Detoxing Your Corporate Culture

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Over the years I’ve had the pleasure to meet lots of great people who have survived working in a toxic corporate culture. A toxic company culture takes its toll on individuals and bottom line results.
Just like with environmental toxins, some work place toxins get to you quickly, others take more time to cause harm.

I remember interviewing a very capable woman who was enjoying her new job in a company that had a very constructive culture (achievement, encouraging, friendly).

As a side note it’s always interesting to me that more progressive and constructive organizations, or those that aspire to be, are the ones who bring us in while the really bad workplaces never have the time or money for coaching, training or development. Hmmm.

She shared with me that in her previous job, she was known as the evil office witch. I was quite surprised because her demeanour was quite calm and relaxed. She shared that her previous employer was a tyrant and the only way for her to succeed and stay employed was to emulate his behaviour. After a while it became “normal”.
Her previous employer went out of business (not surprising!) and she landed her dream job. She admitted that she was going through a detoxification of sorts. She had to battle her ingrained reflex not to trust people, not to share information and not to bark out commands.

Don’t be Fooled
Just because people don’t leave your organization doesn’t mean the culture is constructive. In high-paying, benefit-rich industries employees can feel obligated to stay even though they are dying on the inside. Instead judge your culture on the level of sick days taken, the enthusiasm with which employees conduct themselves, the amount and pace of change and innovation. If these areas are lower than you like, chances are your corporate culture is sapping the life out of your employees.
If your culture shows signs of toxicity, now is the time to take action. It starts at the top and it requires determined leadership to root out the workplace poisons.
If you have a constructive culture, give yourself a pat on the back. You are in rare territory. Keep a watchful eye for potential negative impacts caused by a bad hiring decision at a senior level or bad promotion decisions into supervisory roles.
Reflection Questions
Is your culture toxic or tremendous? How does your leadership team contribute to the problem or success? Have you become toxic?

Action Items

  1. You could conduct an Employee Attitude Survey and measure the level of satisfaction and then take action to make improvement. This can be helpful if the senior leadership team is in denial and thinks everything is wonderful.
  2. Chances are that your gut will lead you to see the likely sources of culture problems and they could be scattered from the executive suites to the front line leaders.
  3. You could skip right to the likely root of the problem – leadership and recognize that a constructive leadership team from the top down is the best way to turn a new page and build a constructive high-performing organization.
  4. Avoid flavor of the month initiatives as they act as window dressing and all smart employees see right through them.
  5. Recognize that depending on the current level of toxicity, the time it takes to fully make changes could be 2-5 years.
  6. If you see yourself as part of the problem, you can get some executive coaching. If the team needs help, perhaps group training makes sense.

Like many problems, admitting you have a problem is the first step to fixing the problem. Let me know how I can help.