3 Culture Killers

Culture killers. Every organization has ‘em even though every organization wishes they didn’t. They’re things–sometimes little, sometimes not-so-little–that are like a groin kick to your culture. (Yeah, I just said that.)

Here are three that I hear come up over and over and over again. Does your organization do these? Do you do these?

1. Paying lip service to your people.

Don’t worry. If your organization does this, you’re not alone. It happens all the time. That doesn’t make it OK, though; it makes it an epidemic. Rare are the managers or executives who would answer in the negative when asked if they care about their people. Rarer still is the “Careers” page on a company’s website that doesn’t in some way tout the amazing atmosphere at ABC Corp, great employees at ABC Corp, and opportunities for advancement at ABC Corp. The problem is that too often “amazing” actually means “your average, run-of-the-mill,” “great” actually means…well…no one’s really sure what makes ABC Corp’s employees great in comparison to others, and “opportunities for advancement” actually means that occasionally people quit their jobs, and when that happens, they’ll post those job openings.

That’s paying lip service. You talk like your people are your priority, but in reality, they’re not. You talk like your culture is fantastic and unique, but it’s actually not either of those things. Trouble is, people see through that crap. If they weren’t so scared, you’d see them rolling their eyes when someone says stuff like that. It’s not fooling anyone after a while.

2. “We want your feedback.”

Do you? Do you really, really want their feedback? Employees can tell when you’re serious about getting and using their feedback, and when you’re feeding them a line because you know that’s what you’re supposed to say to your employees. Why do you think employee engagement surveys are such a big deal and continue to be in such high demand? Because everyone knows on some level that you’re supposed to be getting feedback from your employees. But what happens when they give it? Are you quick to nod and smile while they’re talking (assuming you actually sit down as two humans in a room and talk with them instead of always hiding behind a survey) and then breathe a sigh of relief when they leave so you can go back to not actually wanting their feedback? Have you ever demonstrated human vulnerability in those moments and admitted a shortcoming? Have you ever gotten an idea and actually thrown your full weight and influence into helping make something happen for an employee? Even if that thing presented no “win” for you personally?

Employees can tell when you want their feedback, and when you just want them to think you want their feedback. A leader at another organization recently said to me in regards to asking for feedback from employees, “I just wish we’d cut the bull.” Agreed.

3. Leaders who are allowed to be the antithesis of leadership.

Sometimes, for any number of reasons, there are managers and/or executives within an organization who are “allowed” to be…well…just bad. Maybe they’ve been there for too long. Maybe they’re a horrible culture fit and no one’s ever had the stones to do anything about it. Maybe they’ve never had the stones to realize it themselves and move on of their own accord. Maybe there is no discernible culture, so almost anything goes from a leadership perspective. They don’t offer legit feedback and support to their folks, and when they do what they’d call “coaching,” it’s more akin to them scolding a three-year-old child than it is actual coaching and mentoring. They can be rude, consistently arrogant, and often downright selfish. They control too much and give too little. They intimidate others, and they secretly relish doing it.

Good luck. There’s no way your team will ever buy into your pleas for great leadership and healthy culture when you’re allowing that sort of cancer to fester in your organization. They see what’s really going on. You want it to be a great place to work, unless of course that means you might have to make tough decisions or have temporary moments of interpersonal discomfort while addressing the aforementioned anti-leader.

Those are just three. I’m sure you can think of others. Feel free to mention them in the comments section below. I know I’ve heard oodles of others myself. Now do some self and organizational analysis and root out some of those toxic culture killers.

10 comments

  1. [...] in his Workplace Mojo blog, Matt Monge wrote about “culture killers,” [...]

  2. mike collins says:

    Great post Matt and the one thing that underpins all the above in my opinion is one word ‘accountability’.

    If there is no accountability or consequence then what you describe will continue to grow and to fester and poison our desire to work for such people and organisations.

    Question is do we put up with it and accept this is just the way it is, or do we do something about it?

  3. Heather says:

    Excellent post and so true! Authenticity is essential. You are right. If not right away, then very soon the average employee realizes that things are not what they seem. Good stuff to think on.

  4. Rob Tomasino says:

    Matt spot on analysis, Mike great comment.
    What we are willing to accept will become our standard. So if we are willing to accept the culture killers that Matt shares then we deserve the resulting culture.
    Accountability, Accountability, Accountability are the recommended cures to the challenges mentioned above and for the challenges we face on a daily basis.

  5. gen says:

    There can be an entire manuscript based on number 3. That is just a failure of leadership. IMO, that cancer’s boss needs to go in addition to the cancer. Many times a person like that is gone quickly and many times they are there for over 15-20-25 years. Everyone knows who they are and ask “why does he get away with that?” Hence, good people end up leaving that organization because of that entrenched behavior. Because it really DOESN’T exist everywhere.

    Many, many years ago, a co-worker was called up to the COO’s office and wanted her to move to another department to work for this guy that fits your description. She very specifically stated why she didn’t want to work for him (giving examples). The response she got from the COO, “don’t you think I know all that already?”. So, clearly this COO didn’t want to deal with the cancer but wanted someone who is reliable and stable, will get things done on time and do it accurately, to work for this guy. She went to work for this guy because she would have been black balled for saying no, but ended up leaving the company about a year later.

  6. [...] in his Workplace Mojo blog, Matt Monge wrote about “culture killers,” [...]

  7. Celine Sika says:

    Hi Matt,

    What you describe in this post is very true. We can write books on culture killers and there will be no end. I experienced almost the second and the third one. Directors who are not able to talk with their collaborators and hide behind surveys trying to make them think they need their feedback, who are not able to talk with their collaborators and tell them they will not renew their contract and just put the information in the organization’s newsletter. Or directors who allow collaborators to be bad because they are not able to say No to them and apply the consequences. Thanks , Matt, for putting a finger on these serious issues. I hope man people will read this post and be aware of some of the reasons why their organizations or businesses can not grow.

  8. Ron Shevlin says:

    Excellent list, Matt. After reading through the post, I had a reaction I was going to share here, but after reading the comments, realized that gen captured my thoughts in his/her comment.

    How does a leader, who is the antithesis of leadership, get to be a leader, and be allowed to remained as leader? It must be because some other anti-leader appointed or promoted that person into his/her position on anti-leadership.

    In essence, Matt, #3 is likely to be cause of #1 and #2. And that #3 is a symptom for a deeper cultural issue: Namely that anti-leaders are rewarded with positions of leadership, which they abuse and perpetuate with their anti-leadership. Fix that, and a lot of other things fix themselves.

  9. [...] idea, as simple as it sounds, could alter the trajectory of an organization’s culture if applied appropriately. Organizations need to view their workplaces in that way–as [...]

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