The 4 Ways CEOs Accidentally Mess Up Company Culture

Most CEOs try to create an environment where employees can thrive, but sometimes they fail. Here’s what to avoid.

The 4 Ways CEOs Accidentally Mess Up Company Culture
[Photo: Flickr user Paul Haahr]

It’s no secret that CEOs have a massive impact on company culture. They set a tone to reflect the values and convictions of the organizations they lead. But sometimes CEOs take that impulse too far and wind up unintentionally throwing their companies’ culture off kilter. Here are the four most common ways that can happen.


1. They Micromanage

Most CEOs like to make sure everything is just right, but they’re very busy people with a lot on their plates. Often without meaning to, some CEOs turn to micromanaging their employees, making managers’ working lives a nightmare. There comes a time when CEOs have to trust their teams to do tasks the right way—and to give them space to breathe. A CEO that can’t strike the right balance risks creating a suffocating culture.

2. They’re Inconsistent

CEOs need a steady hand. When they don’t, employees are quick to notice if there’s no clear theme or motive driving their leader’s decisions, which tanks productivity and leads to unrest. CEOs often see their companies change rapidly and seldom intend to be so inconsistent, but it’s a culture killer nonetheless. They have to be able to communicate clearly with their team in order for everyone to stay on the same page. When core assumptions change, it’s up to the CEO to make their team aware of it.

Matt Stanton, co-founder of SolePower, tells me: “It’s so difficult to see an otherwise good CEO make inconsistent decisions. At best, it hurts culture, and at worst, it needlessly keeps their team frightened and on edge. Just like almost any other problem, it can be fixed through clearer communication. It’s such a shame to see it happen because it can be avoided so easily.”

3. They Outsource Too Much

Outsourcing can be a great help by allowing companies to focus in on what they do while saving time and money in other areas. In terms of company culture, though, outsourcing can have some long-term effects that CEOs want to avoid. Establishing a strong team is crucial to the efficiency and growth of any business, and outsourcing too much makes it difficult to create that team and keep it intact. Instead, investing in building the right people to help them grow with the company is an excellent alternative.

4. They Don’t Embrace Newer Employees

In an ideal workplace, a CEO is highly protective of their team—and for good reason. A good team is essentially a family that creates an amazing culture where everyone’s skills are valued and put to optimal use. In some cases, though, a CEO’s protectiveness over that unit can go too far, making it tough for newer employees to really feel like they can settle in. Sometimes CEOs unwittingly create an in-group and an out-group, and newcomers can feel excluded right at the time they most want to make their mark.


About the author

Barry S. Saltzman is CEO of Saltzman Enterprise Group and Partner at Culture Measures, a business focused on turning the art of culture into a science.