S&*# that is Said in Toxic Cultures

Culture eats strategy for breakfast – Peter Drucker

When culture is hungry, it eats whatever and whenever it pleases. Peter Drucker was right about that.

As a former executive — and now as a business leadership coach, consultant, and, motivational speaker — I see this firsthand and it’s far too common.   

So how do you know if your organization’s culture is having strategy for breakfast?

Let’s start here. Here’s what is said in less-than-ideal work cultures:

1.     “We need to do more with less.” – So, let’s get this straight. The company didn’t meet its goals, resources were cut, and now, your people need to do more than before? I understand that the intent is connected to effectiveness and efficiencies. However, it’s rarely clearly communicated that way. Doing things differently is a risk that many leaders don’t want to explore.  So, it’s business as usual. Well, except for the worker bees. They become busier than ever and more stressed. As a result, there’s more buzz and less honey in their beehive.

2.     “We need to flawlessly execute.” This is usually linked to No. 1 because if you need to do more with less, you can’t afford to make a mistake.  And few in the conference room are willing to be the dissenting opinion against perfection. Right? Yes, we should pursue excellence, however, we shouldn’t let perfection get in the way of progress. If flawlessness is the only acceptable outcome, then say good-bye to learning and innovation. Oh, you should also say good-bye to an inspiring culture, too.

3.     “I’m going to need some wine tonight.” – This is usually uttered by those responsible for the busy bees. It’s usually said tongue-in-cheek, but humor always has an element of truth in it. If the pursuit of perfection is turning into the pursuit of pinot, then you have a problem. Until you solve it, I would like to recommend the beautiful pinot noirs from Maysara in the Willamette Valley Oregon.

4.     “Wow, the parking lot is empty.” Everyone notices it and whispers about it. Where is everyone at 5:15 p.m.? Employees are willing to give of their discretionary time at anabolic cultures; however, at toxic cultures, team members are probably pulling up to the store at 5:16 p.m. They need some cheese to go with their wine, you know.

5.     “Chirp, chirp, chirp.” No, that’s not what the fox says; it’s what the cricket says. And ultimately, it can evolve into the deafening cry of the cicada. Here’s how it plays out in toxic cultures: Leadership fails to consistently communicate the company’s mission, vision, values, and priorities. Enter the crickets. Then they give employees a chance to ask questions, but team members don’t want to risk asking the wrong questions. Enter more crickets. This goes on until the employees start writing their own narrative about the future of the company.  And now it’s cicada time.  

6.     “We need to reschedule your 1:1 review, but you are doing great.” Difficult cultures are too busy juggling multiple balls or spinning plates to meet, teach, and learn. “We have stuff to do,” they say. Strong cultures understand that team-member growth drives better strategy development and execution. It helps them to stay in front of the market and the competition; it keeps them relevant.

7.     “We would be doing better if it wasn’t for…” Toxic cultures love to play the blame game of self-preservation. Strong cultures understand that mission, vision, and values connect teams. They are “All In” and “All In Together.”

So, does any of this S&*# sound familiar?

Toxic cultures are easy to avoid, but it often takes an outside perspective to clearly see the real problem and find solutions. I can be your team’s outside perspective. Let’s set up a time to talk about how you can prevent your culture from eating your strategy. 

We can talk over breakfast, or perhaps over the glass of wine that you are about to have tonight.