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Workplace Culture: This Week’s Culture Killer

Culture KillerA culture killer is what ruins workplace culture in spite of your every effort.  When we were researching our new book, Happy to Work Here: understanding and improving the culture at work, we came to the conclusion that some toxic cultural behavior was the result of people adhering to certain unspoken rules. These rules are unspoken because they are, frankly, unspeakable. But despite the fact that you never hear anybody say them out loud, they can do considerable damage to your workplace culture.  it’s  these unspeakable unspoken rules that we refer to as “culture killers.”

Over the next few months we’ll be publishing here some of the culture killers from our book plus some additional one we’ve discovered since.  Come back here for a new culture killer every week.

The toxic rules and govern an organization can be fatal to healthy culture, but they are, paradoxially, some of the easiest things to fix. Each one is a clear indicator of actionable culture improvement. Once you identify a toxic, unspoken rule, repealing it can be as simple as bringing it into the light of day. When you say the rule out loud, the damage it can do will be readily apparent, as will the work needed to make it go away.

This week’s Unspoken Rule is the one that enables:

Cliché Culture

Ben (not his real name) goes to see his boss. He tells his boss that the new quota system is forcing unhealthy shortcutting of some of the key steps in the group’s work. This has resulted in missed or misdirected shipments, and more congestion in the transport hubs.

Ben’s boss responds:

“Ben, let me be clear about this: our number-one priority here at Suchard Logistics (not it’s real name) is customer satisfaction. It is our mission to fulfill the dreams of the people who ship with us, and our passion is happy customers. We are also 100% dedicated to providing shareholder value and the bottom line is part of the sacred journey. We pride ourselves on the efficiency and effectiveness of our carefully crafted business solutions. They are there to make our employees happy employees. I think I have answered your question. If there is anything else, anything at all, my door is always open.”

Why is the cliché such a culture killer? Two reasons: first is that clichés cover up incompetence or ignorance. The second is that the cliché is mostly a lie: “Our thoughts and prayers” is a lie. “We are passionate about” is a lie. “Win-win situation” is a lie. “Let me be clear about this” is a lie.

Clichés and good culture rarely are found in the same place because the cliché culture is governed by this culture-damaging unspoken rule:

Clichés are great: you can use them to avoid answering awkward questions.

You must have a story or two about the cultures, good and bad, that you’ve encountered, either in your present work or in your past.  Have you been fortunate enough to see wonderful workplace culture in action, and to what do you attribute it?  Or do have an unspoken rule damaging your culture?  If so, what do you suppose was its cause? Tell us about it: cultureproject@systemsguild.com

NEWS

Happy to Work Here. A practical guide to understanding and improving your workplace culture. Available in paperback and Kindle.  amazon.com   amazon.co.uk

The German edition of Happy to Work Here: Betriebsklima verstehen und verbessern has been published by Hanser. Hardback at amazon.de

Two coauthors reflect on some of the unexpected implications that a reader may detect in what they’ve written. YouTube
See Tom DeMarco squirm as a rough critic trashes his most recent work.  YouTube
Tom DeMarco gives away one of the secrets of the new book, Happy to Work Here. YouTube
Understand how to dissect the culture of your workplace as a device for improving it. YouTube
What happens when you challenge cultural norms? YouTube
A video about our new book Business Analysis Agility – solve the real problem, deliver the right solution.  Amazon  YouTube

Suzanne and James Robertson’s Requirements: The Masterclass LiveLessons-Traditional, Agile, Outsourcing. 15+ Hours of Video Instruction

Tom DeMarco’s 2018 sci-fi novel, The One-Way Time Traveler, now available in paperback and ebook. It’s a Handmaid’s Tale in reverse: Welcome to a world where women have all the power.

A Ruby Beam of Light, Book I of Tom DeMarco’s Dark World Chronicles saga is now reissued in a new edition.
“This war isn’t going to blow anything up, only turn everything off.
James Robertson’s webinar for Software Education explains how agile stories are best used to ensure the right solution. Download the webinar slides.
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