Workplaces are complex. Any honest appraisal of your culture, no matter how wonderful your company is, will include some negative attributes. Good leaders pay attention to both positive and negative aspects of their culture, and they recognize the work is never finished. Healthy company cultures continually evolve, building on strengths and shedding any aspects that don’t work.
Some negative attributes can truly be deadly to the organization as a whole and/or to employees. I have consulted to organizations over the past 25 years. These seven attributes are the most deadly that I have seen. Is this your experience? Please share your comments.
#1 Gender Bias
Gender bias exists. I don’t have to explain. Because it has been such a part of our global culture, most organizations have been able to get away with male-dominated cultures in the past. Individuals have suffered the most. Only the most egregious organizations have been crippled because of extreme bias and abuse at the misogynous and homophobic end of the spectrum. But, as more and more organizations shift toward a gender inclusive approach, the inclusive companies will thrive. They will access more of the workforce, understand their customers better, and simply be smarter and more competitive. Predominately male cultures will die a slow but inevitable death.
#2 Other Bias
Bias regarding race, ethnicity, religion, profession, geography, age, etc. exists. I don’t have to explain these biases either. Police organizations across America are in upheaval because of race bias. 21st century organizations may well be the first to experience the profound benefits of inclusion. Bias will not be completely eliminated, but the more inclusive organizations will thrive while the exclusive ones will wither.
I have experienced many executive retreats when a late night drinking party would spontaneously ensue. Some were planned. I recall one event where every country manager was asked to bring an alcohol product that represented their particular geography. At another recent all-managers meeting, Jello™ shots were the norm. To refuse a shot would set you apart. You may read these examples as no big deal. For others, these are examples of entirely inappropriate and exclusive behavior – offensive to values associated with recovery, health, and some religious traditions. Organizations with a dominant drinking culture eliminate their access to a large part of the workforce. And, heavy drinking is often a symptom of an over-stressed work environment that is killing individuals through stress-related illnesses
If working consistent 70-hour work weeks is a badge of honor in your company, then you may be part of a system that is responsible for stress-related illness, dysfunctional relationships and broken families. However successful and cool your company is, the cost to individuals, families, and society as a whole isn’t worth it. Hours worked isn’t necessarily the right metric. The question is whether people are experiencing full lives, healthy relationships, and physical health.
Riding a wave of success is exciting and empowering. Be pleased with your ability to ride the wave, but recognize that you are not the wave. Hubris leads to spectacular organizational failures like Enron. I have watched successful founders lose touch with reality because of a single business success. Anytime you think you are the smartest person in the room, be careful!
#6 Ends Versus Means
Your culture is defined by the means, not the ends. If you are using the ends to justify how you got there, you are eroding your collective values. The no a&&hole rule made famous by the Netflix culture code is a great example of valuing means over ends. I have been in many conversations with executives who struggle for the moral courage to fire technically competent but toxic employees.
#7 Financials as the Primary Metric
I spend very little time making the “business case” for building a healthy company culture. I don’t buy into the fallacy that the company exists simply to create shareholder value. Structures, like B-corps, are slowing evolving to accommodate a more realistic view. People want to contribute and they want to belong while they do well financially. Millennials have done us a favor by giving voice to these fundamental human needs. Companies that cannot create the conditions for contribution, belonging and fair compensation will enter a slow death spiral as other companies emerge that serve employees and society better.
Where is your company on the spectrum with these seven deadly cultural attributes? I may have missed a few big ones. What other cultural attributes do you think put organizations at the most risk? What are you doing to evolve toward a more vital workplace?