4 Telltale Signs that Your Company’s Culture Needs Improvement

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

If you’re a business leader, you’ve probably put all kinds of strategies in play to make your company a market-share winner. You’ve developed a differentiated product or service, you built a strong sales model, and you streamlined your operation. To give yourself a competitive edge, you’ve invested in technology that accelerates efficiencies.

Yet even if things are going reasonably well and your bottom line is healthy, you might sense that your business can’t seem to rise above its current level. In addition to all your ongoing efforts, you may wonder if there’s anything else you can do to improve your operation.

There is—and it’s critical to maximizing your company’s potential for success.

When’s the last time you evaluated your corporate culture?

While it’s a less tangible aspect of your business, organizational culture drives every facet of your company. If your culture is weak, all your other strategies and programs are compromised. To reach the top of your field—and stay there—assess your culture and make a plan to improve it.

What’s the Status of Your Company’s Culture?

Business leaders may think their enterprise has a good culture because they’ve made an effort to prioritize it. They may point to the company values intended to exemplify the organization and that the staff has memorized. Or they may have installed feel-good benefits and perks, and their people seem to be enjoying the enhanced environment.

But even with all these things in place, an organization’s culture can be mediocre or even poor. The true indicators of cultural health are the staff’s behavioral norms. When people’s everyday actions and attitudes are routinely out of alignment with company goals, you’ve got a weak culture, and it can undermine your company’s overall success.

4 Red Flags that Signal Culture Problems

Culture is harder to evaluate than the more concrete aspects of a business, such as sales, production, or growth. Of course, a bad culture is easy to identify if things are overtly out of whack. But it can be challenging to detect subtle patterns of behaviors that keep a company from reaching its potential.

Leaders who take a closer read on how their employees interact and perform will see indications when something is wrong with their culture.

The signs usually show up in four key areas:

  1. Underperformance
  2. Conflict
  3. Turnover
  4. Lack of Communication

If you take a look around your company and can tick any of the boxes on this list, your corporate culture needs work.

Lackluster Performance

Most people want to perform well, but often employees don’t have a clear idea of what that means. They may feel like they’re doing a good job when in fact, they’re missing the mark. There are several reasons this can happen.

Unclear expectations

People can’t excel in their jobs if they don’t know what’s expected of them. Part of developing a strong culture is establishing clearly defined behaviors that employees should strive to perform consistently. For instance, if an organization has specific standards of quality, good service, or timely responsiveness—definitions of these behaviors should be spelled out so that they’re not subject to interpretation.

When people have a clear idea of what they are supposed to do, they’re more likely to take ownership and hold themselves accountable to do it. 

Another reason people have unclear expectations is mixed messages about what tasks should take precedence. Often, workers feel like they’re being told everything’s a priority—which can lead to stressful attempts to get things done too fast with less attention to detail.

Clearly defined behaviors include strategies for managers to coach people about which things should be prioritized—and why.

Inconsistent feedback

People need constructive feedback to improve in their jobs. Without the right cultural structure and tools, this is hard for managers to do consistently. But when preferred behaviors are articulated, management can measure performance against these descriptions and provide appropriate assessments to staff.

Both parties can clearly see how well the employee’s performance aligns with the described behavior. This transparency makes it easier for employees to accept and positively react to feedback because it’s not just based on a manager’s opinion.

And when managers have clearly outlined best practices, they’re likely to provide feedback more regularly as an incentive to do better and to celebrate successes. 

Conflict

Various forms of interpersonal conflict chip away at an organization’s ability to succeed. A workplace doesn’t have to resemble a warzone with outright hostility erupting every day to be detrimental. Even low doses of clashing egos, blame, and snap judgments can negatively affect productivity if they happen regularly enough. 

Routine minor conflicts make it harder for people to work efficiently together, which slows output. More time is swallowed when management is forced to step in to resolve problems between employees. And if the boss doesn’t clear up the issue effectively, a cycle of resentment usually kicks in.

Eventually, even people not directly involved in conflicts will start to react to the eroding environment. It can be a drain on everyone’s energy and enthusiasm.

Workplace flare-ups happen when there are no specified expectations of conduct. When there are clear guidelines, friction is less likely to happen.

The optimum behaviors in a strong culture all tie into teamwork. These include:

  • Generous listening
  • Assuming positive intentions
  • Treating everyone with respect
  • Blameless problem-solving

If leaders regularly teach the many ways people can positively interact—and provide forums for team members to discuss and practice these behaviors—conflicts won’t be as prevalent.

Turnover

The floodgate may not be open, but a steady trickle of departures not due to natural attrition is a signal of weak culture. Employees who always have their ears to the ground for other opportunities aren’t in love with their jobs.  They may be good workers, but nothing is tethering them to the organization, and they’re easily lured away.

A retention problem has all kinds of fallout. In addition to the costs associated with recruiting, hiring, and training new personnel, it takes a long time to get people producing at a level comparable to that of the employees they replaced. Meanwhile, the existing staff will struggle to keep things moving along at the needed pace.

Consequently, the loss of continuity and institutional knowledge starts to show up in quality standards, customer service, and brand representation.

What’s missing in the relationship departing workers have with their employer? They lack a commitment to the organization and its goals. They aren’t engaged.

Business news is full of information and statistics about how engagement affects a company’s stability and bottom line. When you consider that more than half of U.S. workers report that they don’t have a significant commitment to their employers, it’s an issue that should be on every business owner’s radar.

More than ever before, people want to work for organizations that mirror their own values and instill a sense of purpose. A dynamic culture provides a platform and community that allows people to establish that connection and remain energized by what they do every day.

Lack of Communication

With all the available technology, people can connect in more ways than ever before. Yet poor communication still abounds in many companies. That’s because people still must choose to exchange information regardless of the number or quality of communication tools at their fingertips.

A 2018 study by The Economist that surveyed over 400 U.S. executives, managers, and staff found that they believe communication barriers led to a delay or failure to complete projects (44%), low morale (31%), missed performance goals (25%) and even lost sales (18%)—some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Weak corporate culture was cited by 23% of the study’s respondents as the reason behind the communication gap.

Poor communication leads to a disconnect between management and team members, different departments, and various locations—including remote and on-site workers.

A significant reason behind inadequate communication within companies is the “silo” syndrome. It can happen when:

  • Departments operate independently and don’t see the need to share information
  • Individuals hoard information for their own benefit
  • Workers don’t ask themselves, “Who else needs to know this?”

Sometimes poor communication is intentional and driven by personal agendas. Or the information desert is inadvertently created because people are consumed with their responsibilities.

Either way, disruptive behaviors are at the root of the communication problem, and a stronger culture can be a significant part of the solution. 

Choose to Be Better

Business leaders who do everything they can to position their companies at the top owe it to themselves to make corporate culture a priority. Even if they offer outstanding products or services, competitors are always just one upgrade away from leveling the playing field.

The way to rise above the rest and secure a place at the top is to build an exceptional culture.

As author and CultureWise CEO David Friedman points out in Culture by Design:

“Culture affects our ability to differentiate ourselves in a commoditized marketplace, it affects our ability to attract and retain talented workers, it affects how productive those workers are, and it affects every aspect of the customer interaction.”

The evidence of a company’s culture is in the behaviors of the people who work there. The best way to improve or build a corporate culture is to use a systematic approach to define, communicate, teach, and practice the behaviors until they become part of a company’s DNA.

Friedman’s book offers a step-by-step method to achieve this goal, and a free 2-chapter download provides valuable insight into the process. Hundreds of CEOs have had measurable success using the method outlined in the book and operationalized in CultureWise.

How CultureWise Can Help

Called a “turnkey operating system for culture,” CultureWise provides the essential curriculum, tools, and content in two editions that fit every budget.

Business owners who choose to launch a culture initiative will start to see the positive impact almost immediately. By making an intentional effort to improve their company culture, leaders can reach that next level and transform their companies from good to great.

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