The pandemic has placed all organisations in uncertainty. The key to success is changing and adapting, which cannot be achieved without proactively leading the organisational. Yes, even when employees are working from home, there is still a corporate culture. But it is harder to understand what the culture is and to lead it. 

In my previous posts, I defined culture and explained how this fluffy concept influences every organisation. Love it or hate it, culture influences every stage of your company! If you don’t proactively lead it, it might take the wrong direction and even act as the immune system, protecting the company from changes.  

Too often, a culture that supports one stage of the organisational life-cycle doesn’t necessarily help the next step. Similarly, a culture that supports the current strategy may be a blocking stone I implementing organisational changes and a new strategy. 

In this post, I discuss the signs of danger that every top executive should look for and the steps to take to fix the problem. 

Signs of an unhealthy culture 

Many signs are indicating that something unhealthy is going on, both internally and externally: 

External signs: 

  • Clients are no longer your promoter– even if they are not complaining out loud, if they are no longer out there actively speaking about your product/service, you should be concerned that something is not working well. 
  • You are losing to competitors 
  • External relationships are getting cold-  this could potentially include suppliers, investors and other stakeholders. 

Internal signs: 

  • Lack of collaboration between, and across teams– Teams that must collaborate, seem to be competing. For example, sales and Technology are not working together to provide the best solution. You see blaming, finger-pointing in the office and you hear the use of terms such as “us vs. them”. 
  • It becomes more challenging to make changes and adapt to the environment- team members are focused on “why it won’t work”, rather than on finding solutions. 
  • Great talent shows average performance– Team members are focused on completing their tasks and performing to a satisfactory level only. Where is the enthusiasm that used to be here? 
  • Fear of taking risks– No stretching the boundaries, no new initiatives. It seems as if team members are reluctant to bring up new ideas that may fail or won’t be accepted. 
  • Sergeant gossip controls the floor– Managers listen to gossip and make decisions upon hearsays. 
  • Bad news travel too slowly and often after attempts to fix them 
  • It’s no longer fun 

What to do when you recognise one of these signs? 

  1. External Organisational Diagnosis– seek an external consultant to conduct an organisational diagnosis (for a 50 people organisation, it’s a day or two). An Employee Opinion Survey for itself will not work. It is not about the numbers, but the reasons behind them. People in small organisations are often concerned that the management will be able to recognise who said what, hence will not be as open as they will be with an external consultant. 
  1. Build a change plan that addresses each of the areas of concerns in the organisational diagnosis.Communicate the situation openly and build the change plan with the team! 
  1. Review the company values and their actual implementation. Yes, values again… They are not there for the paper, nor for being hanged on the wall. They need to be explicitly embedded in decision making and in retrospectives. In other words, when making decisions, it is essential to ask “what ought we do?” “Is this decision in line with our values?”.  Every project reviews should include discussion about values. For example: if one of the values is teamwork, review the team and cross-team collaborations. It’s not enough to recruit for values; everyone must act according to the values daily. 
  1. Don’t compromise on company culture- remember that every behaviour you turn a blind eye to means that you promote this behaviour. An extreme example would be bullying: if you know that someone is bullying a team member and you do not stop it immediately, you provide a licence for this person to continue and for others to behave the same. There is a reason why successful CEOs dismiss talented people who do not follow the company values. They know that by doing so, they protect the company’s future. 
  1. Always lead the culture– model the behaviours and don’t let the leadership and management teams behave in any way that contradicts the values. If they cannot model the behaviours, they cannot be part of your team!