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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

A sure sign of a poor company culture

EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies

The uncomfortable truth is that most company cultures needs urgent attention. They’re toxic or repressive.

Whatever is said in the open, if your team only speak the truth about work at after hours drinks or by text message or chat, they won’t be around for long.’ (1)

In their book, ‘Why Should Anyone Work Here?’ Goffee and Jones set out to discover the ingredients that make an ‘authentic organisation – one that attracts and retains employees.’

Number 1 – ‘let people be themselves.’

(OK, let’s put this to one side - we’ve blogged about this before.) (2)

Number 2 – ‘practice radical honesty – communicate what’s really going on.’

‘The best companies communicate openly and honestly - encouraging employees to do the same.

  • They don't use spin – ‘spin backfires.’

  • They tell people the truth, even if the news isn't great.

  • They provide an environment where people express their views and raise issues.’ (3)

Authentic communication.



Hold that thought - we’ll come back to it.

We recently posted the following on LinkedIn:

‘What do you reckon about Australia’s Great Resignation? (4)

  • Still think Australia has avoided it?

  • Personally, I think this started a few months back.

  • As a recruiter in Adelaide, it feels like resignations are at an all-time high.

  • Every day we’re seeing new job vacancies.

  • The most competitive war for talent ever.

  • A massive wake up call for Australian employers.’ (5)

This isn’t about pay.

‘Research by MIT finds that – ‘toxic work cultures are the biggest factor leading people to quit – ten times more important than pay.’ (6)

‘A failure to promote diversity and inclusion, workers feeling disrespected, unethical behaviour, low integrity, favouritism, poor communication, a lack of recognition.

Toxic cultures prompt strong reactions – resignations.’ (7)

But what if, (on the face of it), you have the opposite kind of culture?

  • A culture where everything is perfect (or people say it is.)

  • A ‘happy’ culture – where the sun always shines, and the grass is always greener?


Story Time

Monday, 4pm

Weekly team meeting – last one of the month so big boss Ruth is in the chair.

Ruth – ‘Let's go through where we are with our projects.

Tim, would you like to start with an update on Project Rainbow?’

Tim – ‘So, tremendous news from the Project Rainbow team – I’m happy to report, yet again, we’ve made great progress and functioned at full capacity.

We’ve delivered 114 per cent of our KPIs.

We have a short 28 slide PowerPoint which we’ll circulate. I want to give a big shout out to our awesome project manager Cynthia – who is, well, truly awesome - a role model to us all. The catalyst that brings out the best in us. Our guiding star. Our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (laughs).’

Tim looks across to Cynthia and smiles.

Cynthia looks across to Tim – blushes, smiles, and gives a little giggle.

Ruth - ‘Well done to the Project Rainbow team - well done Cynthia – it’s clear the project truly reflects our company mission and values.’

George – (sending a chat message on Teams to Max.) ‘Wow, Tim wasn't saying that in the pub last night. He said it’s the most dismal project he's been on - and that Cynthia is the worst project manager he’s ever come across - if he never sees her again it’ll be too soon.’

Ruth – ‘Amanda, how are how are things going on the project with our new client?’

Amanda – ‘Absolutely fantastic, Ruth. We’ve set up a project office and the client is thrilled – they’re really looking after us - providing everything we need – they adore our people - we’ve made incredible progress in the first week. Morale couldn’t be higher – we can’t wait to get back on site.’

Max – (sending a chat message on Teams to George) – ‘this sounds like a hostage video - we're all OK - we’re all being treated very well, there's nothing to worry about - I heard the client didn’t even know our team were turning up - three days wasted as a result. Alex won’t say anything, but he hates working with Amanda – he’ll just check out.’

George (sending a chat message on Teams to Max) – ‘Mate, if I have to die and go to heaven, please let it be on a Monday at 3pm. I couldn’t bear my last memories of planet Earth to be one of these team meetings.’


Why don’t we speak our minds?

A ‘happy’ culture - leading to two rotten outcomes:

  1. People soon learn not to believe anything they’re told – it’s a full-time job to repair trust.

  2. No-one really knows what’s going wrong – so nothing improves – ‘the first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one?’ (8)

The culture ‘gnaws away, unseen, like woodworm in an old house – eventually the house falls apart.’ (9)

Take point 2 – ‘no-one really knows what’s going wrong – so nothing improves.’

In his book, ‘Leadership,’ Eddie Jones, Head Coach of the England rugby team (an Australian) discusses his approach in the 2019 World Cup.

England had beaten New Zealand in the semi-final and prepared to meet South Africa.

In the week before the final, Jones decided to build the players up, to concentrate on the positives and shield them from criticism.

England got thrashed.

Jones admits - ‘the only people who spoke about England's weakness in the week before the final were the South Africans – who exploited them ruthlessly.

‘If everything seems to be operating beautifully and no issues have been raised, your antennae should be twitching – your healthiest environment is when items are being tabled that need to be fixed.

People need to point out what's not going well or what they're having trouble with - issues need bringing to the surface.

We should have generated more conflict in the team.’ (10)

A Harvard Business Review article explored the reasons why employees don’t speak up:

‘Poor company culture and ‘the fear felt when giving bad news or challenging the boss.

‘Our findings suggest if you want employees to speak up, the work environment and leadership attitudes matter. Even people who are most inclined to raise ideas and suggestions may not do so if they fear being put down or penalized.’ (11)

‘Happy culture’?

Communication that isn’t authentic?

‘Radical honesty’ out of the window?

Time to get real?

  1. Out of office, Charles Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen

  2. See, Reflections on inclusion, EGM blog

  3. Why should anyone work here? Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones

  4. For more on the great resignation, see ‘the great resignation, EGM blog

  5. See, Mark Johnson, LinkedIn

  6. This is the biggest reason people quit, CNBC, 14 January 2022

  7. Toxic cultures are driving the great resignation, MIIT Sloan Management Review, 11 January 2022

  8. Will Mcavoy in TV show ‘The Newsroom.’

  9. Dare to lead, Brene Brown

  10. Leadership, Eddie Jones

If your employees aren’t speaking up blame company culture,  Hemant Kakkar and Subra Tangirala, Harvard Business Review, 6 November 2006

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