A Business Culture That Doesn’t Suck 101

Imagine telling this to your best friend, who has just returned home with a bundle of joy that is their firstborn child:

“Damn, your kid is ugly.”

What contortions and twists do you expect their face to make in the seconds that follow your statement?

As a Business Coach, I can tell you I am VERY familiar with that mix of shock and horror and hatred and worry on your friend’s imaginary face in response to your statement.

Because it is the exact reaction I get when telling a Business Owner, “You think your culture is a strength? Well, it’s actually the #1 thing holding back your business.”

The arms cross. The lips disappear into a pout. The eyebrows shift downward. The forehead wrinkles into itself.

It’s not a pretty sight!

That does nothing to take away from the fact that when I may seem out of line, I’m telling the honest-to-goodness truth.

Have you ever heard of The Dunning-Kruger Effect?

It is a Cognitive Bias wherein someone competent at a task doubts themselves, while a complete rookie tries their hand at it once and calls himself an expert.

Turn on the news, and you will see pundits and politicians falling into the latter category by the minute!

So it is with culture in a business.

Whenever a new client brags about how “intentional” and “authentic” their culture is, I know with 99.99% accuracy where their greatest problems are.

Why is this the case? And what separates a good culture from a bad one?

For the sake of brevity, I will keep it simple.

A business culture that doesn’t suck is an environment where everyone is on the same team and working toward the same goals, period. It’s really that simple.

Horrific business cultures, however, are a lot more complicated. Employees with seniority are undermining entry-level staff, management isn’t communicating executives’ intentions properly, wires are being crossed, politics are in play, and the Owner is oblivious to the war waging behind his or her back for favorable status in case  a season of downsizing ever comes.

If I were to sum up the difference between a culture that sucks and one that doesn’t, it’s trust.

In an amazing culture, everyone trusts each other. The interns trust their supervisors to offer direction. Managers trust their teams to stay on schedule. Sales trusts accounting. Operations trusts HR.

In a poor one, the opposite is true. From the top down, a lack of trust is obvious. Tight controls, layers of rules, and instructions without explanation are given because the next level of leadership up justifies every command with, “Because I said so.”

No employees worth promoting can thrive in that environment. In 40+ years in business, I have never witnessed an exception.

This article has probably led you down a path of self-reflection about your own culture. Is mine good? Bad? Has it gotten worse? Is it better than before?

Let me leave you with one question:

Do you trust your people, and do they trust you?

That is what all cultures come down to. The answers is an absolute yes, or an absolute no.

Even a maybe, is an absolute no.

That question goes both ways, too.

How would your employees answer it?

Your managers?

Your board, if you have one?

Your interns, if you have any?

Take your time answering the question.

According to the Harvard Business Review, businesses with positive cultures that produce engaged employees outperform the competition by 20%.

Twenty. Percent.

That’s with all else being equal.

So do the math.

We cannot afford to get culture wrong.

Are you ready to become the next success story?