Superstar Leadership: Workplace Damage Control

I’ve written lately about various aspects of workplace culture…People are always the number one consideration in my opinion. This topic always directly relates to recruitment and employee retention. It’s inescapable. It’s part of your workplace DNA. Performing a workplace culture audit of a prospective employer and how to nurture company culture, both as a manager and as an employee are so key.  Let’s keep tackling the dark side – repairing a damaged corporate culture.

Every workplace culture/organization (and employee) has good and bad days. Culture takes little hits on the bad days, but a string of bad days or months can turn into permanent damage. Unfortunately as those days and months grind on it can become easy to miss the signs of damage. A stressed management team may be focused on keeping the company afloat; a stressed manager with personal issues or job challenges may turn a deaf ear to rumblings of dissatisfaction.

In the first example, if management fails to communicate its trials, distrust will flower and thrive. In the latter example, also, a failure to communicate, compounded by a lack of responsibility on the part of the manager, creates a breach between employer and employee. Into that breach will creep distrust and its close cousin, unwillingness to believe anything management says. This is not good and should be stopped in it’s tracks.

Communication and trust are the underpinnings of healthy workplace culture. Other culture markers – a shared sense of mission, shared goals, respect – are rooted in trust and communication.

When trust goes, so also goes culture, that valuable mix of the personality of the workplace and its brand and the collective experience of what it means to work in the organization.

A simple measure of damage to a company’s culture is employee turnover. One local small company I know has had 95 percent turnover in the past three years. Yep, almost 100 percent. This happens.

The managers’ reaction? A tone-deaf range of comments, from ‘It was time for those people to move on’ to ‘We’re glad they didn’t go to competitors’; even the suggestion that the massive turnover is a ‘sign of growth on the part of employees fostered by the unique culture at X Company.’

Once you’ve pulled your jaw off the floor, let me assure you this example is real. Not surprisingly, this particular workplace culture is in dire need of repair. The company’s survivors are hardened and sour and new recruits into the organization are often bewildered and leaderless.

Here’s the basic prescription I would suggest to the executives if asked and from there I would refer them to my list of colleagues who specialize in this specific arena of employee retention and engagement (although this culture is so damaged they haven’t sought advice):

First, assess what’s really happened:

  • Make a list of those who left and when. Review notes from their exit interviews and look for repetition of words and themes. These repetitions are the top-level clues to what is wrong with the organization.
  • Correlate reasons given for leaving. I predict there will be very few ‘uniques’ in this group.
  • Cross-reference the above data with time of year as well as acquisition (or loss) of business.
  • Review every email sent to the company announcing a defection and look for patterns describing the person’s reason for leaving.

Now you have a lexicon of words, a vocabulary of loss of culture and cohesion. The next step is to assess what remains. This step is best taken with the help of a third party, a neutral coach or consultant.

Survey the remaining employees and any new employees on basic measures of job satisfaction:

  • Is compensation competitive? Benefits?
  • Is training adequate?
  • Is the work challenging and rewarding?
  • Do employees have a reasonable level of autonomy and responsibility?
  • How are initiative and excellence rewarded?
  • Is the physical work environment adequate? Are tools and systems in place that improve productivity and reduce drudge work?
  • Do employees feel comfortable talking to managers? If not, why?
  • Do employees feel that management tells the truth?
  • How frequent and relevant are communications?
  • Is feedback used to improve the work environment? Is it ignored?
  • Would you recruit a friend?

Now it’s time to step back and look at what employees and line managers said.

At this point, it’s imperative to commit to, and communicate, intent to change.

  • Communicate results of the survey.
  • Take ownership for the issues, and do not try to deflect responsibility.
  • If something can’t be changed or fixed say why.
  • Create a change action plan with dates, asking employees to help prioritize change items.
  • Implement the change action plan, honoring dates and milestones.
  • Communicate at every step.
  • Re-survey in three months and again in six months, and communicate the results.

Then tackle the hardest part:

  • Assign team leaders and give them responsibility and power to enact change. Support them (or they may fail.)
  • Meet with team leaders regularly and listen to them. Don’t talk over them or challenge what you hear, listen.

Without thoughtful intervention, a broken workplace culture with disheartened people can’t really be repaired. This is often the sad truth. Retention and recruiting will fail too. Employees will continue to head for the exits, and customers may even follow.

Take a look here to read about three companies using workplace culture for retention. This is a very useful case study for all to absorb.

What steps would you take to rescue a damaged corporate culture?

IMAGE via Flickr

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail
3 replies

Comments are closed.