Every once in a while I come across a client who wants to work with me. After some digging we get to the realization that some problems that have surfaced are a result of a broken, ineffective or bad culture. Whether you’ve grown your company from the beginning and are seeing the employee engagement shift, or you’ve been working at a company for a while now but find you no longer align with some of the business practices, it can be a true awakening when the realization hits – “I don’t like this culture anymore.”
Here are three questions to ask if you find yourself questioning whether your values still align with your corporate culture, or things need to change.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to take a step back and establish that everyone, at every level of the company – new hire, manager, executive, or owner – acts with leadership. A person given a responsibility will take charge of that responsibility and act on it using his or her best judgment. This is the beginning of authentic leadership at any level. It’s the ability to find your compass when faced with choices, and then using that compass to make smart, ethical and productive decisions that will carry your progress forward.
If the leadership, from anyone at any level of the organization, is no longer authentic or the decisions being made are coming from an unethical or questionable standpoint, then progress will eventual erode. A healthy culture keeps these leadership pitfalls in check by constantly reinforcing the authentic leadership that created the company in the first place. If things are starting to change, ask yourself what parts of the culture are not satisfactory, and why? Go deeper and look for specific situations where this comes up. Ask yourself what parts of the culture you do like and how they conflict with the areas that are changing? This helps you determine if the changes are happening around you, or within you. Sometimes your values are the ones that have shifted, causing you to no longer feel comfortable in the culture of your organization or the business you created.
When I’m working with startups, this is where we begin. Every company should have a mission and values. They should be simple, and easy to remember and understand. The best ones are uncomplicated and form the foundation for everything that company does – how it finds clients, how it creates customer service, how it treats its employees, and what kind of people it hires. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say a company’s culture is a living, breathing and changing thing that evolves as the company grows. How it evolves will depend on how much the company stays true to its mission and values.
If you’re finding that the culture has not grown from a clearly defined mission and values, then ask yourself, what is the culture compared to the mission and values? Your goal is to define the culture and look for synergies. How would you rather see the culture evolve? What becomes possible for the organization if or when this change happens? More importantly, what becomes possible for you?
This one is important and the easiest way to see when the culture in a company is shifting. As a consultant, I saw this first hand with a client. She was an executive director who took more responsibilities when her department merged with another one. She began to make changes with her leadership team by removing the senior managers who worked collaboratively with their teams, and putting senior managers who were overbearing and controlling in place. For her, it was a reaction to fear that she might not be able to handle the merger. She wanted no surprises and insisted on more authoritarian leadership. For a department of employees used to working a certain way, this became disruptive and problems surfaced right away. The symptoms were subtle but powerful. Employees complained of not being able to sleep, not getting projects done on time, and not enjoying the workday or the people around them. One team leader confessed that his Sundays were dreadful because he spent all the time stressing about how Monday would start.
If you’re running a company and finding that employee satisfaction has tanked, then this is a great opportunity to take a survey of employees at all levels to find out what is and isn’t working, and to define what high performance should mean. If you’re an employee at a company where something has shifted rapidly, then it helps to ask yourself some personal questions. How was the culture before and why is it no longer working? What still works that you can build on? How can you take responsibility for contributing to the past culture, and how you can contribute to creating the new one while still staying true to yourself?
In the end, culture flows up and down an organization. It’s fluid and changeable – for better or for worse. It helps to know that no matter where you are in the hierarchy of a company, you have the power to make small changes that can create big impact. If you’ve found ways to impact your company’s culture, I’d love to hear about it. Shoot me an email and share your insights.
Have you heard? I have some available coaching slots this summer and would love to work with you. Summer coaching sessions are available at a reduced price so if you’re interested in working with me, check out my strategy sessions and be sure to contact me.