Snakebit Corporate Culture

snakebit corporate cultureSome know what it feels like to be in a corporate culture in the groove.  The organization is in the right place at the right time with the right environment that encourages everyone to shine. We like that feeling and hope to feel it again.

What keeps us from having that feeling with many organizations is a corporate culture that destroys instead of builds; It discourages instead of encourages. Consequently it becomes the wrong place and the wrong time. Like venom from a snakebite, it courses through the veins of the organization. The venom causes a breakdown of the people and processes that allow us to succeed. Without eradicating the poison, it overtakes us and immobilizes us.

Avoiding the Poisonous Corporate Culture

Luckily, spotting a bad culture both as an employee and as a leader, is not hard if we step back and take a look. Before you allow your organization to fall prey to the snakebite, look for the presence of any of these symptoms.

Overly Formal Communication Channels

When just about any communication requires a memo or a broadcast email, it’s a good sign that there are some very deep problems. Sometimes, in industries where thorough documentation of processes is required, what would seem to be excessive formal communication is actually required and perhaps even regulated. In most cases, however, overly formal communication is a sign of a lack of trust and micromanagement – killers to a healthy corporate culture.

Too Many Secrets

When people aren’t talking it’s almost certainly because they are hiding something, not because they are so intent on their work. If the employees aren’t talking, you have to start asking questions such as “What are they fearful of?“, “What’s going on that they aren’t sharing?“, and as a leader “What don’t I know?

On the management side there are those who regard information as power. Sharing information is equivalent to sharing power and some don’t want to do that. Or some simply want to leverage what they know.

Information is only truly powerful when it can used to create positive change. The more people know, the more likely they are to be part of that change.

[tweetthis]Information is only truly powerful when it can be used to bring about positive change.[/tweetthis]

Every Decision Waits on a Manager

In a poisonous culture, managers who want to maintain power and control will insist that nothing gets decided or done until they have given their OK.

I once worked for a manager who reminded me frequently to “don’t do anything. Bring it to me and I will handle it.” This despite having hired me because of my extensive experience handling precisely those types of situations. That often meant that something that could have been handled effectively in a few minutes or an hour would sometimes take a day or two. And I got bored quickly because I wasn’t really being challenged, I was carrying out whatever the boss decided whether I agreed with it or not.

Too Many Meetings

employees not listening to bossI have worked with organizations where they had so many meetings on the schedule I actually asked them how they found time to get anything done. This kind of corporate culture bogs down many organizations in, to use an old southern phrase, they are constantly “fixin’ to get ready“.

Meetings can have distinct and useful purposes. Too often, however, we call meetings just to have “status checks”. We gather everyone in a room and one-by-one go around the table. The vast majority will say everything is fine and we have now wasted another 30 minutes to an hour of productive time.

When people have tight deadlines, places to go, family to spend time with, and lives to lead then having a lot of formal meetings becomes an annoyance and a morale killer. Find alternatives that are more efficient and less time consuming; and don’t have a meeting to flesh it out.

Rigid Adherence to Policy

In a previous post, I mentioned about a study done by Jay Hall and Telometrics on the performance of 16,000 executives. In addition to the overall conclusion of a direct correlation between achievement and the ability to care for and connect with people, they also contrasted high performers and low performers. One of their findings was that

  • High performers focus on communication and collaboration and have a very participative style.
  • Low performers don’t communicate well and rely on policy and procedure and have a very bureaucratic style.

Policies were created to define standard responses and consequences to situations. The flaw in that is that people and situations are not so easily defined. The result is that the responses and consequences have a great likelihood of being unevenly applied. People don’t respond well when they feel they are unfairly treated no matter how consistent it is with the policy manual.

This is also why many organizations have tossed the HR policy manual and moved towards a more values-based approach and relying on using storytelling to provide guidelines for expected behaviors.

Aggression Rules the Roost

Aggressive bosses make for poor corporate cultureHave you ever had a boss proclaim “My way or the Highway!“? Then you know what we mean here. When managers and others use aggression they are trying to intimidate others into following their command or giving in. The aggressive manager wants to win at all costs, with no concern whether anyone else wins. In fact, they want you to lose.

These managers are also the ones who usually hog the credit for team success, They are the ones who stare people down, tower over them, and look over their shoulders as they work.

Their impact on morale and engagement is obvious. Most people reacts to aggression with either “fight or flight”. If they fight, even when they win they lose and the aggressive manager will be that much more determined to make sure you lose the next time. If they choose flight, they go passive-aggressive, showing resistance in subtle ways, or they leave.

The Only Line is the Bottom Line

Let’s get this out of the way: there is absolutely nothing wrong with profits. I like profits. The problem is when our profit and loss are the only drivers for our corporate behavior. I mean, did you see “The Wolf of Wall Street“? Then you get the picture of the detriment of a profit first and only mindset.

So many other drivers, when we pay attention to them, have a positive impact on the profit line that we really don’t need to focus on the traditional bottom line – it will take care of itself.

Companies like Copper Leaf Creative and Patheos and others have added additional parameters of success, many ranking customer satisfaction and employee retention above the financial bottom line.

Are you seeing the signs of a poisonous corporate culture in your organization? How do you think it got there? What has been done to turn it around? Leave your comments here or email me at psimkins(at)

Not sure where you are or you know where you are and not sure how to stop it? Call me to arrange a FREE Discovery Strategy Session at 321-355-2442 to discuss ways to stop the poison.

Leadership Starts with Culture

Uber’s corporate culture problems began long ago. You could probably say they began at the beginning.

The corporate culture in Uber from the beginning was one of “always be hustlin'” and “stepping on toes” according to an article in BGR. In a culture that hinges on that philosophy, you can expect that there will be personality conflicts. In addition you can expect harassment and abuse. It creates a no-holds-barred atmosphere where the only thing that matters is winning and crushing the competition.

What results is an eventual disintegration of the organization and the business.

Lack of Strong Corporate Culture Brings Disastrous Results

What’s resulted for Uber with this?

  • Most recently, the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick.
  • Earlier in this year, the departure of 7 additional senior executives.
  • Sexual Harassment Lawsuits.
  • Uber drivers attempting to organize AGAINST Uber.
  • 200,000 users delete the Uber app from their phones in protest to Uber’s actions during the NY Taxi Driver protest
  • The apparent revelation that Uber has implemented systems to circumvent the law

Uber’s problem is clearly a top-down problem. It has created a poisonous corporate culture that has now put the organization in it’s current position of NO SENIOR LEADERSHIP at it’s most critical moment.

Before we go too far to eviscerate Uber management, however, we may want to see another picture.

More importantly for us than what Uber has done wrong is what we can learn from it and do right.

How Can Leadership Do Better?

Here’s some of the basic leadership lessons I see:

Corporate Culture Begins With Strong Core ValuesEstablish Core Values Early

It seems clear that a lack of real values exist in the corporate culture at Uber. When your primary drivers are to “Always Be Hustlin'”, promote “Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping”, and “Principled Confrontation” you easily fall into the trap of justifying behaviors for the sake of organizational success. Which is precisely what happened.

Case in point. Susan Fowler‘s blog post back in February of 2017. in the post she revealed alleged harassment and other abuses at Uber; along with a virtually powerless Human Resources department. When Fowler complained to HR about the manager she reported to directly propositioning her, she expected immediate results. Instead, she was told that while it was clearly sexual harassment the manager in question would simply be given a “stern talking to”. Why? Because he was a high performer and they didn’t want to ruin his career.

Core values place priorities where they belong and provide a barometer for the actions of every department and every employee.

I’m not a big operation right now, actually I’m barely a small operation. However, one of the first things I did when I started was to determine what was most important in what I do. I value trustworthiness, relationships first, and adding value to everyone. Through that, I can then gauge every word and every action around that. Anything that might jeopardize my trustworthiness, sacrifices relationships, or fails to add value simply is not appropriate. Failing to meet any one of these values is a deal breaker.

Set a Higher Standard for Senior Leadership

Whatever behaviors you expect out of your employees has to be not just exhibited but MAGNIFIED by leaders. This is especially true at the executive level.

Years ago I worked for an organization that in the business unit in which I worked started a large Total Quality Management campaign. Each and every employee not only had to develop a personal TQM statement, it had to be posted outside of their cubicle for all to see. I won’t even get into the insanity of creating cubicle world to promote total quality; that’s another talk for another time.

What made it fail was the lack of consistency at the executive level with this. Employees observed actions that were executed that seemed to fly in the face of most of the TQM principles. The reasoning then became that if they didn’t buy it, why should we?

Each senior leader needs to set the bar high for themselves because perception will always be a microcosm of reality. In other words, they will only see in their minds a small measure of what you actually are. If you want to promote trustworthiness, there is no room for moments where you aren’t so trustworthy; otherwise the perception is that you aren’t.

[tweetthis]Whatever behaviors desired in employees must be MAGNIFIED by leaders. #values[/tweetthis]

Place a Priority on the Care and Nurturing of Your People

Employees feel when they are NOT valued. They also feel it when they ARE valued.

Unless you are in an organization where the only person who ever talks to or serves a customer is you, then your employees are the real face of the organization. They will treat customers no better than they themselves are treated. So it only makes sense to place first value as a leader on your employees.

The Law of Reciprocity kicks in here. Treat people with respect and trust. Care for them professionally and personally. Help them get ahead. In return, they will commit more to you and the organization and treat your customers with respect and care.

Plan and Cultivate a Line of Succession

Teams (companies, organizations, throw your own word in here) of any size run in cycles. Leadership should and will eventually change. The ones that sustain success are the ones that have planned for that.

  • Excellent teams have intentionally cultivated people to assume greater roles.
  • They have embedded the core values in them.
  • Leaders train and coach them.
  • The Leaders have challenged them.

When that eventual change occurs, it’s almost seamless because the core values are still there. Even if some of the style changes, the core does not. The alternative is chaos while new leadership is identified and put in place; as well as for a long time after.

What do you think are the lessons learned here? How can leaders better ensure that behaviors are appropriate and consistent?

Let’s Lay It on the Line! United Airlines Corporate Culture Failed!

Corporate Culture drives customer service and this story is a great example. By now, if you aren’t hiding in a cave, you have likely seen the video of a United Airlines customer being dragged down the aisle by Chicago Police. If you haven’t, you view it here.

United Airlines Passenger Removed Forcibly

picture of broken guitarIf you are not outraged, you should be. And this is just one of the many errors in judgement that has created problems for United.

  • Do you remember “GuitarGate“? United insists on checking a performer’s expensive guitar-  the one he makes a living with – and damages it while loading.
  • How about when United threw an girl with Autism Spectrum Disorder and her family off the plane?
  • At another time United removes a passenger from the boarding list because she complained about the bad service.

And there are other incidents documented out on the Internet, but you get the idea.

Operational Excellence is NOT a Corporate Culture

According to story by NPR in 2015, United had one of the worst records of customer satisfaction, poor record of on-time performance, and other issues; making it the lower tier of the airline industry. More recent studies show slight improvement but still rank United near the bottom.

United has struggled with that image for years. In an effort to become more profitable, United placed “operational excellence” as their high priority, shrugging off concerns of customer service in favor of cost-cutting and efficiency.

No Service, No Excellence

And now they not only have poor customer service standards, but it seems that excellence is eluding them as well.

See, operational excellence may be a strategy for running an organization but it can’t be the only one. It certainly can’t be the high priority. More so, operational excellence cannot be the driver for the culture of the organization.

And at United Airlines, it apparently is.

A Corporate Culture of Re-Accommodating

Following the hoopla over this latest episode of dragging the doctor off the plane, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz issued the following statement:

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”

I didn’t even know re-accommodate was a word, but let’s not go there. It’s not so much what Munoz said as what he didn’t say. He didn’t say “this is not the way we do business here!” or “I apologize to David Dao and we will do whatever is necessary to make it right”.

In fact, what Munoz did allegedly do was send a letter to the employees on Sunday praising them for how they handled the situation and for following operational procedures.

In doing so, Munoz reinforced that employees are not to think but simply follow operational parameters even to the extreme.

Lack of Empowerment

Travel Blogger Patrick Smith on his blog Ask the Pilot says it is a prime example of the lack of empowerment in the airline industry as a whole, not just at United. He makes the point that in the case of David Dao it never should have come to the point of dragging him off the plane. There had to be a better solution and yet no one bothered to figure it out.


Smith essentially says it’s because the United Airlines corporate culture doesn’t support it. The culture emphasizes following procedure over finding solutions. Have you ever had a boss essentially tell you that you were not paid to think or make decisions? I believe (and I think Patrick Smith agrees with me) that is what is happening here.

Let’s Empower You

What should United have done instead? In what ways could this have been avoided? What are your corporate culture war stories?

Share your thoughts here or email me at