What to Do About a Toxic Corporate Culture
When sexual harassment or discrimination become widespread problems, it’s usually because an organization incidentally developed a corporate culture that overlooks these behaviors. As Uber continues to weed out employees who don’t behave in responsible or ethical ways, other executives should be taking a hard look at their own organizations to make sure they aren’t enabling similar bad behavior.
“Simply observing your company’s current culture is a necessary first step toward understanding it,” says Vip Sandhir, CEO and founder of HighGround, a provider of employee engagement software. “Before jumping into full investigation mode, pay attention to employees’ interactions with each other.”
Sandhir recommends executives ask themselves a few key questions, including:
- Do any employee conflicts exist? If so, how are they resolved?
- Do senior leaders make themselves available to middle managers and employees?
- Are employees recognized for work that reflects the company’s values?
As with any engagement initiative, it’s important not only for leaders to get feedback from the workforce, but to do so often.
“Another simple yet effective way organizations can analyze their cultures is to implement more frequent one-on-one check-ins between managers and employees,” Sandhir says. “This way, managers can observe the behaviors and interaction patterns of their employees while gaining valuable insights into their progress and any concerns they may have.”
Rebuilding the Traditional Corporate Culture
For companies with long histories, corporate cultures may be influenced by values established during times when gender and racial equality were not priorities for society. Now, these organizations may lack the infrastructure to properly recognize indiscretions when they arise.
“In very traditional organizations, nurturing an inclusive, feedback-rich culture is often put on the back burner,” says Sandhir. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean these organizations already have thriving cultures. In most cases, it indicates the opposite. When organizations have an ‘it is what it is’ mentality [about the] culture, they send a message to employees that nothing can — or will — be done to improve the environment.”
Sandhir recommends companies adopt the following best practices to revamp their company cultures:
1. Establish the Company Mission, Vision, and Values, and Communicate These Things Often
Make clear that every employee’s performance is in alignment with the company’s larger goals. Companies get into trouble when there’s no clear connection between employee behaviors and company values. They get into even more trouble when there’s no recourse for employees who blatantly disregard them.
2. Let Employees Take Control of Their Performance
Instead of setting goals for your employees, let them decide what they’d like to achieve in their roles and in the future. By taking this approach, executives can create cultures of autonomy, which ultimately allow for better, accountability-driven performance.
3. Encourage Employees to Voice Their Opinions
Large organizations often struggle with the issue of being “too corporate” to listen to every employee’s concerns, but giving employees ample chance to share their feedback is key to reshaping culture.
4. Promote Multi-Directional Feedback
Leaders should also be held accountable and encouraged to regularly solicit feedback on their own performance. Doing so sends a powerful message to employees that executives, too, are accountable for their performance as leaders.
Your Brand Can’t Handle a Toxic Culture
If employees leave a company because they feel mistreated, that information will eventually find its way into reviews on popular job sites such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn. Long story short, candidates won’t apply to companies where they could face mistreatment or harassment.
“Failing to create a positive work environment can hinder an organization’s ability to recruit and retain top talent,” Sandhir says. “In Uber’s case, for instance, job seekers may be less likely to pursue opportunities with the company after reading negative news surrounding its toxic culture and claims of sexism. Today’s best and brightest employees want to work for companies where they’ll be respected and valued, and a poor brand reputation will deter them from ever applying in the first place.”
Beyond the employees, unhappiness in the workforce can seep into other areas of the company.
“Happy employees mean happy business, so when workers aren’t satisfied with culture, customer experience often plummets,” Sandhir says. “While it’s essential to promote positive external discussions of your brand’s image, your ultimate goal should be sustaining loyal customers. If your brand is known for having a notoriously poor work environment, it’s likely that customers will take their business elsewhere.”