Many years ago I worked for a small organization that was effecting change on a national level. It was known for excellence, vision, and world-class leadership. It had a clear mission and strategy. With my acceptance into this organization came the respect of my friends and family for the achievement of such an honor.
But within a few months, I began to realize the department where I was placed did not represent the values of the overall organization. The leadership was more interested in saving face than making decisions based on integrity. Staff members talked about one another in highly negative terms. Complaining and whining were the most common modes of communication. There was little respect for the contribution of others on the team.
A friend and I tried to swing things back to a positive place, but we were sarcastically branded "Danny and Darla Do-Right" since we wouldn’t participate in the negativity. Efforts to make central leadership aware of the toxic nature of the culture were directed back to department leadership—which, of course, was where the problems began. The department completely fractured toward the end of our assignment, and most team members left the organization hurt and disillusioned. Richard Dore, the director of Proteus Leadership Centres, explains what happened this way:
Having a great workplace culture can appear to be rare—and creating one is elusive and near impossible for some managers. People are often frustrated by their culture, with some describing their workplace as being dominated by negative and toxic personalities, with underhanded and manipulative infighting that stifles growth, innovation and results.
There is nothing worse than working in an organization that has a bad culture. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or how many weeks of vacation you are given; when you work in a toxic environment, you still come home tense and stressed at the end of each day. And that isn’t worth it.
On the other hand, there is nothing better than working at an organization with a great culture. You wake up every day looking forward to getting back to work on the mission with people you enjoy being around.
I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive, but here are twelve signs that a great culture exists in your organization or company:
It’s not because you are offering more money than they could find somewhere else. Many times the pay is less. But people have heard about your team, and they would give anything to be a part of it.
You should especially pay attention to this in entry-level and mid-level jobs. Often top leaders will stay forever because it’s safe and the pay is good. But if you see people staying for an unexpectedly long time in facility care or accounting, you are probably looking at a healthy culture.
In fact, they encourage it.
It isn’t just the leaders calling for people to take the high road in their communication. At every level, gossip is shut down with an encouragement to speak directly to the individual.
Leading people below you is easy. That is, it’s easy compared to leading people next to you over whom you have no authority. A great culture sees people coming alongside their peers to encourage, or occasionally to correct and redirect.
You hear leaders at all levels of the organization talking about the mission. It gives them energy, and they are constantly thinking of ways to get it done.
People go to movies, hang out at one another’s homes, and sometimes even vacation together. This doesn’t mean they don’t have other friends, but they really enjoy the company of the people they work with.
There is a sense that, as employees, they really matter. They aren’t just people filling tasks; but the culture, systems, language, and structure communicate value. Even in tough times with salary freezes or benefit changes, the vibe is still, "You matter!"
Walk the hallways and you will see people smiling, enjoying conversations, and having a good time in the midst of high productivity and intense focus.
People don’t fret if they say the wrong thing in front of the wrong person. There aren’t hushed conversations because of the fear of what will happen if they are overheard. Employees in an organization with a great culture can walk into the boss’s office with a concern and walk out knowing they were heard.
From the top to the bottom, people communicate. The staff isn’t surprised with information they didn’t hear until it was announced at a Sunday service or came out in a new product brochure. It is communicated well in advance, with leaders even asking the staff to help find solutions.
People aren’t afraid of change. It’s not that everyone likes change, but most have been through it so many times and have seen the leaders manage change with care and dignity that they no longer dread it. Identifying the evidences of a great culture is all fine and good.
This list might be discouraging if you aren’t working in an environment with such a healthy culture. To that person I would suggest: You have the power to change the culture, one day at a time! Building a healthy culture starts with a few determined people.
In just one department, in one corner of the building, a new culture can begin to emerge. As others interact with the healthy department, they are attracted to it. At their core, no one wants to live in a culture of negativity. People want to love their job. They might not know how to act in a positive environment, and they might resist as you call them out of a place of mediocrity, but ultimately love and positivity always wins out.
Get with others who have the same desire, and take that first step!
This article is an adapted excerpt from Fairness is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace (Thomas Nelson, January 6, 2015).
—Tim Stevens is the author of Fairness is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace (Thomas Nelson, January 6, 2015). Tim is also a team leader with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries find great leaders. For more information, visit www.FairnessIsOverrated.com.