Toxic Corporate Cultures

Toxic Corporate Cultures

Toxic Corporate Cultures

The departure of Uber’s Travis Kalanick is just one of several resignations that exit toxic influences from businesses. The fact that these dismissals are often related to high-profile start-ups doesn’t mean that only the new are toxic, just that they are more visible.

There is plenty of toxicity in the old, too. What is it that makes for bad cultures? And why are they getting rooted out now when they would probably have lasted in the past?

Every organisation is the lengthening shadow of one person. You need look no further that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for corroboration of that. Trump doesn’t run America but his influence, even with a slender hold on power, is immense. It permeates every decision that is made by government and related bodies. The forces of law and order are duty bound to reflect the Chief’s philosophy. The armed forces call him Commander-in-Chief.

S/he who runs a business is the heart that makes or breaks it. For those who might say there is no heart in business, only P&L accounts, I say rubbish. Maximising profit at the expense of all other standards is work for a robot, not a human. What guides the standards that creates the culture is a mixture of personal ethics and shrewd balance between short-term and long-term objectives. Interesting that while we earnestly address the sustainability of earth we often ignore the elements that contribute to, or detract from, it.

Naturally, everyone who works in a business contributes to its culture. That is why process, system, guidelines and SOPs should be kept to a minimum and your employees should be encouraged – very encouraged – to think for themselves. Obviously system is necessary and some conformity is essential. But just as every lock creates a thief, so every instruction contributes to creating a robot. Very useful for some work – in which case actually use robots; very dangerous when it stops employees using their brains.

The best indicators of a good culture are found in the answers to five questions:

Do those who work here regard us as their organisation?
Do our immediate customers believe they are fairly dealt with by us?
Do our suppliers regard us as a decent customer, interested in their prosperity?
Does the end consumer think we produce top quality for the price?
Are the complaints we receive about small errors or major matters of principle?

Four ‘Yes’ answers plus a ‘small errors’ shows you as the best culture you can hope for.

Can you change the behaviour of a successful rogue who is creating a bad culture? Not always but often. Travis Kalanick must be a very bright man. He didn’t develop UBER only by logic. I am sure he could be just as feisty and innovative but learn to create a good culture at the same time.

It would be a wonderful challenge. Perhaps he’d like to ask us.