8 ways your culture is draining the will of the staff

“Every employee has a passion for something. A bad company culture quickly and effectively snuffs it right out.” – You’ll Love Working Here: 10 Steps to an Amazing Workplace Culture

Two equally talented and motivated employees leave a company and head off in different directions. One lands at a prominent, well-respected business and immediately begins to thrive without missing a step. The other snags a position at a similarly high-profile outfit with steady growth—and is back out on the pavement within six months. Not fired, mind you. Not laid off. He just had to make for the door.

What happened? The company culture there was restricting, impersonal, corporate to the extreme. His departure was no one person’s fault; it was a failure of the entire invisible structure around him.

Jay Forte, president of The Greatness Zone, LLC and author of Fire Up Your Employees, called attention during his February webinar to several culture mistakes your own organization needs to avoid:

1. Your mission is poorly defined. “A lot of younger employees are choosing their workplace based on its alignment to their values,” Jay reminded attendees. Think of Apple, Patagonia, Whole Foods, Starbucks … people want to belong to a tribe more than they want to belong to a company, a tribe driven by a purpose they believe in—or that has at least been conveyed to them completely and honestly.

2. Your ethical standards are nebulous. When the big wooden doors are closed at the highest corporate level, does the staff trust what’s going on behind them? People need to approve of the principles that drive your decisions, and what lines you will not cross to achieve your goals. Whispers and uneasiness about your moral compass will send your culture downhill fast.

3. You don’t stress competency and talent enough. “Great employees don’t want to be somewhere where they’re the strongest ones and have to keep doing the work of everyone else,” Jay told attendees. People should be hired, trusted and elevated because they’re superior performers, period.

4. Your onboarding process is an afterthought. Within the first week of hiring someone, you need to display the reasons why working for you was the right choice after all. Whatever doubts someone may have had about joining up need to be eliminated quickly, and that doesn’t happen by just abandoning new hires to their supervisors and hoping for the best.

5. Your system of rewards and incentives is based on fantasy and myth. There must be fair and attainable ways for people to find the pot of gold. Many organizations set a bar based on results alone—sometimes an absurdly high one that only gets higher if it’s cleared—and ignore the sweat and hours that go into shooting for it. Jay is impressed by systems that create a pool of funds available to staff based on overall company performance—in addition to a personalized achievement plan for each employee, so that people are always working both collectively and in pursuit of their own aspirations.

6. You don’t hold up the mirror as often as you should. The awkward once-a-year talk an employee must endure in hopes of a 4% raise isn’t enough. Much more often, you need to have discussions about performance for performance’s sake. By nature almost all of us crave approval, which means we want to know how we’re doing all the time. Feedback should be constant and not simply corrective. Are your organization’s managers as attuned to, and vocal about, someone doing something well as they are to someone falling short?

7. You’re too much of a business, not enough of a college. Consider which of these two messages you’d prefer to send to your employees: “You were hired for your skills; we will now use what you’ve got, and here’s your paycheck,” or “You were hired so you could learn and keep getting better, both for our sake and whatever career you might choose beyond these walls.” Employers who make an investment in performance, not just daily demands for it, inspire true loyalty. If people leave you with the same skills they walked in with on day one, your culture has failed them.

8. You assume their career dream is to die wearing your company t-shirt. Don’t think that the bribe of a bigger salary is going to send retention rates through the roof, Jay said. It’s a big world out there, full of possibilities, and your employees know it. They always need new carrots to chase and reasons to believe in you; the most effective ones are those which play to their most optimistic vision of their careers. Know everything they want out of life—then make them see that they’re already in the right place to make it happen, and will never need to look further.