Is your company culture “too nice”?
As a leader, you may think you are doing your business a favor by encouraging politeness. But sometimes, emphasizing this too much may send the wrong message entirely.
How can you tell if you need to toughen up your culture?
Larry was quick to share with me that the culture at his company was warm and friendly, with a “family feel” to it.
“People are very courteous around here,” he said. “But we are in trouble. That’s why I’m calling you for help.”
“What kind of trouble are you experiencing?” I asked.
“I’m discovering that what our people say in meetings is not what they are saying in the hallways. We have quite a few employees that are under-performing, and their supervisors are not willing to hold them accountable. Our deadlines are not being met and we’re not even working on priorities. What’s going on?”
After sitting with Larry and some of his key executives, I discovered what kept his company from being a healthy, high-performing business. And as I shared, Larry’s face showed its dismay.
“You mean the very thing that I emphasized has created the problem?” he asked.
“Not exactly, Larry,” I answered. “Being kind and polite is important. But you need to make sure they don’t take this to mean an unwillingness to set expectations, be transparent, and hold people accountable.”
“I thought I was motivating the staff,” he answered. “After all, you ‘catch more flies with honey than vinegar,’ as they say.”
“Unfortunately, leaders over-emphasize politeness for a variety of reasons, Larry,” I said. “Some may not like conflict. Some might think, as you, that it will motivate people. Others may feel this will foster inclusion. But look where we have wound up, here.
“In fact, I’m willing to wager that you have people agreeing with each other on decisions when you should have healthy debate with different perspectives. This means you are killing possibilities of innovating. You probably have some people who were hired at a high-performing level who have now slowed down their pace to ‘meet the herd.’ And you probably have hidden conflict because people aren’t willing to address critical issues that keep the company from moving forward.”
“You are right,” Larry answered. “I can see that, now. So, what do I do?”
Here are some key steps I outlined which reflect the work we did together over the next few months to turn around Larry’s poor culture.
1. Set new expectations.
When it’s time to shift gears to foster a healthier culture, know what you want – and set these expectations very explicitly. This means defining what your cultural norms are and how they appear in action.For example, if one of your cultural norms is “respect,” what does respect look like when people work with each other? Instead of avoiding tough issues, it can mean confronting these issues by providing timely, critical feedback that supports growth.
2. Foster psychological safety at every level.
There is no high-performing team without psychological safety. Your team members must have each other’s back, support differing perspectives, ensure that everyone has a voice, and more. These are part of team norms – and if you haven’t done this work yet, it’s time now. You will see a huge difference in the way that your team is motivated, how they produce, and how they work together.
3. Hold people accountable for the right things.
Most businesses hold their people accountable for deadlines and for goals reached. But they seldom build in the system and processes they need to support human behavior. What this means is that if you want your people to be respectfully candid and talk about real issues, you need to encourage and reward this.
How does your company’s culture measure up?
- Are you happy with how motivated and engaged your staff are?
- How well do they brainstorm to innovate?
- Do you reward supportive critical feedback that fosters greater development?
Focusing on your company culture means exponentially increasing your business revenues. If you find, like Larry, that your company isn’t where you want it to be, commit to making this a priority.
© Patti Cotton and patticotton.com. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that attribution is made to Patti Cotton and patticotton.com, with links thereto.
Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.