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5 of the Biggest Misconceptions About Culture

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

1. Culture is fluffy.

Through my posts over the last few weeks, I've communicated just how essential culture is to an organization’s success. It might be hard to get your arms around the concept of culture but it's not fluffy. A negative work culture is tied to turnover which is ½ to 3 times an employee’s annual salary. It can also harm your company’s reputation and cause remaining employees to become disengaged and unproductive. In addition, disengagement (which is tied to culture) costs U.S. companies a lot of money - Gallup says $350 billion per year.

2. Culture is someone else’s job.

There is a big misconception that the HR department is in charge of creating and maintaining the workplace culture. While HR plays a significant role, culture is the responsibility of everyone. Leadership especially plays a major role in influencing and inspiring others to buy in. And employees can tell if their commitment is authentic or only empty words.

It is important that all culture violators are held accountable regardless of rank or position. When employees notice that Senior Leaders are exempt from the same values, rules and policies that others are being held to, a disconnect is created and loyalty is lost.

Here are some things that you can do to emphasize the importance of culture as everyone’s job:

  • Add cultural expectations to job descriptions.

  • Get feedback from new hires to pinpoint potential blind spots in your culture and make adjustments as necessary.

  • Get creative in finding ways to elevate leadership development in your organization and address when situations where they are not adhering to the desired culture.

3. It’s OK to be all talk, no walk with cultural values.

Just because you have posted your core values on the wall doesn’t mean that people are following them. Ask yourself, Is what’s on the wall happening in the hall?" If not, you have some work to do.

You can do the following:

  • Evaluate (and reevaluate) how your values influence every touchpoint in your organization including hiring, onboarding, performance management and training.

  • Increase retention by taking the time to hire employees that complement your corporate values. There has been some scrutiny from DEIB standpoint lately on hiring for “cultural fit” as that might mean that people are hiring clones that think, look, and talk like you. This isn’t accurate if you focus on whether the candidate has passion and appears to have values that are in line with those of your organization. If they don’t, it isn’t likely to work out well.

  • Get specific about how your values translate into behavior. Recognize employees that are living the values. This helps clarify the behavior desired, plus makes employees feel appreciated for their efforts.

4. We don’t have the money to create a great culture.

It isn’t expensive to create a positive culture. There are many things that you can do that cost very little. Plus, if you take into account the money that you will save on turnover and disengagement if you enhance your culture, you can’t afford NOT to elevate it.

Most employees don’t care about ping pong tables, fancy events, or exquisite perks. They primarily want:

  • Meaning and purpose in their work

  • To feel appreciated

  • To have a good relationship with their manager

  • To have the opportunity to grow.

Below are some cost-effective ways to boost your culture:

  • Decide to put storytelling front and center. Stories will capture the hearts and minds of your employees and help them to see how the organization is living out its purpose.

  • Make sure that employees know how their positions contribute to the organization’s purpose.

  • Be inclusive in decision-making wherever you can.

  • Help employees discover their strengths and preferences and maximize them to up their engagement and be most helpful to the team.

  • Show employees that they are appreciated through praise, thank you notes, and providing them with autonomy.

5. For enough money, any employee will stay in a toxic culture.

Money can’t buy happiness, and neither can it buy employee loyalty. If you have ever worked in a toxic culture, you probably know that no amount of money is worth the stress and anguish that results. You do need a certain level of compensation to attract and retain employees. But beyond that, studies have shown time and again that culture can be the dealmaker or dealbreaker.

In a study of 500 companies conducted by MIT, it was determined that toxic culture was the strongest predictor of a company’s attrition rate compared to its industry’s average attrition rate. Overall, toxic culture was 10 times more powerful in predicting attrition than compensation — one of the most common reasons given for people leaving their jobs in the last year, according to the study. The moral of this story - they ain't going to stay if you have a toxic culture.

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