A toxic company culture can ruin an entire organization.
I am a believer in the idea that everything rises and falls on leadership. I also believe that leaders should give first and eat last. Great leaders give more than they take. When your company culture is toxic, the blame lies squarely on the leadership. Leaders must mold and drive their company culture. A thriving culture will not happen by accident.
Signs of Toxic Company Culture
1: Employees are afraid to speak up
2: There is a lot of drama and gossip
3: People are regularly fired without good reason
4: The company is always in crisis mode
5: No one is ever held accountable
6: The culture is competitive and hostile
7: Employees are constantly stressed out
One Bad Apple Can Ruin the Whole Bunch
In the proverb, “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch,” the apple is symbolic of the individual. Just one bad apple can ruin the whole group by causing dissension and conflict. The proverb is often used to describe situations in which one person’s bad behavior can have a negative impact on the rest of the group. Oftentimes, toxic culture is perpetuated by one single person or a small group of people. When these people are removed, the toxicity usually dissipates.
“Throw out the mocker, and fighting goes, too. Quarrels and insults will disappear.”
Proverbs 22:10 (New Living Translation)
Get to the Root of the Problem
But before throwing the baby out with the bathwater, try to get to the root of the problem.
A Personal Failure
Years ago I promoted a top performer in one of my departments to the manager of that department. Very soon after, conflict arose with one employee in that department, and that employee was terminated. Not too long after that, another employee in that department complained and eventually quit, citing issues with the new manager. After doing some research, it became obvious that I made a huge mistake. This was all my fault. The person I had promoted to manager was not ready for management. She was a great personal performer in the department but was terrible at leading and managing people. There was only one solution. I fired her.
If the team isn’t winning, it’s the coach that gets fired.
If I only knew then what I know now, I would have been able to properly prepare her before offering her the management position… if I offered it to her at all. This whole situation could have been avoided had I been a better leader myself. Since the buck stopped at my desk, I did not fire myself! Instead, I decided to learn from this situation so that it would not happen again in the future.
The point is this: on the surface, it appeared that the employees in the department were the source of the problem when in reality, it was the management. Make sure you are dealing with the right problem.
How to Handle a Problem Employee
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best way to handle a problem employee may vary depending on the situation. However, one common approach is to address the problem head-on in private. This allows you to discuss the situation with the employee in a confidential setting and gives them a chance to explain their side of the story. It also allows you to address any potential issues before they become bigger problems.
Now, it is normal for employees to complain about their manager in these situations, but you have to take note of patterns that arise regarding the complaints against your managers.
People don’t leave a job; they leave a manager.
Many times these situations can be resolved by developing your leaders or managers into better leaders or managers.
How Leaders Allow Toxic Culture to Grow
Just as weeds grow in an untended garden, weeds will grow in your culture skip. Here are a few tips on how you can spot leaders allowing toxic culture to grow:
1: Leaders who ignore red flags.
2: Leaders who don’t want to deal with conflict.
3: Leaders who are focused on their own agendas.
4: Leaders who are not transparent.
5: Leaders who are not held accountable.
The Bible is full of wisdom that can be applied in work culture situations:
For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.
Proverbs 26:20 (NASB95)
Steps to Molding Your Company Culture
A thriving culture will not appear overnight. If you want to upgrade your culture, you need to make a plan, plant seeds, water them, pluck the weeds, and be patient before the fruit of a thriving and positive culture will be plentiful. Here are five ideas that you can put into your work culture upgrade action plan:
1. Establish a clear mission and vision for your company.
2. Teach your employees the importance of your company culture and why it matters.
3. Encourage employees to be ambassadors for your company culture.
4. Reward employees who uphold your company culture.
5. Lead by example and be the biggest advocate for your company culture.
Your company culture is the fruit of your leadership. As business owners, leaders, and managers, we must own it. It’s our responsibility.