How to Sabotage Your Corporate Culture

How to Sabotage Your Corporate Culture
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An Expert on How to Sabotage Your Corporate Culture
Perhaps the best-known expert on sabotage in the modern age is William “Wild Bill” Donovan whose Office of Strategic Services (OSS) compiled a manual of how to sabotage enemy organizations in 1944.  The 32-page field manual described two main ways to undermine an organization’s productivity – by damaging equipment, facilities, or transportation or by what might be called human obstruction of managerial or organizational processes. The manual laid out plans that, either way, could seriously undermine an organization’s productivity.

The Role of Corporate Culture
We define corporate culture as how things really get done in an organization. It includes the way employees think, behave and act. Whether implicit or explicit, every company and every leadership team have self-sustaining patterns of behaviors and thinking that represent how work gets done.  As a leader, do not underestimate how much your actions – both big and small –  affect and are interpreted by others.

  • We know from a Harvard Business School report that culture can account for up to half of the difference in performance between organizations in the same industry.
  • Our own organizational alignment research found that culture accounts for 40% of the differential between high and low performing companies.

Culture at work matters. It matters a lot. It plays a huge role in an organization’s overall health, performance, and strategic execution.

Three Recent Client Examples of How to Sabotage Your Corporate Culture
Cultural threats can be unrecognized and unintentional; but they still can pack a powerful and debilitating punch. The less obvious and less visible dangers to change and performance can be triggered by poor leadership, faulty decision making processes, a lack of employee engagement, unclear strategies, political infighting, and fuzzy roles and responsibilities.

These kinds of weaknesses in an organization’s fabric can have a negative impact on its culture and effectively slow down a company’s output. Here are some recent client examples of both purposeful and unplanned cultural sabotage that derailed three major change initiatives:

  • Sabotaging a Decentralized Decision Making Culture
    While the company needed to empower individuals to have the freedom to make decisions quickly with input from the frontline to expand operations, the company failed to disband a misaligned corporate decision-making committee and process where the majority of decisions had to be approved by top leadership at headquarters or required further study and consideration from large (and largely political and dysfunctional) committees.
  • Sabotaging Communication & Information Sharing
    Information and communication can be misused to sabotage your corporate culture. A recent client going through a major transformation uncovered:

    > Leaders making speeches filled with platitudes and generalities
    > Managers getting sidetracked on irrelevant issues
    > Stakeholders publicly committing and personally disengaging
    > Internal communications endlessly wordsmithing messages
    > Executives not agreeing upon the purpose or target audience for key communications
    > Project teams not sharing information in a timely or consistent manner

  • Sabotaging Behaviors
    One professional services client, afraid to lose a major revenue producer, failed to have consequences for misaligned behavior and looked the other way when the newly agreed-upon norms were not being followed. As you can imagine, this sent a strong signal that performance trumped alignment – the opposite of the desired cultural norm to better balance how work should be accomplished for optimum results.

    Another high tech client instituted a remote work policy to better attract and retain top talent in a highly competitive industry to better meet their growth targets.  Unfortunately key members of the senior leadership team continued to come into the office every day and hold important in-person only meetings.  It did not take long for their direct reports to do the same and for remote-working employees to feel left out and left behind – the opposite intention of their remote-work strategy.

    Even the smallest leadership actions matter.

The Tendency to Look Outside
Many organizations that are experiencing a downturn in performance are apt to blame external forces. It’s easier to point the finger at increased competition or shifts in the marketplace. Few leadership teams look inward first. Yet this is often where the trouble lies. Human factors can be a powerful source of strength or an area of tremendous vulnerability.

A Leader’s Job is to Create Alignment
One could safely say that it is the leader’s job to create the circumstances (your corporate culture) to get the most out of their people in a way that aligns with the company’s overall business and people strategies. To do this, a leader must fully understand the current workplace culture, articulate the desired culture, prioritize the cultural shifts required to make the most difference, and prepare and support both managers and employees to implement those cultural shifts in a way that makes sense.

The Bottom Line
To shift a workplace culture, people must change patterns of behavior and the feelings and thinking behind that behavior.  As a leader, are you doing all you can to protect your organization from the kind of culture sabotage that can lower performance and derail change? Do the hard work to strengthen and align your culture.

To learn more about how to get protect and align your corporate culture, download The 3 Research-Backed Levels of Corporate Culture that You Must Get Right to Thrive

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