Faux culture foes

Talent leaders must work to overcome a faux workplace culture to ensure existing employees stay engaged and keep the organizational reputation intact.

Organizations often espouse their commitment to a culture of belonging, caring and engagement. However, actions speak louder than words. If your organizational culture is constantly promoted as one that is respectful, inclusive and caring, yet the actions of some leaders or colleagues are in direct opposition to those values, this may quickly erode engagement and morale. 

We’re all aware of the difficulties with retention and recruiting new talent in the current labor market, which makes it more important than ever for leaders to be willing to dig into the root causes of low morale and employee satisfaction and be equally as willing to make difficult changes to rectify issues causing discord within an organization. When we ask employees to provide transparent feedback, leaders must also be transparent with how they address the feedback and their plans to move forward for positive change. 

Tackling faux culture foes

You may already have a situation, colleague or department in mind when you hear “faux culture foes.” I spoke with someone in my external network recently who noted they greatly enjoyed the work they were doing and felt they worked collaboratively and effectively with their direct leadership and teammates, but some of the cross-functional leaders they were tasked with supporting were causing strife while trying to execute on deliverables. 

While this organization’s cultural values included attributes such as professional and respectful interaction, transparency, having fun with their work and learning from mistakes and collaboration, the day-to-day reality of working with this cross-functional team was quite different. This employee noted that by one team refusing to be transparent or willing to collaborate respectfully on decision-making and subsequent impact with other stakeholders, the positive attributes of the lived organizational culture flew out the window and were overshadowed by the actions of this one group. 

Stakeholders working with this group started to disengage and feel distrustful of decisions. They were less productive and many ended up leaving the organization after raising these concerns to their senior leaders and seeing no change. The feeling was: “We’ve made our leadership aware of the behavior that is in direct contrast to the organizational culture everyone else is held accountable to, and if those who could influence and require a change are not taking the steps to make change happen, the organization is all smoke and mirrors and not somewhere I want to devote my time and talents.” 

If the importance of adhering to your workplace culture is only seemingly weighted heavily in places such as departmental wide meetings, performance reviews and company retreats, but people are not held accountable to living up to them in their day-to-day interactions with others, this may create skepticism. A company’s reputation impacts more than the bottom line; if leaders allow a faux culture to persist, this may impact the ability to recruit qualified talent, keep existing employees engaged long- term, discourage the workforce from going above and beyond, and even cause the company’s reputation with customers to take a hit. 

If you’ve ever worked somewhere you felt had a faux culture or values system, would you be likely to recommend a strongly qualified candidate to also work there or encourage a coworker considering a transition to a new company to remain? Likely not. 

If there is a drastically different organizational culture on one team compared to another, or compared to the larger organization expectations, this can create an unhappy working environment. Burnout and workplace stress are caused by more than just workload. Constantly trying to embody positive workplace values while simultaneously watching others act in direct opposition to those values can also cause enough stress and frustration to lead to emotional burnout. 

We can all influence those around us, with or without an official leadership position. Have an honest conversation with yourself and encourage others to do the same. Are you living up to your organization’s values? Where could you improve? How do others feel you embody those values, if at all? At the end of the day, our actions are collectively what defines the true organizational culture and values – not what is posted on the walls of the breakroom or on the motivational posters lining the hallways.

Organizational values should be clearly defined and regularly available, but leaders must also ensure recognition of those who are living up to the values. If an individual or team is not embodying those values, take immediate action. Offer continuous talent development opportunities on engaging with others and clear communication on expectations to embody the stated values. Allow for those who misstep to improve through self-reflection and comprehensive feedback. While this may mean some uncomfortable conversations or decisions must be made, in a competitive labor market many employees are not willing to settle for a faux culture.