Why your organization’s culture is important – to you and to the CFO

Internal AlignmentFar too many of us know what it means to work in an organization with a toxic culture. You feel out of place and demoralised, it’s hard to have meaningful conversations, and you start working for yourself and not for the wider business. Ultimately, it’s bad for you, and bad for the business itself.

 

A toxic culture is also an unsustainable culture, and creates an ineffective business model. A harsh, narrow-focused or closed-minded regime might temporarily bring results in terms of delivery or cost-savings, but eventually it will mean losing good people, missing opportunities, upsetting customers and suppliers. In the long term, the CFO will notice the effect on the balance sheet – even if she can’t pinpoint its root cause.

 

Culture is something we all contribute to in a minor way, yet we aren’t responsible for creating it. Especially in an organization with a clearly defined leadership that sets the objectives, and the conditions for everyone else to get involved, the culture is set from the top. It’s the most powerful people – whether their power is formal or informal – who create the culture. If the culture they create is toxic – paranoid, maybe, or critical, or hyper-competitive – the rest of us can adjust things in our immediate environment to make our own lives more bearable; but as soon as we move beyond them we have to revert to the tone of the rest of the organization.

 

The best alternative is probably to leave.

 

And if you are charged with creating a social network or community in your toxic workplace – you need to think hard about the cultural question. All the sensitivities, insecurities, misunderstandings and no-go areas will become glaringly apparent.

 

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that the social network – of its own accord – will magically solve the cultural problem. It won’t. What will happen is that the prevailing culture will stifle the network at birth.

 

What you can do is explore where the cultural problems really lie – by doing your own analysis and then discussing it with others in influential positions. If, as will so often be the case, you find the problem originates in the boardroom if not with the Chief Exec, then you have a choice.
On the one hand, you could find the courage to tackle the problem at source – and try to persuade the board to look at the company culture, to admit their individual and collective responsibility for it, and come up with a strategy to change it for the better. This is probably the best option, but it’s high risk.

 

On the other hand, you can accept the problem, and adjust your expectations, and those of everyone else, about what the social network can deliver. In these circumstances, it will never break down silos or deliver an open, transparent organization. But if the expectations are set right, it still could help people work more effectively, waste less time at work – and perhaps understand the context of their work a little better.

 

The CFO will value this small increase in productivity – which should help her bottom line. And who knows – in the long run the social network might help turn things around in a larger way.

 

To assess your organization’s culture, discreetly, use our cultural self-assessment questionnaire.