The Easiest – Most Dangerous – Thing Leaders Neglect
Dirty culture distracts, repels, and destroys organizations.
The most important thing about us is the way we treat each other while we fulfill our mission.
People run from bad organizational culture, even when the mission is noble. They walk through hell for good.
The easiest – most dangerous – thing leaders neglect is organizational culture.
Leaders who neglect organizational culture end up in crisis-mode wondering what happened.
Culture building is working on the way we treat each other while we work together – it’s keeping the water fresh.
- Prolongs success.
- Increases productivity.
- Enhances satisfaction.
- Retains top talent.
- Woos great talent to you.
You can’t clean dirty water by pouring in fresh. Start filtering out the bad if you want to feel good about work. Eliminate culture killers that pollute your environment.
- Stop dropping the ball. Teams meet and talk, but nothing gets done. Culture killer!
- Terminate perks based on position not performance, reserved parking, for example.
- End rudeness. Busyness isn’t an excuse for rudeness. It doesn’t matter who you are.
- Eradicate isolation.
- Put an end to depersonalization. Business is personal.
- Stop sweeping tough issues under the carpet. They drain energy and distract focus.
- Ignore or eliminate squeaky wheels. Send your perennial complainers to the competition.
The things you don’t tolerate explain what matters. Building great culture includes the removal of pollution.
Begin the filtering process with compassion. Don’t send a memo. Start talking about who you want to become. Point out stuff that prevents you from getting there.
Make practices and behaviors the enemy, not people.
- Who do we want to be?
- What blocks the way?
- How do we get there?
What behaviors destroy great organizational culture?
Another excellent post, Dan. Thank you. I really like how you describe that you can’t clean dirty water by pouring in fresh. Eliminate culture killers that pollute your environment. The things you don’t tolerate explain what matters.
Thanks dgabr. I appreciate your kind words.
Hi Dan. What struck a chord for me was the reference to rudeness. I agree wholeheartedly. Rudeness is intolerable and certainly a culture killer. Regrettably however, it’s a subjective behaviour that can be difficult to qualify. Commonly, it is in respect of emails. For this reason, I find it helpful to spend time training the team how to apply email etiquette eg ‘always respond to stakeholder emails, address recipient appropriately, include an offer to help. Tends to work because it puts the spotlight on ‘communication’. Great post. Jane
Thanks Jane. I hadn’t even consider email. Thanks for sharing your insight and practice.
one of the best posts. ever.
Thanks Dan. Your name makes it look like I commented on my own post! 🙂
Another excellent post Dan. A great introduction addressing culture.
Obviously, not too many of us are successful at tackling giant bodies such as government and large corporations from where we are. So some of us need to start much smaller and closer to where we are.
If the org has a good vision/mission/values system, it’s easier to clean up culture. If the vision/mission/values lean towards the destructive side of the house, culture can’t be cleaned up. It needs a complete reconstruction and reorganization.
Granted, there are no perfect systems that I’ve encountered yet, however, if there is one thing I loved about my time in the military, it was the teamwork and ‘brotherhood’ (including females) once you’ve bonded together. For the most part, everyone has each others back. All is done for the good of the team. Where this goes bad is when the team doesn’t have any say or control of vision/mission/values. If the top is making bad calls, this is going to directly impact the team that has to carry out the orders.
Back on civilian soil, it’s more of a democracy and people have more freedom to question things.
I know that if I can believe in an orgs overall vision/mission/values and ultimately their products/services have a positive impact on the majority of consumers, I would be HAPPY and PROUD to be a part of that community. I can bring my best and my all without reservation.
That’s the kind of culture we stand up for and defend. We have each others backs. No matter what.
Thanks Samantha. “For the most part everyone has each other’s back.” You nailed the foundation of great organizational culture in one sentence.
Excellent! We are going through a senior leadership change and I pray these principles will work through our organization. Putting up with under performance only discourages the good folks and blocks innovation. Leaders, let’s move forward!
Thanks McSteve. Transitions in leadership are great opportunities to move in positive directions. It takes time but it can be a start. Best wishes.
Culture building is working on the way we treat each other while we work together. A very essential ingredient to keep the organization healthy. If we are weak in human management then pouring in fresh won’t help! One needs to be alert on the attrition rate and the satisfaction level of existing employees.
I feel that HR has a strong role to build in the right culture by bringing in good systems and procedures with fairness and transparency. Go to root cause of organization weaknesses and you may find the pointers more at the management level. Accept the faults and start correcting things from the top keeping the dignity of people whom you have hired through a good stringent process.
The employed staff can be much more creative and productive in results if treated well. The organization culture is largely dependent on how you handle People, Process & Recognition/Rewards.
Thanks Dr. Asher. Your inclusion of HR in culture building is one of the great, but sometimes neglected, opportunities in organizations. HR fulfills the important role of enforcement, regulation, policies, procedures, and more. Culture building is a great opportunity.
According to William Tate (was his cleaning the fish tank concept the source of this post?), culture is he responsibility of leadership, as is cleaning out the tank, but this job is often delegated to HR which may not be the appropriate place for it. Leaders must enforce healthy culture and eliminate the clouds in our tank water.
For me, eliminating non-performers is a recurrent theme and a persistent struggle to address effectively.
Culture is tough …and as such often ignored as you suggest Dan … we have worked with a number of organizations in this area — it has to start at the top like a fountain … and has to remain pure all the way down – any impurities picked up on the way down will trickle to the layer below — you note it is the way we treat each other when we work together, I agree — it is also the way we work when the boss it not here – we love to think of creating a ‘sticky’ culture … one the sustains senior management shuffles, political cabinet shuffles etc. — a pervasive culture based on values — empowering people to make positive changes in the business (ridding micromanagement) – using the skills they were hired for so that at the end of a work day they (everyone) can say – I see exactly how I contributed to organization’s vision today … I feel important and valued … I want to come here again tomorrow – I want my friends/family to work here – this is a great place to be employed
I love your filters – a great starting point .
Thanks Colin. Wonderful insights and warning. “I want to come here again tomorrow…” Thats the hallmark of great culture. Build a place where people love to work.
Another great post, Dan. I love the seven filters. Another one might be “Start listening more.” Taking time to listen carefully to the critics, and using questions to drill in to root causes can do a lot to wash away the dirt. Cheers!
Thanks Steven. Dig into the dirt to eliminate the dirt. Sounds nasty but I think it works.
Dan, what do you want, the old GM Shrug? (grin)
Good solid useful post.
I am reminded that, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” (John Le Carre)
But I will take issue with “the perennial complainers,” since a lot of them DO see all the Square Wheels and wonder why nothing gets corrected and why no one ever asks for their opinions. They are my Spectator Sheep and the best approach for most of them is to make them team leaders. They can generally play the role of Devil’s Advocate, those people who question why this and why that — yeah, a few are in need of other jobs, but most in my experience are good people who just see things could be BETTER!
When I was consulting, I got many of my ideas for what to address by actually taking the time to listen to these people one-on-one. Some DO like to grandstand, but most are solid folks. I would NOT casually discount their thinking.
Thanks Dr. Scott. Glad to see you cheering on the complainers. We’re on the same page as long as the complainers are also working to make things better. As always, glad you shared your insights and perspective.
A wonderful post but I do want to debate your “eliminate squeaky wheel” suggestion. I have had squeaky wheels on my teams over the years and if led properly you can harness that energy for good. Perhaps I don’t believe squeaky wheels are only nagging complainers. Sure, they are many times – but not always. I am highly in favor of having people on my team that continually challenge how our organization chooses to do business and presses for change in areas that they see (and I often do not). Squeaky wheels can be good and healthy as long as they stay constructive, never personal, and they aren’t running around the organization complaining just to complain. If you struck your “Ignore or eliminate your squeaky wheels.” and simply made the point “eliminate chronic complainers”, I’m in full agreement. The only other point I will make is the message it sends to the organization if/when perceived “challengers” within the organization get “eliminated”. Squeaky wheels can sometimes be constructive challengers to the status quo – again, IF their energy is harnessed correctly.
As always, LOVE your posts Dan… a big fan!!
Thanks Jeffrey. I find a difference between dissatisfaction in the pursuit of making things better and perennial complainers. Having said said, your points are well taken. Organizations grow weak if they don’t have people who see what could be better, talk about it, and work to make it better.
I agree that you can generate a lot of useful information from “squeaky wheels”; and if you can harness that perspective into practical action, then awesome. But complaining is easy if you don’t have to do anything about it. Eventually people have to decide whether they are going to participate in dealing with the problems or they are just going to sit on the sidelines and kibbitz.
and dealing with a problem might be as simple as helping colleagues or team mates live with an unchangeable scenario. But I believe that “every problem has a solution” so i’d be looking for at least a good attempt at solving the problem rather than just living with it.
I think your point about “chronic complainers” resonates with this definition, and I’m in agreement with that.
Wonderful advice as always! I’m going to quote you at our next meeting!
Thanks Ms McKahsum. Best wishes.
I appreciate your insight about culture and its pollutants. I also appreciate the example of water in its pure form of culture. If you add dirt, it will become dirty, and if you make it clean, it will remain clean. The easier way is to make it dirty, because it does not take effort.In fact, to make it clean, takes more effort. It is true, that dirty water can only be cleaned by purification or removing pollutants. And make it dirty or clean is a choice.
Self-centric behavior destroys organisational culture. When people are motivated by achieving power more than anything else, then it leads to pollute culture. When people look for affiliation and achievement for people around, culture remain healthy. It is also true, that most of the practices that shape culture are top down. So, management is more responsible in either making or ruining culture. Based on my observation, when management is fearful and interested in self obsessed activities, then culture has to pollute. When they like to grow others, it leads to healthy culture.
Thanks Dr. Gupta. KaPow!
Self-centric behavior destroys organizational culture. You can put a lot of stuff in that statement.
Thank You very mach for being generous and passion to share all this learning materials about leadership!!
Thanks Mahdi. It’s a pleasure to serve.
o tHis..ReMinds Me Of The 2 Books…*Bible*..+..*The Vines*..*Prun*Ning..*A2Z*..ThanX…smj/14
Thanks trbl13. Interesting way to leave a comment.
sometimes though, you need that scorched earth person to get things done… sad, but true.
Thanks Bill. Scary but true. Cleaning things up can be painful.
what’s the old saying… we promise according to our hopes, and perform according to our fears …
Nice thoughts Dan, now we have to get everyone on board, easier said than done!
Some people are just idiots,mean, miserable and ornery, they don’t even like themselves! Sorry to say they have a place in life too! Good shall overcome. Cheers!
Thanks Tim. Getting people on board…now that takes deep commitment and skillful leadership. Sometimes the best we can do is create an island of great culture with the people closest to us.
Enjoyed the post. I have used the metaphor myself in the past. Time to clean the tank 😉
Thanks grower. Best for the journey.
Bravo Dan… Bravo! Culture is the single most important factor in the success or failure of any organization.
Yet another great post! “The things you don’t tolerate explain what matters” – I love it. I believe Leadership establishes culture. The culture you have is not necessarily the one you talk about, or the one you want – it’s what leadership tolerates.
Awesome Skip Catching! Your response is point on for so many people.
I stayed because I believed in the mission and purpose of the company. It aligned with what I thought was a way to help others
I stayed because I thought, things would get better. The mission and purpose was worth my decision to not cut and run when the cultural struggle began. Things didn’t change, I quit and stayed.
I stayed because I needed the income and promised I would not abandon the ship and I would stay until my value was not needed any longer. (3) bad financial quarters later, I was off the hook, downsized out.
I recently received this quote: “Make decisions based on principles, not results…….
Not will it work, but is it right” I think a John Kennedy? I’m free now
I like this concept “You can’t clean dirty water by pouring in fresh”. this sounds like a lot of corporate programs that generate an executive “feel good” result, but tend to be just more fresh water.
For me it all starts and ends with personal accountability and honesty: the preparedness to deal with cultural issues instead of just “going with the flow” – another watery metaphor 😉 – but clearly these issues have to be approached with care and respect, lest they generate even more toxins.
Remember Bob Sutton’s “The No Asshole Rule”? – there are plenty of ways to generate toxins that don’t even approach the level of bullying and harrassment that this book dealt with.
I’ve included this as one of my “5 Project Action Principles” to enable principle-based project management “Eliminate Teaming Threats, Ruthlessly”. All of your “Filter Principles” would be great approaches to implement this principle.
check this out if you are interested: http://adamonprojects.com
Could you elaborate on what the number 2 filter is? I’m not exactly sure what you mean. Could you give examples of “position not performance”?