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What Can a Company Do if It Has a Work Culture Problem?

Are you worried your company culture is driving people away? Here, Ron Macklin describes the options you have to turn things around.

Is your company a place people actually want to work? Are your employees proud to say they work for your business?

Company culture is one of the most important aspects for retaining employees and ensuring your business thrives in today's marketplace. When employees feel like you actually care about them, they show up as more engaged, creative, and willing to innovate solutions. If your business has a work culture problem, it could be the reason people are leaving or are "quiet quitting." If your company culture is not what people want, it can cost you productivity, profitability, and a leading edge.

In his career, Ron Macklin led teams that set nine world records and won dozens of customer satisfaction awards. At Siemens, for example, Ron led a support division with 350 employees that worked over 5 million hours without a lost-time injury and was voted “the best place to work in Houston” by the Houston Business Journal. Twice Ron has created a growth culture responsible for increasing profits by $20 million, and has led seven different groups from worst- to best-in-class. 

Here, Ron discusses what to do if you have a company culture problem. 

What is company culture?

Ron Macklin: When you put a group of people together, you have a culture. And culture just means a way of being or a shared philosophy or a mindset.

Culture can sound like magic. It can sound like it is something beyond what we can do. No, it's not. Unless you think it's magic. And you think you can't control it. Then it's out of control.

I've seen people who come into groups and say, "The culture was just too strong. I couldn't do anything." Then, I'd come into the same group later and we went on to be named the best place to work in Houston, Texas. It was the same group of people.

How do you notice there is a problem with work culture?

Kara Large: Before you can start to fix a problem with your company culture, you have to first notice you have one right? And what does that look like? People are leaving. Productivity is down. No one is engaged.

Ron Macklin: The best thing you can do to realize there's a problem for your company culture is to be aware of your culture. Understand you're always creating it - it's not something that just automatically forms at the onset of a company. It is always being shaped. 

The next best indicator there is a company culture problem is that people are leaving.

The worst thing for a company is when they're not leaving. But they are quiet quitting. That's a new term for an old term, which was RIP - retired in place. People are coming into work not really doing anything. They're not creating. You ask them what they're working on, and the response is something like, "5:00." Whatever time they get off, right? They are apathetic about what they're doing. 

So there's a space where you're creating a culture. And you're always creating your company culture. If you have a work culture that's not what you want, then you're probably not making the profitability that you want. Or you're not getting the deals that you want. You're not getting the growth that you want. All of these things indicate you don't have the company culture you want. You have a story that the business could be better, or it could do more.

What can a company do to resolve a work culture problem?

Kara Large: What can a company do if it has a work culture problem?

Ron Macklin: First, you have to be willing to make a change. And then figure out who is creating the culture now. Are you willing to develop those people? Are you willing to give them control and power over certain areas? And, if so, will they match what your ambition is for the company and for the group?

Find the Leaders

Ron Macklin: Groups of people have leaders. Sometimes they are managers, but not always. The group is following somebody. 

Even if you don't acknowledge and know who the leaders are, they're still there. And people are following them. 

Kara Large: So the leader of the company might not be a manager. It doesn't matter if you have the title of manager, it matters that you are someone others want to follow. 

Ron Macklin: Every company has leaders, right? They may not be in management, they might be a roving leader. Do these leaders have the same ambition that the business has?

If they don't, they're leading the company, and it's not going to go where you want it to go. 

When I go into a new organization, the first thing I try to do is figure out who the leaders are. Every group has already got a leader. It's part of being human. 

Once you figure out who the leaders are - the actual people others are following - can you bring them into your culture? Can you connect with them? If they can't connect with you, then they need to go or you do.

It's not like you need to fire them. They're not in line with where you want the group to go. You're the person who's responsible for the leader of the group. So if they don't want to go where you want to go, you need them to go and do what they actually want. Because they don't want to be here. They want to be in a different place. 

Knowing where they want to go and where they're going to be means you have to have conversations with them.

Kara Large: How do you find the leaders

Ron Macklin: You talk to everyone in the company. Really, everyone. I had a group of 350 people. I had a conversation with every one of them.

I asked them what they cared about. I asked about their family. I asked what's going on in the business. I asked them what they would like to do. I asked what they wanted to change.

And in those conversations I discovered where the leaders were. Then I had to determine if the leaders could take us where we wanted to go. Did we have the same ideas for where the company needed to be? Or did the leaders need to be moved around someplace else?

If you come in too heavy-handed, like you come in and you fire somebody, or demean them, or use pressure to get people to do things, people will retreat into their shells. 

But when you can find out who the leaders are, you can get them to come out of their shell by asking what they care about and what they want to produce. Ask them what they want to see from the company. 

If they want the company to be a place where everybody enjoys working, ask "What would it take to do that?" And they'll tell you. They might say, "We'd have to take care of people's families." And you would ask them what that means. 

All you're doing is asking questions, finding out what works for everyone. And through these conversations, they're creating a culture. They're determining what is good, what's not good, what they will do, what they won't do, what they might do. All of this contributes to creating a company culture people want. 

How will you change your company culture?

Ron Macklin: If you have a company culture problem, you might be noticing people are not engaged. They clock in and clock out without contributing much. People might be leaving. So what can you do? Run some experiments, figure it out, screw it up. Keep learning. Do it as a group. Run the experiments, publicly. And work together to create a standard for the company that everyone contributes to. 

Do you feel like your company is a place people want to show up? Are they proud to be a part of your business? If not, we are here to help you. Whether you are already in a leadership role, or looking to influence a more positive environment in your workplace, we will work with you to create a work environment everyone wants to be a part of. 

You can schedule a consultation with one of our executive business coaches to learn more about how we can help your company.