Tags: Human Resources

Culture affects every aspect of your company, from the public’s perception of your brand to your employees’ job satisfaction to your bottom line.

Because there’s so much at stake, it’s important that your corporate culture is focused on efficiency, collaboration, adaptability and open to improvement – and all starts with articulating just what kind of culture you work in and what you aspire the culture to become.  As Brian Kristofek, President and CEO of Upshot, shared during a recent interview, “Having a strong performing culture is the difference between being a good company and a great company.”

By now you have heard or read about high performance cultures (HPC’s for short) and how this type of culture might be the best option out there in terms of efficiency and satisfaction.  There are actually several variations of high performance cultures in action today, but all have consistent foundation principles that define them as an HPC.  From the perspective of a seasoned thirty-year HR executive, I can vouch that a high-performance culture is well worth the time and effort to put in place.  But culture is more than just a “set it and forget it” initiative.  Like a garden, it requires constant attention, pruning and fertilizer to support its growth.  Leave it to its own devices, and the culture becomes either a tangled web of weeds or barren.  So, exactly what is a high performance culture, how does one go about putting it in place, and how do you ensure its long-term viability?  In a three-part series, I will explore the rationale of a High Performance Culture, how to go about implementing it, and how to cultivate it for long-term sustainability and success.

Let’s start first with a definition.  According to Wikipedia, a high-performance culture is an amalgamation of behaviors and norms that leads an organization to achieve superior results by setting clear business goals, defining employees' responsibilities, creating a trusting environment, and encouraging employees to continuously grow and reinvent themselves.  That’s a lot resting on a defined culture.  But before we jump into HPC’s in more detail, let’s explore what they are not.  According to Liz Ryan, CEO/founder of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap, outlined below are the top 10 signs of a toxic, destructive culture:

  • ‌People don't communicate, don't smile, don't joke and don't reinforce one another. You will notice that interactions are more formal than friendly and that no one seems happy to be working there.
  • People are very concerned about titles, job descriptions and levels in the hierarchy. When you meet someone new in the organization, they'll be quick to tell you their title and status. Power (the conferred kind associated with a job title or connections to high-level leaders) is more important than the mission they're supposedly pursuing. ‌ 
  • Rules and policies dictate action. Policies are more important than the good judgment of your peers or the combined decades of experience or the rich context of the situation you're addressing.  Everybody is afraid of getting in trouble for breaking the rules, and so they keep their heads low and try not to step out of line.
  • Managers and employees make up two completely separate groups that seldom interact. When they do interact, it's a one-way communication in which the manager tells the underling what to do. There's no other give-and-take conversation or collaboration between management and everybody else.
  • While it's well known that employees are unhappy, nobody talks about it openly. HR people may be off-site or just not involved, or they may be frustratingly chirpy and ineffectual as they pretend along with everybody else.
  • There is much talk about infractions and demerits but little to no recognition of extraordinary effort or triumphs.
  • People do not speak up even when they are presented with impossible goals, ridiculous plans or patently stupid ideas they are expected to implement. They say nothing, but later they complain to their friends about the stupid ideas and foolish goals.
  • The informal grapevine is many times more effective as a communications network than any type of official company communication.
  • Employees have little to no latitude in performing their jobs. Every procedure is spelled out for them. If they are rewarded at all, they are rewarded for hitting their goals and following the rules, but never for having breakout ideas or pushing for much-needed changes -- activities that could get them fired.
  • And the #1 sign of a toxic culture… fear rules the school. Doors slam and whispered conversations take place in stairwells. Everybody is concerned with his or her own spot on the company's constantly-shifting, internal stock index. They ask one another "Does the big boss like me? What did he say about me?" and fret and worry about who's up and who's down.

The summation of a toxic workplace is that there is no community. The few people who laugh and joke with one another get suspicious sideways looks from people who are too afraid to let their hair down. Outspoken employees and non-traditional thinkers don't last long. They get disgusted and leave or they are invited to leave when their style clashes with the status quo.

So, there you have it, the top 10 signs of a toxic culture and likely a pretty good set of reasons why a high performance culture would be the better option.  In next month’s blog, we will shift to defining how to implement a high performance culture.  The final article in this series will focus on how you cultivate an HPC for long-term sustainability and success.  I look forwarding to sharing the blueprint with you! Want more information on how to create a high-performing culture in your company? Talk to one of our human resources attorneys in our Sioux City law firm, Sioux Falls law firm, or Omaha law firm today!


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