How to fix a broken company culture

Start by holding yourself and other leaders accountable. Then, commit to a consistent schedule of gathering (and implementing) feedback.

How to fix company culture

A broken, toxic or negative company culture doesn’t develop overnight.

Rushed hires, poor leadership, dictatorial management techniques and lousy working conditions are among the factors that make it difficult for an organization to grow and succeed. Unfortunately, a broken culture can perpetuate a downward spiral that’s difficult to recover from—unless you’re willing to aggressively address underlying issues and correct course.

Start with these four steps:

1. Hold leaders—and yourself—accountable. 

Company culture problems don’t arise because of one entry-level employee’s bad attitude. Culture starts at the top, which means leaders should be held accountable.

Execs set the tone and direction for the business. Their hires should reflect the values they claim to hold dear—and their behavior should match what they preach.

If your company culture has soured during your watch, consider how you can change and become a better leader. Before pointing fingers elsewhere, look in the mirror.

Be honest about what’s curtailing your development, and take steps to improve your weaknesses. Reassess how you lead, listen and gather feedback.

2. Discuss with the team what matters most to them.

A toxic culture can make life miserable for managers and employees. They are the ones who suffer the most (and are most likely to jump ship), so it’s crucial to regularly gauge their opinions.

Use tools such as TINYpulse or Small Improvements to gather feedback anonymously. Ask workers to share candid opinions on:

  • Hiring and onboarding: Was your hiring process transparent, fair and reasonable? Is your onboarding and training process boring and derivative, or engaging and participatory? What should change about the first two to four weeks of working at your company?
  • Relationship with management: Do employees feel comfortable sharing new ideas or approaches with their managers? Do they feel supported in their professional development? Are role expectations clear?
  • Team interactions: Do workers respect one another? Do they feel safe interacting with everyone in every part of the office? Do workers willingly collaborate? Are employees given an opportunity to socialize during and outside of work hours?
  • What is or isn’t working: What didn’t work last year for the company? What mistakes did the company make, and how can leaders learn from those mistakes? What can each of us—you, your manager, leaders—do (or not do) to be more helpful in the future?

3. Institute better practices based on feedback.

Gathering feedback is pointless unless you do something with it.

Do employees not feel heard? Start holding town halls with leaders to air grievances and discuss friction points.

Do employees not feel appreciated? Dole out weekly or monthly awards and recognition, and encourage managers to provide positive feedback and acknowledgment. According to BCG, the most important factor for predicting happiness on the job is appreciation for good work.

Do employees feel overworked? Institute rules related to work-life balance—a ban on sending work emails after a certain time each day, for example—and reexamine how much time tasks should take. Direct your perks and rewards toward lightening workloads and making workers’ lives easier, rather than empty gestures such as ping-pong tables or beer on tap.

4. Continue assessing your culture.

You can’t just push the reset button and go about business as usual. Much like a garden, your culture requires consistent care.

Invest time and money into feedback-gathering tools and technology, and integrate culture maintenance into your regular workflow. Downward trends in culture will be easier to spot if you’re constantly capturing candid opinions through surveys, interviews and town halls.

Checking in only once or twice a year will leave you incessantly chasing your own tail.

Remember: Culture problems arise when businesses operate from a reactive, fearful and selfish standpoint. Fixing these problems begins with having honest conversations at every level of the business—but it must start with leaders who are willing to recognize (and correct) their own shortcomings.

Eric Goldschein is a staff writer at Fundera.

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