The culture of an organization shapes how we feel about it, and about our place in it. Most leaders say they want a constructive corporate culture, but many are uncertain of how to shape it. Consequently, these executives and managers have a destructive effect on the culture. They do this by adopting five ‘double-edged sword’ philosophies that undermine the mission to craft a constructive corporate culture.
1. Winning above all else — Winning is a powerful motivator, however when the need to win overrides good judgment, erodes core values, tramples some people and exhausts others, it must be called out. New, more constructive behaviors must be integrated into the culture. Pursuing results above all else taxes relationships, wellness, trust, quality and safety.
Often in these cutthroat work cultures individuals operate in a “win-lose” framework, outperform peers, and work against (not with) their coworkers. Healthy competition devolves into an unproductive, dog-eat-dog workplace. A healthy desire to “beat the competition” may create opportunities for unproductive behavior and perpetuate destructive organizational habits: people arguing for win/lose scenarios, in-fighting for power, control, rewards, promotions, and resources. The focus shifts from we to me, where silo’d and personalized thinking prevail.
Leaders who want to “win” may be well-meaning but a workplace that values winning above all else can be fertile ground for destructive behavior and employment brand erosion.
2. Commanding and controlling — In power-driven organizations, managers are expected to take charge, control subordinates, and yield to superiors’ demands. Historically, it was the ‘right’ way to lead and for many decades it actually worked. It’s a flawed model, however, and people managed in this way become stagnant. In these workplaces, the powerful take over and the powerless surrender.
When leaders and team members are encouraged and expected to leverage power over others, people in the organization see themselves as pawns in the micromanagement chess game, or cogs in the organizational profit wheel. They lose motivation and initiative, and give less of their discretionary time to make the organization better. Commanding and controlling is a vicious cycle.
3. Opposing others — Oppositional workplace cultures often are rooted in overcoming obstacles that afforded the organization sustainability and historical success. But, often, what got us here will not get us there. When individuals are expected to be critical of and oppose others’ ideas, and make ‘safe’ decisions, people suppress their new ideas. Opposition shows up as “Yes, but,” “We already tried that and it failed,” or “I have been here for years and I know it won’t work.” Everyone ought to work together in tolerance and engagement, but in these organizations they spend time navigating personalities and conflict, not collaborating, innovating, and problem solving.
4. Pursuing perfection — In other cases, leaders of quality-driven organizations are proud of their commitment to excellence. While that intention initially may have been sound and congruent with the leader’s values, often the underlying behavior that is fostered is perfection: people do not take risks, they do not try new things, and they almost certainly do not put themselves or their reputation on the line to color outside the lines.
Perfection, by definition, leaves very little room for risk-taking and creativity. When curiosity is stifled and looking good is the primary focus, mistakes are hidden, learning is mitigated, and growth is constrained. In an environment where perfection is celebrated and rewarded, conventionality becomes a safe way to stay out of the boss’ cross hairs. In a workplace that prioritizes perfectionism, people are expected to conform, and the byproduct of this is that creativity and risk-taking are thwarted and innovation becomes impossible. Complacency sets in. While certain roles demand perfection, an organizational culture that demands perfection limits what is possible for the organization and the people in it.
5. Keeping peace and getting along — Everyone understands the need for teamwork and collaboration. However, a culture in which everyone has to get along, deemphasizing performance or results, leads to over-the-top consensus building, perceived favoritism, a loss of focus and ambition, inconsistent accountability, and a destructive fear of conflict.
In organizations that depend on approval, disagreements are frowned upon and people are encouraged to go along with the crowd. When team members fear even constructive conflict, they are incapable of engaging in debates or openly voicing opinions, leading to inferior organizational results.
These five double-edged sword philosophies can undermine your organizational mission. Shaping a constructive culture means exemplifying your brand promise. This means making a solid intention to define the culture as a holistic human system, a system of people operating as a living and agile organism. Intentional culture is about monitoring what you are creating and making necessary shifts along the way to ensure you are accomplishing what you set out to do.
Magi Graziano is an employee-recruitment and engagement expert, and author of The Wealth of Talent. Learn more at www.KeenAlignment.com.