When people complain about their company culture, it’s like saying, “I don’t like my family.”
Which can be a valid complaint AND at the same time, unless they’re a gang of mass murderers or clearly insane, chances are there are at least a few good eggs and something redeeming if you dig a bit.
So wherever you are in the pecking order, head of the household or the baby of the family, the company you work for is a family you’ve chosen to join.
Which means you have a responsibility to create your company culture … not everyone else except you. Everyone else AND you.
If everyone spends their time complaining and refusing to take responsibility, don’t join in. To complain about all the complaining makes the whole shit show even worse.
Here’s what to do instead.
If you’re looking around and saying, “This place makes me crazy. Nobody does what they’re supposed to do. I keep talking to my team about ownership, and nobody actually steps up and takes any …”
YOU are part of that problem, too. It isn’t just them.
For whatever reason, they aren’t inspired or don’t know how to take ownership and that could be because you haven’t clearly articulated what ownership of something looks like to you.
Now, they could be the wrong people in the wrong seats on the wrong bus, to borrow from Jim Collin’s excellent book, Good to Great.
If that’s the case, you need to rebuild your team.
But if that’s not the case, then they may be lacking information on what you’re expecting.
So here’s what I mean when I talk about ownership:
- Taking full responsibility for your tasks and duties
- Delivering those tasks and duties on time and up to agreed-upon standards
- Understanding how your actions impact your colleagues, the customer experience, and the company’s brand reputation
- Communicating effectively—meaning thoroughly, clearly, and in a timely way— and working with others to ensure the successful delivery of a task or project
- Going the extra mile to ensure a customer is happy and financial goals are met—which means treating customers how YOU want to be treated when you’re a customer
- Promptly admitting to and addressing/correcting any mistakes you make
- Looking beyond the edges of your job description to consider the bigger picture—you are playing a vital role in the health and growth of an organization
- Showing at least a little passion for your work and for the business and brand
Beyond that, there are several reasons why someone might not be taking the sort of ownership you expect. Here are a few:
1. They’re not interested in taking ownership
For some people, work is just work—it’s not a passion or a calling. It’s just a means to an end.
If the quality of their work is acceptable, does it matter that they aren’t taking ownership?
If so, you’ve got a choice—invite them to get more engaged, replace them or relocate them to someplace where ownership doesn’t matter.
If not, coach them to at least be excellent in their delivery and you’re finished.
2. They lack the skills or ability to take ownership
They may be doing their best but don’t quite have the skill set or ability to deliver consistently and at a level of acceptable excellence.
So they either need training or again, relocating to some role where they can excel.
3. They don’t know they’re not taking ownership
They may think they’re crushing it and have no idea that they are not performing in the way you want them to.
A little feedback and sharing your expectations may be all that’s needed to get them up to speed.
4. They actively resist taking ownership
If you have anyone with this attitude, they need to either get with the program or get out.
Otherwise their shitty attitude will poison the rest of the culture … fast.
What you can’t do is pout or hope.
Anyone with any degree of emotional intelligence will immediately pick up on your passive-aggressive tone or other snipes and that will do the exact opposite of fostering ownership.
And hoping everyone is going to just step up and organically create a culture of ownership and deep commitment is delusional.
That buck starts and stops with you.
When coaching CEOs who are unhappy with the current way their company culture looks, I often tell them:
It’s up to you to live it and change it.
Look, you’re only human, too.
If you’re feeling demoralized at the lack of enthusiasm and passion, it’s likely to rub off.
And while it is lonely being the only consistent cheerleader and culture creator, it is kinda your job.
Your employees will probably only implement what you consistently LIVE, not just what you say … if your behavior contradicts that in any way.
While you might not like it, your floor is everyone else’s ceiling. The point at which you let yourself off the hook is often where your team will stop rising and call it a day.
Unless someone has an exceptional work ethic OR the same stake in the overall health and growth of your company, they’ll take their non-verbal cues from you and unconsciously understand that if it’s good enough for you, it must be good enough for them, too.
And sadly, that measurement is taken at your weakest point, not your strongest.
Again, unless someone is highly competitive or driven, they’ll happily let themselves slide and rationalize that you did, too.
It doesn’t matter if it was a bad day.
That often becomes their benchmark for achievement.
This doesn’t mean you can never have an off day … it just means you need to work at isolating those bad days and reinforcing the level of excellence you’re working towards.
Transparency and clear communication are the best antidotes to complacency in your team.
FOR INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTORS
If you’re just showing up to collect your paycheck without giving anything back, YOU are part of the culture problem.
Don’t expect your company to be good to you if you treat it like crap in return.
By the way, I fully acknowledge that now is a difficult time—especially for parents—and that there’s not always time and energy to spare. Check out the article from a few weeks back, when we explored the obligation companies have to their employees.
And, all else being equal, loyalty and effort goes both ways.
Playing ambivalent or disaffected with management and waiting to be shown how much they love you regardless of your attitude or performance is immature and self-destructive.
I can’t imagine that works well in any of your other relationships, either.
So show up for yourself and your coworkers. Your company is not a faceless jumble of computers—it’s the people you work with.
Show them—and yourself—that you care.
If you’re constantly complaining that the place is a shithole, find another job or pick up a shovel.
Ultimately, you have to work there.
And play to your strengths—you were hired for a reason, after all. Instead of contributing to the problem by complaining, pick up a hammer and fix what’s broken.
If you’re a social butterfly, engage your colleagues to raise the energy in the room and get some enthusiasm moving.
If you have technical skills, see where you can proactively solve a problem before it becomes a problem, rather than waiting to troubleshoot something after it fails.
To complain without taking any action is to create a toxic culture, and it makes it worse for everyone, including YOU.
And, again, rather than sitting on the sidelines, waiting for someone ELSE to make an effort before you do … be the one who goes first.
It might not be fair, but A) few things are and B) at least you’ll sleep at night with a clear conscience, knowing you’ve done everything you could.
And if things are truly broken beyond repair … leave.
But most company cultures AREN’T so broken that they are beyond fixing—they’re just derelict or neglected. The quickest fix in those cases is to turn our attention toward, not away.
THE BOTTOM LINE
You aren’t separate from your company culture—you’re part of it. Everything you do, for better or worse, feeds that beast.
So take responsibility for your workplace and how you and others show up.
Either do what you can to leave the place better than it was when you found it … or just leave.
You don’t need an invitation or permission to pitch in.
And it’s not only a waste of time waiting for someone else to do it first, or complaining about how awful things are, it’s actually destructive.
So, take the initiative and clean it up … or clear out.
If you don’t, you have to face up to the fact that you are part of the problem.
You’ve probably heard that “how you do anything is how you do everything.” To clean up your culture at work, start at home with a rock-solid foundation of organizational principles. Join our next cohort of The Unstuff Your Life System® starting May 11 for 10 weeks!