2 Ways Corporate Culture Can Be Harmful…Brought to You by United Airlines

A short-sighted man is using binoculars to read showing how you need to look at the long-term view for a healthy corporate culture

We know how much corporate culture matters to the success of an organization. Our organizational alignment research at more than 400 companies across eight industries found cultural factors account for 40% of the difference between high and low performing companies in terms of growth, profitability, customer satisfaction, customer retention, leadership effectiveness and employee engagement. Yes, for sure, workplace culture matters.

We define corporate culture as the way work actually gets done in an organization on a day-to-day basis. It includes the overall purpose of a company’s workforce and their collective attitude, assumptions and behaviors. When company culture is aligned with company talent and business strategy, you have an unbeatable combination of factors that drive success.

But there is a risk in being too rigid in the way culture is defined and interpreted.

Here are two ways culture can be harmful. You only need to look at United Airlines’ recent disastrous negative publicity to see how they blew it.

  1. Too much fine print
    From the recent reports, it appears United Airlines relied too much on “policy” guidelines that were overly complicated and confusing. It seems the company expected employees to follow policy no matter what. If you have ever stood at a customer service counter with a legitimate complaint and been told “it’s our policy,” you know how inadequate that explanation can be.In United’s case two teenagers were denied their flight because of “inappropriate” attire…leggings for heaven’s sake! And just two weeks later, a passenger was dragged off the plane (and injured in the process) as a result of the airline’s policy of overbooking seats. Employees were so-called “prisoners” of ill-conceived and inadequately explained policies; they made poor decisions that hit the headlines and dramatically hurt the organization in the public eye.Make sure your culture does not allow leaders to create an environment where employees feel like they must:

    • Refer to rules and procedures to justify their actions
    • Do things the way they’ve always been done
    • Accept the “status quo” by default
    • Dismiss new ideas as irrelevant or too “different”
    • Conform and “fit in”
    • Give the appearance they’re conforming (even when trying something new or different)
    • Strictly adhere to policies and standard operating procedures without question
    • Focus on procedures rather than outcomes
  2. Too little employee discretion
    A strong, positive corporate culture should help employees make the right decisions in both low and high stress situations. If common sense had been at work, as well as the flexibility for employees to make humane and reasonable decisions, neither of these situations would have occurred. The teenagers would have been granted their seats and the overbooking would have been handled without the use of physical force.

To thrive, we believe companies need to simplify their stated policies, support examples of the positive ways these guidelines are to be followed, and give their employees enough discretion to carry them out in a way that is in the best interests of the customer and the organization.

A company’s cultural goal should be to empower employees to serve their customers without having to read the fine print of company policy or without being afraid of “doing the right thing.”

To learn more about creating a high performance and purposeful culture, download The 3 “C’s” that Create High Performance Culture Whitepaper

 

 

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