What’s Your Culture Telling Me? Do I Really Want to Work Here?

Have you ever walked into an organization and just got that “hmmm, something just doesn’t feel right” feeling? I know I have (more times than I’d like to count).

Many of us know from the first time we enter into an organization, whether as an employee or a consultant, that what they say is not what we see – or feel. It’s the ever-so-important “gut check” we shouldn’t ignore.

So, what are some things that trigger your culture gut check?

We realize it is probably because of many different factors, however, we were intrigued that more people are not interested in how to create a high performance culture. Perhaps they just don’t notice what a negative impact poor culture can have?

Regardless, building a successful business requires more than just saying you have a good culture, it requires creating and espousing the traits of a high performance culture so employees, vendors, and stakeholders can see you “mean what you say” – a culture that is open, honest, trusting, transparent and engaging.

So what makes a high performing culture?

High level – we’ll offer a few qualities that may trigger your “gut check,” and a few that make for a high performing culture.

Poor Performing Culture

  • Poor Communication
  • Secrecy
  • Mistrust
  • Abuse of Power
  • Inflexible Structures
  • Uninventive
  • Unclear Strategy
  • Practices Oppression
  • Poor Engagement
  • Rigid Processes

High Performing Culture

  • Open Communication
  • Transparency
  • Trust
  • Socialized Power
  • Flexible Structures
  • Innovative
  • Defined Strategy
  • Values Equality
  • High Engagement
  • Flexible Processes

So how do you create a positive and high performing culture?

For starters, check out our white paper on the topic titled: What is a High Performance Culture? Creating a culture that supports long term growth and sustainability.

Short answer – develop and excel in the “high performing culture” qualities listed above. You can get started in three steps.

1. Direction

The first step in creating a high performing culture is defining your direction. An organization cannot achieve a high performing culture without having a clearly defined direction – a detailed strategy, including a clear mission and a defined vision statement.

The strategy should help determine who you want to be, where you want to go, and how to chart the course to help you get there. The strategy should answer several imperatives, including but not limited to: what can we do best? Do we have flexible processes and structures in place to support execution of our mission? What motivates our people the most and how do we provide that to them? What is essential for our financial stability? And how do we exceed customer expectations and define and measure success?

2. Communication

The next step to achieve a high performing culture is communication — frequent, transparent, and authentic communication amongst leadership, employees, stakeholders, and customers is a necessity. To keep audiences engaged in your products and services, and committed to the organizations’ strategy, mission and vision, they need to know what is going on and why (within reason).

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If you want to create a high performing culture, it is not enough simply to communicate; methods for receiving and acting on feedback received from target audiences must also be developed. Develop communication plans and processes to ensure that all audiences (internal and external) are reached with the content vehicles and frequencies appropriate for them to remain interested and engaged.

3. Engagement

The third step in achieving a high performing culture: always focus on the people. We’ve said this before, and we think it so important we’ll say it again, because organizations can’t exist without people. People make the difference in every business.

To achieve a high performing culture, you must recruit, engage, and retain the right people for your culture. Many things bring employees through the front door, but bad work environments drive them out. To not drive them out, you need to build a highly engaged and committed workforce.

Let employees know they and their ideas are valued and that they work in a culture where their voices can be heard. Creating this type of environment increases employee motivation and retention and reduces employee turnover. This type of positive environment helps people reach higher levels of productivity.

Success depends on knowing and understanding your workforce and valuing each employee’s satisfaction, motivation, well-being, and development. People are the company. High performing organizations recognize and embrace this fact.

Here’s hoping that most of you desire to be part of a high performing culture – and strive to create and maintain an organization where people really want to work!

What triggers your “gut check?” What qualities or strategies do you think make the difference between a poor culture, and a high performing culture?

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.

Scott Span, MSOD, is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions, an Organization Improvement & Strategy firm. He helps clients in achieving success through people, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable -- organizations where people enjoy working and customers enjoy doing business. 


7 Comments on “What’s Your Culture Telling Me? Do I Really Want to Work Here?

  1. One of the strategies I believe makes a difference and occurs after the vision and values is the right organizational and decision making structure. If these are not in alignment with the vision, it will create political battles for power from misaligned groups. The right groups need to have direct influence to the CEO. For example a company that changed from product focused to market segment focused still had operations in the key power spot instead of shifting the power to Sales and Customer Service. It resulted in heated political battles until the CEO was willing to openly discuss the formal and informal power changes. That infighting caused many cultural issues.

    1. Carlann, 
      Thanks for your comment. You raise some interesting points about leadership, power, and politics. Per culture, I agree that the organizations should try and recruit people who have values that align to the the organizational culture. If individual and organizational values clash, it can be turmoil from day one, for engagement and performance. Per specific changes as you mention, I think in those situations it is more about balance of power and adaptability of processes if things are to succeed. Clear and open communication and access to leadership or change champions is imperative.

  2. In my own experience, I agree with most of your points, except for “socialized power”.  I prefer to call it “strong leadership + merit based distributed responsibilities”. 

      1.  sounded like to avoid “abuse of power”, the company should “socialize” (as in make everyone equal in the decision making process).  If I mistunderstood, my apologies. 

  3. Focus on people is super important, especially when developing/driving a high performance culture. Everyone wants to be appreciated especially when they’re giving their all. If the people getting it done don’t feel they’re valued, they’ll disengage and productivity will suffer. Thanks for pointing me this way, Scott. 🙂

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