A server dropped a tray full of glasses in the dining room, sending shattered glass flying across the floor. The teenage employee froze, bracing for her manager’s reaction.
But instead of berating or blaming the nervous girl, the manager calmly reassured her, helped clean up the mess and said “mistakes help us learn.”
It was a simple reaction. But that manager’s empathy set the tone for the whole restaurant culture — one prized by employees and regulars who raved at online reviews about feeling “like family.”
Company culture is built through thousands of daily interactions and modelled decisions, either constructing an empowering edifice or gradually decaying foundations.
As Jim Collins noted in his classic management research, a toxic culture “poisons the well” for other change efforts.
Even healthy and thriving cultures can take ill — when leaders neglect the cultural forces silently eroding organizational foundations.
Company culture is like air — when it’s good, you barely notice it. But when it goes bad, everyone feels it. A toxic culture can poison even the most promising company. Unfortunately, many leaders don’t recognise the warning signs until it’s too late.
After studying organizations around the world, I’ve identified four common “sins” that corrode company culture
Chronic Disregard for Values
A financial services company proudly displayed its values across office walls and websites: traits like integrity, sustainability and diversity that many firms claim without practising.
But after the 2008 market crash revealed their largest client had won profits through deceptive trades, leadership debated between retaining their largest revenue source or upholding their value of integrity by ending the engagement.
In the tense executive meeting, the CEO silenced deliberations: “Our contract ends this year. We’ll renegotiate terms that further embed our values into the engagement.”
It was a defining moment demonstrating that values outweighed profits. The renewed contract incubated new solutions advancing ethical finance — and…