I came across an article recently in the Sloan Business Review titled “Toxic Culture is Driving the Great Resignation.” The idea that toxic cultures were driving the current great resignation quickly connected with recent conversations I’ve had with friends about their struggles at work. Both friends who reached out have been having issues with their respective bosses at their current organizations. I have been fortunate in my career that most of the people I have reported to have adhered to principles and behaviors that aligned with mine, but I have also reported to individuals where this was not the case, and it was a struggle. I noticed some themes from both conversations and how these lend themselves to the impact of principles, behaviors, and systems on the culture and employee satisfaction at an organization.
One theme was negative statements from bosses around job performance. My initial response when my friends shared about this type of feedback was to ask about the expectation they were given from their boss around performance and behavior. The second question I had was if their boss provided them specific examples of when they did not meet these expectations. One friend had the courage to take these two questions into the meeting with their boss and they reported that nothing had been established and no specific examples could be provided. The way this played out was disappointing for my friend and eventually led to their departure from the organization. Their resignation was the culmination of years of a toxic culture in their organization. My friend tried multiple times to engage their boss, to establish performance metrics and behaviors that can be measured, observed, and improved upon, but it did not work out. Obviously resigning from your position is a last resort but moving on was the best scenario for this individual. Employee satisfaction is so clearly tied to the type of culture an organization supports, so without significant change this organization will continue to lose quality employees.
The second theme was around an unwillingness to speak up about poor behavior because of position or title. A different friend works in a place that has culture issues, which they explained that their leadership knows and says they are working on. How much these culture issues are being worked on isn’t clear, but they are aware. This friend’s department had an all staff meeting where the leader stood up in front of the group and said how they need to change how they treat each other, and it starts with them. This individual even acknowledged that they need to change as well, which was quite the shock to the group. The talk concluded that the slate would be wiped clean, and everyone was going to “try” to treat each other better. How long did this trial last? Not even two days unfortunately! The leader mentioned above yelled at a fellow employee for a mistake in front of the team less than two days after their speech. Yes, the same person who led the meeting on treating each other better and wiped the slate clean undid everything they spoke about in the department meeting. This happens so frequently because of a lack of accountability in organizations. Without a system in place to hold this leader accountable, employees will continue to experience this negative behavior. That is why principles and behaviors need to be embedded into the systems of an organization.
These examples illustrate how principles and behaviors lay the foundation for an organization’s culture. One of the organizations we work with at Catalysis has made amazing progress on changing their culture. It started with the implementation of an employee idea system which allowed front line staff to provide opportunities for improvement in their department. Once employees started seeing that leadership was listening to their ideas and communicating the thinking in the department, the organization’s culture started shifting. This idea system was one of multiple systems and circumstances that contributed to the organization’s culture shift. It was the catalyst for the change. Today, you would see behaviors and expectations built into the performance review system such as improvement, respect for every individual, and think systemically among many others.
It takes time and a serious commitment from leadership to shift an organization’s culture for the better but as highlighted in the examples above, without this change, the trend of the great resignation will continue for healthcare organizations. How would you describe the culture at your organization? Where could you start to enable a culture shift to one built on principles and behaviors?
Principles and Behaviors of Organization Excellence – Live Workshop
Principles and Behaviors of Organization Excellence – On Demand Course on Catalysis Academy