Unhealthy Culture? Now, What?

Here are eight strategies to consider, such as the recognition that free lunches and ping-pong alone won't turn things around.

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By Marty Fukuda • Dec 14, 2015


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Sustained business success doesn't happen in the absence of an outstanding culture. Can a company achieve short-term wins without one? Yes. In fact, such wins might even mask the fact that your office culture calls for work.

Related: Company Culture Is Too Important to Leave to Chance

But in the long haul, every business needs people to make it run. And, in particular, every business needs happy people -- meaning a team that works for more than just a paycheck. Organizations with happy people will survive and thrive despite the test of time.

Have you come to the painful realization that your own organization lacks a great, or even a good, culture? How do you transform one that's been headed in the wrong direction for years? Here are eight strategies to consider.

1. Don't wait another day before taking action.

A bad culture will drive down your productivity and push your top talent out. So, don't let another day go by without addressing the problem. Each day you ignore what matters means time and dollars lost.

2. Identify what you want your culture to be.

The great thing about business culture is that there's no one "best" culture for every company. You and your team get to set the direction by deciding what works best for you. Start by meeting with your leaders and team members from all levels of the organization. Determine the behaviors that you all value. Compile a list (consider a culture deck) that sums up in a five-minute read what your culture is all about.

3. Understand what culture is not.

Your business culture is based upon the people in the organization and their behavior, not on things. Designer furniture, ping-pong tables and free lunches aren't bad, but they aren't behaviors. Your culture must ride on behaviors, not props or window dressing.

4. Acknowledge the elephant in the room.

I promise that your team already knows, when the culture isn't productive. The right people will be relieved and excited that you've decided to address it. Let everyone know that strengthening your culture is a top priority and needs every team member's help.

Related: 10 Ways to Build a Winning Culture

5. Address the cultural misfits personally.

All staffers come to the workforce with preconceived notions of how they should act in a professional setting. Some will easily identify with your new culture deck and will be open to adapting. Others may not agree that the culture needs a reboot. Give them time to adapt. They may have the wrong habits deeply ingrained, and this will be a new conversation for them. Even so, it is critical that they understand you need the entire team to buy in. How they are able to adjust and change will constitute an important part of their future success.

6. Talk with your team often about your new culture initiative.

One of the reasons you may find yourself with a weak culture is a lack of discussion about the topic. Your culture won't improve after you convene one big meeting or hang up a few posters. The message must be frequent and clear. One of the most effective ways to promote your culture is to celebrate those who are living examples of it. Publicly praise and reward team members who lead the way, and promote only those that do. Turning up the volume and showcasing the right behaviors will begin to create the right actions.

7. Be prepared for your culture to temporarily get worse.

How does this happen? It's likely that your new culture will force you to address things that have been suppressed or buried for years. This will make some uncomfortable. Those who don't buy into your culture may resist change, causing tension and forcing conversations that should have taken place years ago. Don't let this scare you. The discussion you've been afraid to have is the one you must have. A few moments of discomfort will be worth it in the long run.

8. Commit to change.

If your commitment wanes, your culture will revert backward. Make sure you and your leaders are focused and committed to your culture for the long haul.

No matter where your culture is now, there's always room to improve. A positive culture delivers the biggest bang for your buck, because when your team is happier, productivity soars. Your only investment is time and willpower -- but the difference these things make will be immeasurable.

Related: The 25 Best Large-Company Cultures in 2015

Marty Fukuda

Chief Operating Officer of N2 Publishing

Chicago native Marty Fukuda is the chief operating officer of N2 Publishing, overseeing operations at its corporate headquarters in Wilmington, N.C. He first joined the company as an area director in 2008 after working in the direct sales and print industries. 

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