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How to Kill Company Culture

As I am preparing for a culture workshop, going through the team's assessment result it got me thinking; If there was a dumb thing corporate folks are parroting this must be it, this takes the crown - "How to kill company culture.". This is one of those things that sounds good but makes no bloody sense when you take it apart. 

Company culture is generally defined by; the shared values, attitudes, behaviors, and standards that make up a work environment. Common logic would dictate that it looks different in every organisation, based on factors such as the people, its maturity, and the industry. If that's correct, then it cannot be a recipe for "What good culture looks like." Additionally, if there is no such recipe, we cannot definitively say "How to kill a company culture," because the factors leading to a negative culture would vary for each organisation.

Gurus who are eager to indulge people in their misery and push them toward a utopian narrative of, "Work is a pleasant place where nobody is stressed, everyone is nice, people don't get offended by the smell of Jennifer's food in the canteen, or triggered by a look, and we can work from anywhere at any time we want." That is never going to happen, despite Gen Z's videos describing their management style as "Of course, you can take PTO anytime you want, you don't even need to tell me." Let's see how that will pan out when their asses depend on making a profit, delivering quality and standards, and ensuring operational efficiencies and effectiveness.

These people-pleasing narratives often fail to acknowledge differing cultural types, which is kind of an important point. Culture is different in a holacracy vs. a hierarchy-driven organization, just as it would be different in organizations that have a market-driven vs. a clan culture. We cannot overlook this and make sweeping statements like "lack of kindness kills company culture." Have you ever worked in a market-driven culture? "It's results-driven, market-oriented, and extremely competitive. This type of culture is most common in larger, more corporate-minded businesses, where leaders are relentless and tough, with very high expectations of their teams. Employees are given difficult goals that they strive to achieve."

This is what hiring for culture looks like. If you hire someone who is too soft for this type of culture, you will end up with videos and posts on LinkedIn about "corporate burnout" and "how to kill company culture" citing "unachievable goals". I know organisations like this, and people love it. They are competitive, individualistic in their work, cut-throat, and tough. They don't beat around the bush; they collaborate only if it benefits them. If it doesn't, they won't do it just to be nice to Jane or because HR talked about teamwork. These individuals are extremely successful in what they do, and that environment suits their personality type and strengths. They don't complain; if anything, they thrive. Put them into a clan-type organisational culture and ask them to participate in team outings, nurture others' development, manage team members, not to send out-of-hours emails or messages, or create a calm and relaxed work environment where everyone is lovey-dovey, and they will die. These guys swear at each other, shout, throw each other under the bus and don't shy away from direct conflicts. It is not for everyone but they wouldn't change it. 

What often happens is this; a new employee enters this organisation and starts struggling. He/she raises the issue, HR and the leadership do nothing because that's the collective culture and probably this competitiveness is what is making the company successful. This person then posts a video about the toxic culture and now the company's reputation is damaged. But is it true? Is it truly a toxic culture or it is toxic only for that person? If so, we just need to let that person go instead of changing everything that has led to success. If the company changes its strategy and gives in, it is likely to jeopardise its success. 

is there such a thing as a toxic culture? Remember, a culture that is toxic for you, is also a culture other people thrive in. Maybe there is no toxic culture just like there is no toxic leadership only a person in the wrong culture. But we understand this when it comes to cross-cultural relationships, right? I wouldn't marry my Arabic habibi and say "This is a toxic culture and you all have to change". I either fit and stay or I don't and I leave. It is not very difficult; wrong people in the wrong culture but it doesn't equal toxic culture. It is only incompatibility. 

A person in the wrong culture ≠ toxic culture. 

A person in the wrong culture = incompatibility. 

So when you write "How to kill a culture" just finish it with a "for me" because it is very different to everyone. And if you end up in one that is incompatible with you, don't sweat it, change instead of complaining and making videos online. 

Exciting news! My second book, "Blind Leading the Disengaged - From Kindergarten to Employee Experience," is dropping in April! It's a treasure trove of solutions and cool ideas to shake up your people management game. But before we get there, let's chat about where we're at now—The Corporate Kindergarten, as I spilt the beans in my first book. Check it out, and let's transform your workplace from a daycare to an awesome employee experience hub!:

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