There’s a sad reality that company culture faces every day in every business small and large. It’s their impending death. That moment when culture meets the fact that though so many employees and customers want to believe in its livelihood, the end it faces is nearer than anyone would like to admit.
MuMuch of these cultures thrived when younger in a more vibrant business when there was feelings of family, care, and friendship among stakeholders. This vibrancy seemed to fade as the years passed and companies expanded and grew to levels where performance reviews and quarterly earnings overshadowed care and feelings. It first appeared when leaders in these organizations lost sight of why their company started in the first place. Their culture began to be neglected as a result, no longer on people’s minds.
At times, these dying cultures cried out through online reviews by employees, or by increasing turnover, or even reducing stakeholder engagement, but very few leaders seemed to hear those cries. Most of the time they used excuses about their industry, lack of innovation, or “that’s because we employee those entitled millennials” to avoid responsibility for the ever-impending death of their culture.
It’s not as if no one put any effort in at all to keep their culture alive; it’s that efforts were minimal and lacked leadership buy-in. Consultants were called in, and workshops were led by “culture experts” whose ultimate goal was to help companies restate their vision and values in ways sexy enough for employees to pay attention. Lists of values were installed as wall decals in breakrooms across companies to ensure everyone knew that this list mattered enough to spend the resources to come up with them. Why didn’t this seem to work? Because the decals became wallpaper as no one considered how those values should have been written on hearts and not just walls.
Culture conferences were launched across the world as a way to conduct a type of CPR to keep culture alive in the hopes that the diagnosis of terminal illness wouldn’t eventually take culture’s life. Studies were conducted, and the newly discovered data was placed on PPT slides for conference attendees to take pictures of new statistics showing the state of culture so they could share on LinkedIn.
From time to time a business’ culture would stand out, and engagement would increase. Lists of the best ten company cultures were published and shared as a symbol of hope and as an example for others. Best practices were shared, and similar efforts were attempted in last-ditch efforts to create fun, engaging cultures across all companies. However, as time went on, many businesses were held back from caring about their culture because its leaders didn’t care or see what all the fuss was about.
In the end, many cultures died. The graveyards of distrust, egos, disengagement, hidden agendas, bureaucracy, and complacency began to fill up. Even with the writing on the wall, most companies just went on as though it was business as usual. They made money in the successful seasons and laid off employees in the unprofitable seasons. Employees showed up and did their tasks and grabbed their paycheck on their way out the door on Friday so they could enjoy the weekend before the dreaded work week began on Monday.
It didn’t have to be this way though. There were still those that believed that culture dying on their watch could have been avoided. Companies could have given employees meaningful reasons to come to work. Customers could have been given compelling reasons to do business with them. Vision and values could have been a priority by being embodied first by leaders and then by everyone. Communities could have been transformed by stakeholders who were given resources to volunteer, give back, and do good where they did business.
All it would have taken was leaders remembering that business is human, and culture is the breath it breaths. That as humans we all want to matter, for our lives and work to contribute to a greater good. We want to care for each other, for our customers, and our community. Culture didn’t have to die, but in the end, who would care enough to keep it alive?