Why do some companies suffer from poor culture? It’s the executives’ fault, of course. Ok, so maybe we’re not entirely serious making that blanket statement blaming the C-Suite for the role it plays establishing a strong culture. However, they can contribute to creating a poor culture. The first big problem is that most organizational leaders are “completely unaware or have no way to identify the quality of the culture in their workplace,” according to research by LearnLoft.
So, what can leaders do better?
Withholding Information Leads to Avoidable Fears
Amy Sanchez, an executive career coach at Swim Against the Current, said nothing is worse for an organization than a leader who is not transparent about company plans and/or big changes that are coming.
“Once organizations learn about a coming change, unless they are frequently reassured,” she said, “the natural tendency is to jump to worse case scenario and fear for job security. This can lead to an unengaged or hostile work environment.”
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Lack of Push for Diversity, Inclusion
Leaders that do not invest in creating a culture of diversity and inclusion often fail, said Anne-Valerie Heuschen, VP of corporate affairs at Voxbone. She said her company takes pride in its diverse global workforce made up of 34 nationalities. “Leaders ruin company culture by not investing in their people,” Heuschen said. “Business success is impossible without a diverse, representative and engaged workforce. … An open and inclusive workplace is key to maintaining a diverse and vibrant culture, but you can't have one without the other."
It’s not uncommon to see a management board that looks and acts very uniformly, according to Sanche. “When this happens, diversity of thinking from anyone in the organization is often dismissed and even criticized and the company becomes very limited and myopic in its thinking. Not valuing diversity in thinking can lead to employees who are reluctant to share their opinion, even if it’s one that is critical for the right business decision to be made.”
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Avoiding Conflict Builds Hostility
Cherita Weatherspoon, founder and lead consultant of Mission Critical Consulting, which focuses on leadership, said company leaders who choose not to address issues and avoid having difficult conversations contribute to the buildup of toxicity and hostility in the workplace. “Conflict is unavoidable, and avoiding conversations that place you squarely in the middle of conflict does nothing to negate the conflict. It only makes the situation worse. When leaders avoid conflict, they look weak and they position themselves for failure. Your people will learn to not bring issues to your attention because they know you will not deal with them.”
While dealing with conflict may be uncomfortable, Weatherspoon added, often you end up creating innovative solutions and great ideas can result. “Avoiding conflict, however, is likely going to create more conflict,” she said.
Not Focusing on Achievements
Too often leaders focus exclusively on what’s missing instead of what has been achieved, Sanche said. “Many leaders are so focused on building a growing organization that they focus exclusively on what still needs to be done instead of all the hard work previously achieved,” Sanche said. “This commonly leads people to feel unappreciated.”
That kind of philosophy can trickle down through the organization and lead to a “glass half empty culture.”
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The last thing leaders should do when things go wrong is shirk responsibility. “When leaders take credit for the success of their teams, but don’t take responsibility for the failures, it weakens any trust that might exist and erodes morale,” Weatherspoon said. “People will be less likely to volunteer for assignments and to give their best to a task or project when it is delegated to them when they know they will not be acknowledged for their work. They are also less likely to take initiative when they realize that any failure they experience will be their failure alone.”
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Too Eager for Change
Weatherspoon said executives who “jump on the bandwagon of every new trend in their industry without consideration of how the trend aligns with their organization’s mission, culture and resources” could “create an environment of instability and insecurity for their employees.”
Two examples of how leaders make this mistake are: Launching new initiatives every year to replace initiatives that had not been given time to work; replacing technology and software programs with whatever is trending now before users have learned the current systems. “This type of behavior will cause your people to question your competency, vision and management of resources, resulting in a lack of confidence in your leadership,” Weatherspoon said. The feelings of instability and insecurity will cause good employees to either leave the organization or refrain from giving you their best because their work may not matter in a few months.”