September 2nd, 2021

How to Identify Problems in Your Company Culture — and Fix Them

When a company culture is downright broken, it can be felt everywhere and by everyone. There are numerous reasons employees leave, but many of them can be mapped back to the culture. Problems in your company culture impact employee morale, create undue tension in the workplace, hurt relationships with customers, tarnish reputations, and even stifle innovation. 

Letting problems in your culture fester is a sure way to send employees running.

Focusing lots of time and effort on culture can feel like it’s taking away from other important goals, such as increasing revenue and becoming more innovative. Sometimes it’s hard to see the direct line between company culture and company performance — let alone which one needs more attention at any given time.

But whether we like it or not, company culture has an influence on employee productivity, happiness, and retention. In some ways, this is a good thing. Most business owners want their organizations to be positive places to work where employees feel inspired and cared for. As a result, maintaining the right culture is a top priority.

So here’s how you can identify if your company has a broken culture and some ideas for how to fix it.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Identify Company Culture Problems

Work can be fun. Imagine an environment where co-workers smile and laugh. The days flow by and projects tend to succeed. It feels like there is a purpose and a reason for everything the staff is doing. Now, imagine the opposite. If the general vibe is that of stress and negativity in your workplace, it’s not uncommon. According to a recent report, one in four U.S. workers wake up every day dreading their work. 

The evidence of a broken company culture can be hard to pin down. But when you take a closer look, here’s what you might find:

  1. Is there a high rate of employee turnover? One of the biggest signs of a broken company culture is if employees keep leaving and the ones hired to replace them don’t stick around for long either. The trouble is that once a company develops a reputation for high employee turnover, it’s really hard to shake. Job seekers actively avoid your company, which makes it that much harder to recruit new talent.
  2. Are employees avoiding breaks and vacations? When employees are worried that taking regular breaks during the day or scheduling vacations is considered a bad look, they stop doing it. It could be that they’re operating out of fear. For example, they could be afraid that they can’t get all their work done if they take breaks, or that managers or leadership will judge them harshly for going on vacation. It’s a warning sign when something that should be a normal, healthy aspect of work has created fear in employees’ minds.
  3. Are office perks over-emphasized? If leaders are constantly holding up the pool table, free snacks, and work-sponsored happy hours as the things that make the office cool, something is amiss. To be sure, office perks have their place in making the workplace more fun and comfortable. But even more important is whether employees are supported in their work, managed well, and given the tools to succeed. No pool table can take the place of that.
  4. Is there a general lack of trust in the organization? You can tell this by how employees, managers, and leaders talk — or don’t talk — to each other. When leaders clearly communicate about values, goals, and major changes to everyone in the organization, it helps employees understand important decisions and gives them the confidence to speak up and participate in what’s happening around them. But not communicating causes distrust. No one really knows what’s going on and people start to disengage from work and each other.
  5. Is your company resistant to change? Maybe you often hear things like “But we’ve always done it that way” at your organization. If so, it’s probably resistant to change. The truth is, if your company isn’t continually reviewing its own processes and policies, and asking how it can stay relevant in a changing world, it will stagnate and fall behind. Companies that are unable to change, even when it’s increasingly necessary to do so, are less able to compete on any level.

What You Can Do to Fix Your Company Culture

In reality, there is a line between company culture and performance. And it can be measured in what the company loses when the culture has soured. In the last five years, companies have spent nearly $223 billion dealing with employee turnover associated with dysfunctional culture and management. Instead of investing that money in innovation and other measures that help a business compete and thrive, it’s being wasted on problems that could be fixed in other ways. 

Here’s what you can do now to start repairing your company culture:

  • Start talking to your employees. What’s really going on in the workplace? What do people like or not like about it? Specifically, what suggestions do employees have for improving management, communication, and their day-to-day jobs? Getting a general temperature reading from your employees, including the ones who are exiting, will help you know where the issues and improvements can be addressed. Just be sure you gather the feedback in a friendly, honest, and non-threatening way.
  • Review, rewrite, reiterate the company’s core values. If it’s been a while since you’ve looked at your company’s core values, let alone seriously discussed them with anyone, now is the time to do so. Further, if your core values don’t actively reflect the company culture or people who work in your organization — they need to change. Get really clear on what your values are. Then post them everywhere — in the office, via email communications, and in other places where employees will regularly see and internalize them. Reiterating what your company stands for and expects gives the workforce a renewed sense of purpose and direction.
  • Reconsider how you manage employee performance. Are you incentivizing too much or too little? How are employees rewarded for a job well done, if at all? What’s the performance review process like, and is it actually helpful? Use the answers you come up with to reorient or upgrade your performance management system to one that tracks the right metrics, ensures the review process is constructive, and provides enough feedback and incentive so employees know how to meet their goals and grow in the way they want.
  • Try something new. This can be anything — a new technology, workflow, management practice, philosophy, or team member. Injecting your current culture with new ideas and solutions shows employees you’re serious about creating a more functional, supportive, and productive workplace. Newness breathes life into goals and projects. And it also enables the company to be more innovative and competitive in today’s world.

A culture can’t be fixed immediately or with just one action or tool. It takes time, creativity, and an earnest desire to truly turn around a work environment that’s become negative. But once you’ve identified the specific cultural problems to address, you can start implementing solutions to create a more positive outcome. 

And with the right culture, you’ll ultimately improve hiring and retention strategies as well. Curious what else you can do to improve employee retention? Download our eGuide to learn four strategies to retain your employees. 

Download Our eGuide: How to Retain Your Employees

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