Graham Birkenhead, May 31 2022

I don't have a Toxic Culture – Do I?

A recent UK employee study paints a rather troubling picture of company life. It found that:

The study went on to identify that roughly half the people would leave a negative on-line review about their company, and that nearly 50% wouldn't even apply to a company that had negative online reviews.   At a time when so many companies are struggling to find good people, those same companies seem to be shooting themselves in the foot.  The double whammy here is that potential customers are also increasingly conscious of a company's reputation as an employer and that will affect their buying decisions. 

While the term 'problematic behaviour' can indeed be broad and include things such as unmet expectations, poor management and leadership, physically and psychologically unsafe or uncomfortable working environment, and a lack of sense of purpose or value, it seems that many companies are not creating the environment that will retain, and attract, good employees. 

CEOs may not realise that they have a toxic, or even a 'distasteful', culture. Yet at the same time they are expecting their employees to deliver their best while working in that culture. 

Often, when we talk to the executive, the line workers, or middle management in the same company it is almost as if we are talking about completely different companies.   Intentions and aspirations of the executive are not experienced by the workforce, and aspirations and frustrations of the workforce are not recognised by the executive. It's easy to say that is a communication issue, and broadly speaking it is, but it is more of a cultural issue, an embedded behaviour where effective communication is not ensured. 

Be in no doubt, this is the leadership team's issue to resolve, and it starts with the CEO.  Rather than me giving you a list of signs of a good or a toxic culture - which you probably already know, try this instead.   Have a brainstorming session with your executive or senior managers.  Create 2 lists:

Then go and look for them.  It is very important to do both to get a balanced view. The brainstorming session will encourage, or force, the management team to fully understand their own values so they can recognise the type of culture they have created. 

This is potentially an uncomfortable activity, but the pain of not doing it could be much greater than the discomfort of taking the first step to creating a company culture that people want to work for, and customers want to buy from.  

Not sure where to start or if your culture is what you need? Conduct a culture review and compare it to your strategic plan.  Want to know more – call me

Bye for now 


Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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