How to See and Cure Sick Organizational Cultures

Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of business is to create a customer.” Sick organizational cultures focus on themselves rather than customers.

Everything that distracts, dilutes, or diverts
from creating customers suggests sickness.

Sick organizations:

  1. Sink inward rather than reach outward.
  2. Stop learning.
  3. Struggle to keep things the same.
  4. Live in fear.
  5. Control rather than release.
  6. Dream of the good ole days.
  7. Backstab, Bite, and devour each other.
  8. Don’t share information.
  9. Grow heavier at the top.
  10. Don’t trust

The problem:

Organizational culture is like air, you don’t notice it. Even polluted air becomes invisible as time passes. Sick organizations don’t know they’re sick till things start going bad.


You can’t see your culture but others do. Two words describe those who can diagnose your sickness, new and outside. They see you for what you are.

  1. New customers.
  2. New employees.
  3. Business people from the community.
  4. Members of other industries.
  5. Competitors.

The deeper problem:

When outsiders and new people tell you what they see, you say:

  1. You don’t understand.
  2. You don’t see the whole picture.
  3. You’re wrong.

Sick organizations blame, excuse, and justify.

Moving toward health:

First, invite outsiders in. I’ve invited “outsiders” in to act as “secret shoppers.” I ask them to:

  1. Watch behaviors
  2. Forget motives.
  3. Forget intentions.
  4. Tell me what you see us trying to do based solely on observable behaviors.

Second, survey new employees or volunteers after 90 days.

Third, if culture is, “The way we do things around here,” then change the way you do things.

  1. Avoid big announcements.
  2. Involve and engage more not fewer.
  3. Start improving, now.
  4. Embrace process vs. destination thinking. A series of small improvements produces big results.

How can leaders “see” their own organizational culture?

How would you move a sick organizational culture toward health?