This is a 4 part series on the various points of a workplace culture. Find the four parts here: Workplace Culture, Toxic culture, Tolerable culture and a Magnetic Culture.
This story might sound familiar
We were sitting with a client a couple of weeks ago, completing a review of the Magnetic Workplaces program. We’d just finished up a year with this organization and we wanted Jin and her team to identify the changes they’d gone through.
We asked first...what was it like last November?
Eduardo, the operations manager, started right away. He said, “I was ready to quit.
Devinder, the senior accountant, jumped in, “Me too!”
Jin and the rest of the team around the table were nodding their heads. That’s right. No one wanted to be here. It was nasty!
When we asked them to describe what was happening, Jin noted that they were in a constant state of crisis and everyone felt it.
“We were overloaded, overworked and overwhelmed,” said Jin. “It was no wonder everyone wanted to quit.”
That strain on individuals meant their worst was coming out instead of their best. Sarcasm infiltrated staff meetings. Backbiting was the norm. There was constant conflict between departments and individuals.
Kashmeer, the head of HR, said, “Sick time was off the charts. Add to that the high turnover rate, it meant there was never enough bodies.”
“We suffered from chronic understaffing,” said Eduardo. “It felt like we were juggling shifts, clients, and responsibilities and something always got dropped. Everyone was suspicious of one another. We didn’t trust management, each other or for that matter ourselves.”
Jin emphasized the turning point. She said, “We knew we’d hit rock bottom when the results from the staff survey came in. They were terrible! That’s when we, as the leadership team, found we were spending more time focusing on problem employees than the mission of the organization. That didn’t sit well with me.”
Finally, Eduardo summed it up. “The work was sucking the life out of us. It was either turn it around or get out.”
Jin finished, “We are so glad we decided to invest in turning it around. I remember when we met you two. It was so refreshing to hear that both of you had been in organizations like ours and found a way to make it work.”
In a TOXIC workplace, employees are actively disengaged.
This story describes a Toxic work environment. If you’ve been there, you know it well.
A toxic workplace is one that sucks the energy out of the people who work there. It is characterized by negativity, inflexibility, distrust, lack of empathy, and high turnover. It’s unhealthy and destroys individuals and team connections.
These organizations are ones that we find to be autocratic, ego-driven, demanding, energy-draining, disengaging, difficult to navigate, and perhaps even emotionally abusive.
If you are in a toxic workplace, this story likely will hit you. If you’re not there now, you’ve probably been there at one time.
An awareness of your situation is the first step. You may see yourself in a toxic workplace, or you may be in a more tolerable one. A tolerable workplace is better than a toxic one, but not the endpoint we envision for you. Again, we want you to understand the continuum from toxic to tolerable and then to magnetic. It’s a journey.
Next up, we’ll explore tolerable workplaces. Then following that, we will describe a Magnetic Workplace. Then, it will be time to take the steps necessary to re-engage your team.
Have you ever noticed when you walk into your office, workplace or a meeting, you quickly get a feel for it? Perhaps it feels hurried or calm, or chaotic or organized. It’s almost like they have personalities.
Your workplace has an intangible quality that makes something about it distinct and decidedly different, but difficult to define or describe. Regardless, you know whether you like it or not, want to be there or quickly run away.
We call this sense of an organization its culture.
An organization’s culture is a difficult concept to define or describe. It’s not clear or visual. It’s not something you put neat and tidy into a slide show. Culture is not something you can touch or feel.
In fact, Herb Kelleher, the charismatic, maverick founder of Southwest Airlines once famously said, “Culture is admittedly difficult to define. I suppose in that respect it is somewhat akin to the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography. You know it when you see it.”
And like Herb, we bet you have a gut sense of what your culture is all about.
It is an innate sense that each person has about how things are done around here. Culture is the stuff that isn’t talked about, written down or even concretely understood but followed by everyone.
An organization’s culture is often compared metaphorically to an iceberg. That’s because, just like an iceberg, some aspects are evident, like the style of your office setup. Other aspects are not so obvious, like when to ask the boss a question and when to stay quiet.
To understand organizational culture, you must use your sixth sense - your intuition. We recently asked three different people for their reactions to their work environment.
On an average day, which reaction would be most like yours? You may say one, two or all three.
The three reactions describe three distinct types of culture: ones that are toxic, tolerable or magnetic.
While these three types of cultures are representative of three points on a continuum, we find teams or organizations rarely stay in one place on it.
Any team, on any given day, will feel the culture shift dependent on a multitude of variables - some they can control and others they cannot. For example, one individual's mood or recently announced shifts in your industry’s regulations will impact how you will rate your culture today.
We have days when we think our workplace is the best place on earth and other days when we can’t imagine staying there for another minute and still others where we can take it or leave it. The key is to find a way to have more days when we are excited to be on the job - times when we believe we’re really making a difference.
DO THIS: Think about your workplace culture for a minute, and then consider the type of culture you desire. We bet you are looking for a bit more engagement, cohesion and meaningful work. We are right there with you. The first step is naming where you are. Next, it’s deciding where you want to be, then working on getting you there.
Articles by Bill Scott & Kathy Archer
Sometimes the articles are written collaboratively. Other times, it's just one of us putting fingers to keyboard. We'll try to remember to tell you.