An organization can only reach the level of success that its established culture will allow. Even if profitability is initially achieved with a weak or toxic culture in place, it won’t prove sustainable in the long-term. Whether your culture is intentionally designed or simply in place by default, it guides and influences everything.
Reversing Cultural Corrosion. When I took over as CEO of the Nevada Donor Network (NDN) over a decade ago, its culture was in shambles, along with its overall performance, industry reputation, and employee satisfaction rates. In short, the organization had hit rock bottom. While analyzing how NDN had become one of the worst organ procurement organizations (OPO) in the U.S., it became clear where the most pervasive problem lay—the company’s toxic culture.
Corrosive culture is a determining factor that must be faced head-on. Pernicious traits not only need to be identified and directly addressed, but they must also be actively replaced with healthy characteristics that align with an organization’s values and nurture its purpose. Let’s discuss three common cultural red flags that can rot culture from the inside and what can be done when they crop up.
1. Letting complacency creep in. As the saying goes, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. To stay relevant, companies must always be looking for ways to improve. This is nearly impossible to do if complacency is entrenched in your culture. Red flags that indicate complacency include apathetic attitudes, inattention to results, and resistance to change or learning new things.
Once complacency becomes entrenched, any extra energy expended may actually go towards keeping the status quo firmly in place, rather than improving. This quickly creates an insidious cycle that can be difficult to break.
Antidote: Encourage feedback and learn from criticism. You can gain groundbreaking insights from your harshest critics. The truth is that pockets of complacency can be hard to diagnose. These blind spots can only be identified (and therefore addressed) if we are able to listen to meaningfully critique.
Encourage open and honest feedback from all team members and take time to thoroughly examine the areas in which the organization has become complacent. Armed with an understanding of your weaknesses, you can make a plan to move forward.
2. Hiring based on skill alone. When reviewing potential new hires, it’s tempting to rely mostly on a resume to tell you what a person is like, but a person’s experience on paper is only a small piece of the puzzle.
During my first round of hiring at NDN, I hired based on candidates’ skills and experience. I was gathering a great team of highly-qualified individuals, and I felt like success was sure to follow. But I was mistaken. While my new team member selections all had sparkling resumes, most of them were a poor fit for the workplace culture I was also actively developing. In fact, not a single person I hired during that period is still with NDN today.
Antidote: Interview with your desired culture in mind and stay highly inclusive during the hiring process. When I went on a hiring spree, I hardly consulted with anyone else. I felt like I knew what we needed and made my decisions accordingly. Looking back, I wasn’t making an informed decision. Now when we hire, many members of leadership are involved in the decision. Our interview process includes a culture-fit evaluation, and we consider a candidate’s resume and personality equally.
3. Discouraging transparent communication. When communication is hampered, organizations become splintered in their approach. There are many reasons this behavior might be encouraged or simply become the default. A few factors that could contribute to a lack of transparent communication include:
- Avoidance of accountability
- Fear of conflict
- Absence of trust
- Disingenuous pretenses
- Lack of information/understanding
Antidote: Lead by example. Leaders should always hold themselves to the same standard as they would their employees. If a leader consistently exhibits honesty and open communication regarding the state of the organization, there will be more widespread understanding of the big picture. Inherently, true honesty also addresses the shortcomings of leadership and the organization as a whole. By owning up to and actively working on weak points, you encourage accountability and build trust.