Financial metrics in any company will paint a picture of success or trouble. In many cases these are results of product, service, people, process or a combination of any of the above (maybe all of the above). The real issue resides with diagnosing what is causing the issue. A negative culture can have a toxic effect on any organization. However, defining the causes of a negative culture can be challenging so you must look for the signs and signals that point to a negative culture.
1) The Primary Sign, Employee Turnover
Employee turnover is probably the most definitive sign that you have a negative culture. Nobody really likes looking for a job and as such things have to be pretty bad for them to look. Pretty bad is relative to an individual, but bottom line is they can’t get what they want at your company so they will begin to search for it elsewhere.
So when is turnover a sign of a negative culture? When employees leave in droves. Employees leaving in groups are a clear sign of a cultural issue. If those employees are leaving from a specific department, manager, or job function you should pay particular attention. Additionally, turnover with no apparent reason is a sign of a troubled culture.
2) Lack of Employee Socialization
Strong cultures are supported by strong teams. Employees who work well together, share similar goals and objectives and have all bought into the mission are generally high functioning and high performing. At this point there is a strong sense of camaraderie. Employees are willing to put forth discretionary effort to help their teammates succeed, if not for the good of the group, for the good of the individual they are helping.
In high performing teams, you typically see socialization outside of work. They will share interests in each other’s personal life, family and non-work interests. This type of team building and socialization feeds culture. So if your employees don’t seem to identify with each other on this level of some sort, it may be leading to a negative culture.
3) Employees Stop Voicing Concerns
Businesses grow and succeed due to the collaborative process within. Collaboration requires a transparent and open environment that promotes free thought, sharing and dialogue. Without these an organization will go stagnant. The most prominent sign that your culture may be suffering is the lack of concerns being voiced by employees.
You may think that everyone is happy. However, the opposite is typically the case. Either employees have stopped caring or they don’t feel that they have a voice so they have stopped putting forth discretionary effort and concern as they don’t see a return on investment of their time.
4) Your Customers Are Complaining
We’ve all said that if you take care of your employees they will take care of your customers. A strong culture will be supported by strong customer support. If you are creating raving fans it means your employees are fully engaged. Full engagement is the result of a strong culture.
When customers start to complain it means that something is breaking down in the process. Typically it’s the result of lack of problem solving, lack of caring or lack of discretionary effort among employees. This lack of motivation is a significant sign of a bad culture.
5) Lack of Volunteers
Maybe you used to get employees raising their hands for the tough assignments in the past, but that has since changed. Employees no longer volunteer for those “need to fill” roles and assignments. They’d rather come in, do their work, and go home. This could be a sign of a number of things in addition to a damaged culture.
In strong cultures employees are willing to step up to the plate for tough assignments. Certain things must exist for this to happen. First, a supportive culture must be there. This culture would allow for failure without negative recourse for those who take significant chances. For example, if you wanted employees to take a chance on a tough assignment but if they failed they’d get fired, they’d never take the assignment. Alternatively, you must present it as an opportunity for them to grow and get promoted “faster.”
6) Productivity Has Dwindled
Have you noticed that you are not getting as much done with the resources you have as you may have in the past? After you double check that your staff has the training, skills and physical resources to do the work, you are left analyzing if they are putting forth the discretionary effort required to perform the work.
Lack of productivity is another key sign your employees may have checked out. At this point they may be satisfying the basic need of employment which is collecting a paycheck and doing the minimum required to do so. Strong cultures will generally see sustained, or even increased, productivity over time.
7) Your Inability to Attract Key Talent
This is a biggie and it means your poor culture has expanded beyond the confines of your business. It means outsiders do not want to come work for you because they do not believe they can be successful or are aware of your cultural challenges.
This situation can be diagnosed a few ways. First, you’ll see a decrease in qualified active job seekers to your positions. Second, you’ll find it much harder to negotiate employment offers for key individuals and at senior levels. Finally, if working with outside recruiters, they will even find it difficult to bring you qualified talent. All of these indices would indicate a poor perception of your company or culture in the job market.
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