(I say the following with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.)
I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering how you can make working at your organization so miserable that only robotic, emotionless zombies would want to work there. And it just so happens that you’re in luck. Here are four ways you can be sure your organization’s culture is just downright crappy.
1. Be Just Like Everyone Else. This is really important. Do not—I repeat, do not—stand for anything in particular. The last thing you want is to be unique. Employees want to know that their workplace is just as boring and uneventful as they’ve heard their parents’ workplaces were. So make sure you don’t build your own identity. When hiring, here’s the rule of thumb: If they have any sort of halfway-relevant experience, and they’re able to fog a mirror, hire them. Make sure your marketing is as decidedly conservative and universal as possible. If anything about your organization stands out as unique, you risk alienating someone somewhere.
2. Squelch Excitement and Innovation. Employees instinctively want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be part of something that matters. They want to know they’re not simply anonymous cogs in your corporate machine. You mustn’t allow this. If you give them a compelling context within which they can do their work, there’s no telling what horrible things might happen. They might start coming up with ideas, and worse yet, working to make them happen. They might really start taking ownership of their company. They may even begin to rally around your company’s cause (to avoid having a cause, see #1 above).
All of this must be avoided. If you sense an employee or group of employees getting excited about something, put a policy in place that will impede their progress. If someone comes up with an idea, be sure to shoot it down immediately. If someone tries to lead without an appropriate title, remind them where they fall in the organizational hierarchy. It’s important that managers and executives create an atmosphere where employees are afraid to speak up, and do so in very measured tones if they do. If someone implies that that sort of atmosphere is in place, sidestep it by implying it’s all in that employee’s head. Using dismissive phrases like “That’s just their perception” will help with this.
3. Encourage Inconsistency and Ambiguity. The last thing you want is a clear, coherent picture of who you are and where you’re going as an organization. Give employees that, and they might somehow coalesce around the mission and do meaningful work. And if they do meaningful work that they feel contributes to the greater good, they’ll almost certainly enjoy their job more than if they find their work vapid and pointless. So seek to appear rudderless. Communicate shifting values and constantly-changing priorities. Be certain you have no discernibly unique core values.
4. Do Nothing (at least nothing helpful). You—yes, you—make sure you do absolutely nothing to champion anything resembling a healthy culture at your organization. Healthy culture, when done right, is something that tends to happen organically when the conditions are right. So make sure those conditions don’t happen. Complain often. When one of your colleagues or employees tries to make a difference, discourage them. Discount meaningful change efforts by saying they’re the “flavor of the month,” or some other such nonsense.
So there you have it—four easy ways to cultivate a crappy culture. Good luck!