The antidote to a toxic culture is better behaviour

The antidote to a toxic culture is better behaviour

They say culture eats strategy for breakfast, and they may have a point. But, like breakfast, culture has ingredients: the behaviours that create the atmosphere and patterns that everyone works within. Think for a moment about your morning muesli, and contemplate that old adage – “One bad apple…” And then check your culture to make sure it doesn’t contain low motivation, high turnover rates, poor communication or a nasty taste of absenteeism.

While culture can – indeed, should – be managed, how many organisations are mindful that these symptoms can arise surprisingly swiftly when behaviour goes either awry or unchecked?

No matter what our staff handbooks and codes of conduct might say, organisations are composed of people, and a degree of irrationality comes with the turf. But that does not mean all is lost. A recent Strategy & Business article profiling Maryam Kouchaki, an expert in the causes of unethical behavioural, included an important reminder:

[…] although we humans may be hardwired to react and behave in certain ways that may not always make us proud, we are by no means a lost cause.

This is just as well, given some of the findings of a recent McKinsey article, The hidden toll of workplace incivility, which charted the impact of toxic behaviour on workplace performance, employee turnover and the customer experience. If good manners are free, bad manners are clearly extremely expensive. Leaders and managers who are earnest above cost-saving within their organisation might there start by looking at the culture they are helping to create. As we say when we talk about our Culture Change programmes:

If you want to change a culture, change behaviours first: the culture will follow.

While the first step must be to create a compelling vision of the future and provide an overwhelming rationale for the intended change, to succeed leaders must change both their own behaviours and those of others.

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