Eliminating these negative behaviors and replacing them with positive ones will enable your corporation to nurture a healthy culture and move forward towards success.