5 Key Pitfalls in not having a Change Strategy that will lead to a toxic Culture. #4 may surprise you.
Many of the organisations I have worked with, engage me for a number of reasons.
They can be categorised into three main themes. They either;
- Need help with HR support (People & Culture) in fixing a cultural issue before it turns toxic,
- OR they need Coaching for Leadership Development.
- Or they need help in Strategy formulation.
The 2nd and 3rd are usually straightforward, but the 1st often highlighted a number of issues that almost always point back to Strategy (no 3) – or the lack thereof.
When dealing with cultural issues, the first step in my approach is to carry out a culture audit by way of a confidential online survey or/and one-to-one confidential interviews depending on the size of the organisation and/or budget.
During this discovery and diagnostic phase, the issues that are highlighted are often the same. These being;
- Purpose and Direction – is unclear
- No Alignment – people are disengaged
- Communication – from leaders is poor hence there is no clarity
- Accountability – is absent
- People Development – is lacking or non-existent
People use the following descriptive language when they tell their story during our interviews or through the surveys;
- I don’t feel valued.
- I don’t understand our purpose or we have lost sight of what we were supposed to be doing.
- As we have gotten bigger, I’m doing so many things and I don’t know where my role starts and ends.
- We have too much work and there are not enough people to do the work.
- I/We get minimal or no recognition of achievements (formal or informal)
- Our processes and systems have not been updated or do not exist
- We lack direction and I do not know what our main priorities are.
- The priorities set by our leadership team show that they do not understand what is happening on the front line.
Whilst telling their stories, they often identify individuals (peers and/or leaders) and use the word bully to describe other people’s behaviour.
They talk about the lack of support in doing the work, being excluded or being made to feel inferior by their peers, and/or they talk about being micromanaged and excluded for opportunities by their managers.
They also relay their frustration at management’s lack of taking action to hold everyone else accountable.
However, when I ask whether there was a time when things were better, the answer is always a resounding yes.
So what changed?
When I ask them to pinpoint when things changed, they often highlight a new initiative as the trigger.
It could be a new product or service being launched for growth, the implementation of a new business system, or the implementation of a new organisational structure etcetera.
The net effect is that the workload, is perceived to have increased and this has put pressure on people to do more with less. As the pressure mounts, they look for direction in the form of an overall strategy and/or implementation plan.
When there is no clear direction, people take it upon themselves to direct work and their peers without the formal authority to do so. This is where personalities start to clash and trust starts to erode.
People then start to look closely at how that change affects them personally – financially and emotionally.
Inevitably, most people default to their basic human instinct, survival. And there lies the beginning of what will turn into a toxic culture if not addressed quickly.
So where does one start to fix the problem?
Perhaps you could get rid of the person (often in a leadership role) perceived as the bully.
Perhaps you could move them to another team/section or department via a restructure and give someone else a go managing and leading that team.
But let’s face it, the problem hasn’t gone away, and the poor leader that comes in afterwards will find themselves in the same situation. Pretty soon, they either move on or they avoid rocking the boat.
Now your organisation has a bipolar culture where some people avoid and some push harder to compensate and come across aggressive, and eventually the latter end up being labelled – a bully.
I think you get the picture. The problem is still there. The aforementioned knee jerk actions merely treated the symptoms and not the root problem.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a real believer in the ethos that “if you cannot change the person, then change the person” – but only if you have created a constructive environment with well-defined goals and direction where people can thrive.
The root cause is a lack of a clearly articulated strategy, thus a lack of direction.
So what’s the solution?
If you do not have a strategy, you need to produce one. If you have an old strategy, you need to update it.
Get input from your people. It can be in the form of an online survey or face to face interviews and team workshops.
It’s much easier to get buy-in when people feel like they have had the opportunity to be heard and put some ideas forward for consideration.
Consult to get a “top-down and bottom-up” solution ensuring buy-in at all levels by;
- Identifying or rediscovering your reason for being – your organisation’s why;
- Identifying and clarifying your strategic objectives/projects so that you are all on the same page and understand the need to grow profitably;
- Set clear priorities for those strategic objectives/projects and minimise the impact on your business as usual activities – thus providing clear direction;
- Involve your people and enhance their potential to ensure alignment between your business goals and their personal development;
- Develop communication strategies that are understood at all levels.
PS: The outcome of your “human-centred strategy” may be exactly as you imagined, or you may discover something that you hadn’t considered. The likelihood of buy-in though will be much higher.
If you need help with creating a strategy and change plan, book a meeting with me in the link below this article.