Company Culture: Without These 5 Factors, Your Company Culture is TOXIC

Have you ever been in an uncomfortable work situation? Maybe you were put in a morally questionable position by a higher up, or you found it difficult to evaluate someone’s performance because there was no clear guideline? If so, it’s possible you’ve been a member of a toxic company culture.

A lot of people think that having a good company culture means having all the basics — casual Fridays, office holiday parties and the occasional work retreat. However, company culture goes much deeper than this.

The workplace is dependent on a positive company culture. Without a healthy and functional culture, it is likely that this negative energy can seep into the other aspects of a company’s work, including its relationships with its clients. For this reason, it is crucial that entrepreneurs and management feel at ease within a company.

Many might believe that it’s not the job of the CEO to create and enforce a company’s culture — that it’s something that can be delegated. However, even without organizing the specifics of the company culture, CEOs can still play a very important role in helping others to understand and value it.

Luckily, through my many years in the industry and my time at Vistage in NYC, I have seen firsthand what contributes to and defines a positive company culture. As a result, I have been able to pinpoint the five most important factors for a business leader in creating and maintaining a company culture that is anything but toxic.

1.) Positive Relationships Among Employees and Supervisors

To have a positive company culture, there must exist an understanding and connection between supervisors and personnel. Negative relationships contribute to negative culture, which can lead to decreased employee engagement and a decline in productivity. This can involve anything from negative customer ratings and low profitability to high employee turnover.

According to a survey done by Dale Carnegie and MSW Research, the greatest factor contributing to low engagement in the workplace is the relationship between an employee and their immediate supervisor. This is immediately followed by a belief in senior business leadership and pride in working for the company.

It is therefore crucial that companies maintain a positive relationship between all of their employees. Management must be open to conversing with employees about the goals and intentions of the company. Only in toxic company cultures are employees disengaged and uninvolved.

2.) Creation of a “We Space”

Similar to the significance of the relationship between employees and management, it is crucial for a business leader desiring a good company culture to focus on creating a “we space.”

A “we space” is a positive culture that is clearly defined and perceptible to even an outsider. It is about shared values, experiences and morale. A “we space” is a dynamic between all workers in an environment, and it guides how the company proceeds as a whole. The “we space” is all about the organization as an entity, as each member thinks in a manner of “we over me.” This leads to workers speaking in a way in which they use “we” more often than they use “I,” demonstrating the community of the company.

By changing the way the employees view the company, and therefore changing the language they use, the creation of a “we space” inherently rewrites how people view their workplaces. It is crucial for employees to have this sense of community and belonging in a company culture.

3.) Clarity Regarding Company Values

To have a clearly defined and positive company culture, you as a business leader must think deeply about what values you want to base your company around. These values must be clear, succinct and demonstrative of what your company is all about. Ideally, these values will also be unique and distinct from other companies — what makes your company stand out?

This often relates to the concept of having a great and worthy purpose, or of having a noble cause to work toward. The best NYC CEOs all have a clear idea of what they want their business to be and how they want to get there, and then they work for it.

These core values cannot just be on a poster on the wall. Rather, they need to be ingrained in every meeting and reaffirmed while signing off every email. To have a positive company culture, clearly-defined core values must be prevalent.

It is significantly easier to lead people when there are pre-established expectations and guidelines for behavior in the form of common values. With these core values, which will be repeated and shared among entrepreneurs and management alike, there will be no room for nuance. It is beneficial for employees to have clear expectations, and beneficial for higher-ups to have something off of which to base performance evaluations.

These core values can be viewed as a code of conduct, or as a guide for decision-making. With clarity regarding what’s expected of them, employees know exactly whether or not their behavior adheres to the company values, and, therefore, to the company culture as a whole.

4.) Pride in Working for the Company

As mentioned earlier, pride in working for the company is prioritized high on the list of what determines an employee’s engagement. It is crucial for a positive company culture to have employees who believe in the company and its subsequent values.

Some examples of questions that management should be asking about employees are whether or not they’re working on something that is personally important to them and if they fundamentally believe that the work they’re doing matters. If the answers to these questions are “no,” it may be a clue that there could exist a negative company culture.

Too often, supervisors don’t focus on finding and sustaining workers with similar values to the company. To avoid this, firing, hiring and promoting people with similar values may be necessary in order to emphasize the principles of the desired company culture.

5.) Not Being Afraid to Change the Culture

It can be tricky when you inherit a company culture that is less than positive. It can be really hard to navigate a toxic culture — what changes should you make?

In times of uncertainty, such as when a new boss is entering into the picture, it is crucial to be a steward of the company culture the employees expect to see. This can mean instilling new core values into the workplace and sharing stories of past experiences.

However, whatever you do, it is crucial that you do not shy away from working to implement the changes you believe in. The biggest mistake new business leaders or business owners make is neglecting to create new company values, allowing employees to behave inconsistently in regard to these values and being vague or flaky in terms of what they expect from the employees. Emerging leaders must be prepared to take the reins and guide their company in the direction it needs to go.

Bottom Line

These five factors characterize successful company cultures with established principles and engaged workers. Positive relationships between employees and supervisors, creation of a “we space,” clarity of core values, pride in working for the company and not being afraid to change the culture are all things that can be implemented and encouraged in order to increase productivity, profitability and overall success in the workplace.

It is up to the CEO and management to execute these factors successfully, but by utilizing the tips provided by our Mark Taylor Vistage Groups, you will be able to avoid a toxic company culture.