How damaging can a negative company culture be to a business?

Working with companies throughout Ireland, it’s evident we underestimate the effect bad habits and practices have on business performance. Companies are coming out of the recession and want to kick on. They are looking to make the most of the improving economic conditions. Business leaders want to develop new approaches to driving the business forward and managing the teams who will need to deliver the results. However, unless the leader takes a detached perspective and looks seriously at how people think and act within the business, then all the commitments to change won’t take hold. Those underlying negative habits (largely invisible) which have become ingrained in the day-to-day activities of the business must be addressed.

To change the company from within requires an understanding of how individual and collective habits are developed.

First of all developing habits is natural, the human brain, (and animal brain – just watch what your dog does when he thinks you are taking him for a walk) is programmed to develop habits like driving a car. The first time it’s awkward and clunky. With experience and practice it becomes a subconscious behaviour, and that’s how the brain works, it actively looks to create habits. So if you’re going to make serious changes in your business with a view to maximizing new opportunities, you need to recognise the subconscious habits and often limiting behaviours that are holding the organisation back. Without recognising and addressing them you won’t achieve the changes that are necessary to transform the business.

What should business owners do to change negative habitual behaviour?

It was Einstein who said ‘we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’ The big issue here is a lack of recognition of underlying negative habits and behaviour by the business owners and management team. Making statements to staff such as ‘we need to change’ isn’t good enough. Yes you can map out a new strategy for the business, but that won’t work either if you don’t address people’s negative behaviours. A fundamental change in behaviour must occur for any real progress to be made. Effective businesses recognise that they need three things to work in tandem to enable them to be successful (as strongly advocated by Jim Collins in ‘Good to Great’ a number of years ago).

Developing Winning Company Habits

That sounds great in theory. In reality the company is where it is with the existing team, so how can an existing company successfully adopt the above disciplines and thereby replace legacy habits and behaviours. It can be done by individual and collective re-framing as to how it thinks and acts. To effectively make this level of internal change requires an understanding as to how change is internalised. We look to Willian Glasser’s ‘Retention Triangle’ as outlined in the diagram below.

We retain/ remember:

Glasser's retention triangle

Now in line with Glasser’s retention triangle, as a business owner I want to have disciplined people, thought and execution in my company. If I can get my core team to interact and develop something collectively which they will then communicate (educate) to the full team, then I have a strong possibility of bedding down the three disciplines.

Are there any practical tools that businesses can use to bed down the three disciplines?

Yes the futureSME methodology which uses visual management tools to map a company’s strategy and the lines of action to execute the strategy, and the KPIs to ensure strong operational performance is delivered. The team also develop effective business disciplines through the ongoing execution and focus on the strategy. It is a powerful and underestimated management tool to prevent us from focusing on one area and neglecting other equally important ones.

The futureSME methodology was derived from an EU Framework 7 programme managed by the University of Strathclyde with 23 EU partners. Its remit was to identify best practices in highly successful businesses and determine how they could be applied successfully in the SME sector. The futureSME methodology is proving its impact in Ireland with over 50 companies having deployed the futureSME foundation programme successfully. futureSME is an approved programme within the Action Plan for Jobs 2015 and its deployment is managed by ManagementWorks.

Mike Gaffney, Managing Director LEAP

Mike Gaffney managing director at LEAP