Saturday, August 8, 2015

Toxic Corporate Cultures

Does your company have a corporate culture of accountability or do your employees play the blame game? Higher accountability is probably the #1 goal of many of corporate clients

By default, people tend to want to hide their mistakes and when confronted, go toward defensiveness and attempt to shift blame, especially when they feel that mistakes could cost them their job, or reputation. That kind of behaviour is toxic in the corporate environment and an indication that you have a culture problem.

When companies start to create a culture of accountability, people become willing to admit they are wrong. It says a lot about the culture that individuals are willing to put their egos aside and admit fault. As much as it is a step in the right direction, admitting wrongness is only the first step.

Admitting wrong doesn’t create change. Imagine sitting around a boardroom table where everyone talks about what they were supposed to do and says, “Sorry everyone. I was supposed to do such-and-such, but it didn’t get done.” to which everyone nods and moves on.

A lot of good that does, especially if it becomes the corporate culture! Admit fault and all is forgiven! What you end up with is a group of high-minded nobles who freely take responsibility and move on like nothing happened. What message does that send to the rest of your employees? “Work hard, but if you don’t, no worries.”

The next step in creating the culture of accountability is to attach an impact to the wrong. So, in our boardroom scenario, when a member of your team confesses to missing an important deadline, you need to stop the meeting right there and discuss what impact it has had on the rest of the team.

It’s only when people understand their impact that behaviours start to change. Unlike you, who is in position to see all the inner workings of the company, they may not see the domino effect caused by their actions or fully understand the impact on the bottom line. Creating awareness of impact attaches a higher level of awareness related to the wrong.

Now comes the step where they need to fix the problem through restitution. What are they going to do about it such that it doesn’t happen again or at least that they alleviate the stress their wrong created for the rest of the team? Ideally, the wrongdoers would come up with the fix themselves, but it can be a team effort. Be careful not to jump in and ‘tell’. A personal or team choice creates a significantly greater change and empowerment to continue that change.

How to Start Creating a Culture of Accountability 

1) Create a Safe Environment – Start by making people feel like they are in a safe place. Admitting fault requires trust, the lack of which is typically the reason people try to hide or deflect blame. Avoid name-calling or public humiliation and aim for curious conversation that creates understanding to build safety.

2) Start With the Top Down – Set a good example by practicing this exercise yourself. Like any cultural change, it has to be from the top down in order to become embedded in the corporate culture. Think of this as ‘follow the leader’ and you guessed it, you ARE the leader!

3) Open the Communication Channels – Be upfront about addressing the problem without being adversarial. Let your team know that this is part of a move toward building a culture of accountability and involve them in the process. This means being assertive, while continuing to support your team to find value in the change.

4) Leverage the Power of “Team” - This process is about changing a collective behavior and way of thinking more than personal attacks and pointing out the slacker. Accountability is nine times higher in a group setting because of peer pressure! Leveraging that power is the key moving the group to the next level.

5) Be Consistent – Firm, but fair in enforcing the accountability rules. As soon as people sense that it isn’t across the board, or you are immune as the leader, your culture shift is doomed to fail. Apply the rule to everyone at all times. No exceptions.

6) Don’t Tolerate Terrorists – Accountability is simply not for everyone. As your culture begins to shift it will become very clear who is slow to adapt, and who is simply unwilling to come along AKA the terrorist. The longer you tolerate the terrorist the more your change looses momentum and actually reverts back to the way it was, costing time and money.

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