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How To Create And Maintain A Toxic Work Culture

There is a lot of buzz in the news about the culture of organizations. The most recent commentary about negative organizational culture comes from the former CEO of the Grammy Organization, in which she alleged a culture of racial and gender discrimination. Media Corporations including FOX and NBC have been accused of having a culture that ignores sexual predators at the expense of female employees. Does the culture of your organization matter? You decide. First, consider this definition of Organizational Culture:

Organizational culture, also known as corporate culture, is a strategic intangible scheme that incorporates basic assumptions and values which define the behavior, operation, and activities of an organization. In other words, it’s the general attitude, mood, and motivation, or lack thereof, of the people in the company. (

While no one would say, "I want a toxic organizational culture," there are behaviors in leaders and companies that can create such a culture if unchecked. If you want to ensure a toxic culture in your organization, here are four behaviors that will help you accomplish it:

1. Don't confront anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. We all want to be liked but when your desire to be liked overrules your willingness to confront situations that could harm your organization, you need to confront. An atmosphere where discrimination, misogyny or disrespect is tolerated in the C Suite sends the message that those behaviors are acceptable in the mail room and all the departments in between. However, if what needs to be confronted is too uncomfortable for you, you can simply ignore it and hope the people involved are "mature enough to work it out." That way you still get to be the nice guy.

2. Ignore painful lessons from the past. Remember the time that valued employee unexpectedly left your organization for a better opportunity? You know, the one on the fast-track that you invested all that time and money in preparing him/her for significant responsibilities later. Was the reason for his leaving so painful that you pushed it aside and kept moving forward? What did you learn through her departure about your organization's weaknesses as an employer? Do you remember seeing signs that something had changed with the employee? How did you respond? Here are questions that point to what you learned/should have learned from a painful situation. If you didn't learn anything, or assumed something was wrong with the employee, congratulations! You're well on your way to creating that revolving door for your key employees to use whenever the culture of your organization becomes too toxic to hang around.

3. Continue regularly scheduled planning meetings but maintain your current direction, making only cosmetic adjustments. The annual sales or planning meeting presents a great opportunity to re-visit your vision, review goals and evaluate how those goals were met. Those meetings can also be a time to look at what didn't work and what needs to be adjusted or thrown out. Deciding to eliminate something that is no longer working, or to shift direction entirely can be painful; you may have to take responsibility for some failed strategies. Or you can pretend everything is fine, add another box to your org chart, and "stay the course."

4. Know and rehearse the mission statement regularly but ignore what behavioral changes are needed to fulfill it. Mission is the reason for an organization's existence. Mission is so vital to your organization's directions that all employees should learn of it during the on-boarding process and see how their role fits into the company's mission. If you want to maintain a toxic organizational culture, though, make sure that only key jobs are related to the mission of your organization, and that all other employees know they are dispensable and unnecessary. Make sure there are clearly marked divisions between "important" jobs and "unimportant" ones. Subtly remind all employees how big a favor you are doing by employing them and ignore their attempts to creatively solve problems or look for advancement opportunities.

If you follow these four suggestions, I can guarantee that you will maintain an organizational culture where the two things that grow are the leader's blind spot and the employees' resume writing skills.

Michele Aikens is CEO and Lead Coach of Sepia Prime Communications and Coaching. She is also a credentialed member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and serves on the Board of the ICF-Chicago Chapter. Connect with her here.

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