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5 Ways You Can Simply Spoil Culture (by accident!)

Sometime we are unaware of the simple mistakes we make that ruin everything!


Having experienced all sorts of performance cultures in my life in business, in organizations, and even in families, I’ve taken note of the things that really destroy or inhibit the development of good culture.

Good culture is the foundation of success, without it, people wither like the leaves on a drought challenged vine.

Poor culture sucks the life out of the people in it, and good culture feeds their soul.

I recently posted on the subject of the ingredients of great culture and I thought for a second that although those things sometimes seem logical, they aren’t always done well.

In the same way, some things that would seem counter-intuitive to the creation of good culture are done spectacularly well with very little effort, and incredibly detrimental results.

The accidental destruction or inhibition of culture occurs daily in environments throughout the world. People just aren’t always aware of some of the simple mistakes they make and how they slowly and insidiously spoil the roots of the cultural flower.

There are five culture spoilers I’ve observed time and time again, that with very simple efforts can be avoided and in so doing, eliminate the limits of cultural growth.

1 — Expectations Unsaid

One of the biggest culture killers is murky, or unclear expectation.

Often people who run businesses or organizations got to this place of leadership because they were good at setting their own expectations, creating their own set of benchmarks. They intuitively know how to set and reach objectives, and in turn revise and re-establish these objectives, constantly recreating themselves, and their role in the process.

However, and this is the big conundrum, they aren’t always so good at imparting these skills upon those who work for them or that they mentor. They are good at doing, but not so good a teaching and coaching.

Not everyone is good at clearly establishing the expectations of their role in an organization, or feeling comfortable with being autonomous in defining their path.

The role of a good leader or a parent for that matter is to clearly establish and communicate the expectations they have for their team members or their children.

When things are left to assumption or interpretation based on personal perspective, then things get very murky, and people become listless, lost, or ineffective.

Culture becomes fractured.

2 — Policies and Procedures

In opposition to a lack of expectations is the over-bearing establishment of policies and procedures. The reaction in some organizations to the need for clarity of expectations is to enact a whole bunch of policy and procedure items for people to follow so they can’t screw things up.

Granted, in some instances clarity of policy, and the procedures that must be followed to support such policy can be extremely effective and necessary. An example like the submission of time sensitive documentation to support payroll or contractual payment is one that comes to mind in a small or large business or organization.

But quite often policy and procedure becomes the way of leadership to off-load the responsibility of leadership. Leadership requires setting an example, and holding people accountable to expectations, expectations that have been clarified through conversation and ongoing communication.

You can’t P+P culture, culture is an intangible creation based on positive and exemplary leadership, period!

3 — Judgement

Judgment kills mojo. It’s human nature to get mired in personal negative self-talk. We love to beat ourselves up, to judge ourselves, and our favourite deflective strategy to counterbalance negative self-talk is to shit on other people.

What better way of making yourself feel good than to tell yourself, and everyone else for that matter, that so and so is messing up, its so and so’s fault, they made the mistake, they don’t know what they are doing.

The worst example of this behaviour is when leadership blames or judges those around them for their mistakes or the company’s failures.

The bottom line is that if you are in charge of something, the buck stops at you. If someone you are leading makes a mistake, it’s your mistake. You have to own the mistakes because you chose to be a in a place of leadership and as such, you set the expectations (please see above!) and if those expectations aren’t met, you own the problem.

Judgment has no place in a culture of performance. Instead, we need empathy, mentorship, learning, room for failure, and opportunity to redeem.


4 — Fear of Retribution

The dark side of judgement is retribution.

When we go beyond simple judgement and now we cut a swath out of those in error, we leave them feeling gutted. The pain of the mistake leaves a scar that challenges future decision-making, tempers risk taking, and limits opportunistic thought.

If I am worried about “what if” I will never make the best decision, I will make the safe decision, and the weight of possible retribution can be enough to stagnate any innovative practice.

Without innovative practice, risk taking, or opportunistic thought, environments become stagnant and unchallenging. People become bored, or simply lost in the day to day.

Fear of retribution destroys culture.

5 — Bullshit


The last culture killer is pure unadulterated bullshit. When people, especially people in leadership roles tell lies, deceive, manipulate circumstances or information, blame circumstances, or simply deflect responsibility, culture becomes suffocated.

Great culture rises in a sea of certainty and honesty. It’s not easy to accept blame, to recognize and honestly bare your soul in any working environment. Vulnerability to the group is not easy. But if leadership exemplifies it, the consequences are positive growth and progress, and people become trusting.

Trust breads trust, and soon culture is net positive. When trust in in the black, culture can flourish and the people within that culture can reach maximum possibility and contribution.

A great deal of the cracks in the foundation of culture can be avoided by simple and effective leadership strategies, most of which seem logical, but are often forgotten and overlooked.

Don’t spoil culture by accident!

Originally published at medium.com

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