How To Take The ‘Cult’ Out Of Your Company Culture

cult company culture

When you think of a cult, do shuttle buses come to mind? Probably not, but Silicon Valley tech companies have used this method of transportation to keep their workers isolated from the rest of the world. And as they bind their employees closer together, workers are significantly less likely to leave.

While the term “cult” often conjures up mental images of drab clothes, remote farms, and blue Kool-Aid, cults can also refer to the culture within certain companies. A cult, after all, is simply a group connected by appreciation for the same thing, person, or ideal.

There’s no doubt that articulating a clear and compelling vision for the future of your organization can drive member excitement, but things get murky when control enters the equation. If your company culture governs the thinking and behavior of its members, then you might be entering cult territory.

Your Company Might Be a Cult If…

There are multiple signs that indicate that your company is exhibiting cult-like behavior — for example, encouraging your employees to blindly follow a charismatic leader. By taking the leader’s opinions as fact, your company may grow so rigid that innovation becomes impossible.

Additionally, organizations that minimize two-way dialogue stifle growth and encourage employees to accept the status quo and silence their opinions. However, creating an environment where people don’t push back and aren’t engaged in healthy debate can lead to serious problems.

Lastly, in cult-like organizations, values are taken to such an extreme that anyone who questions the way things are done is quickly ostracized or ejected.

Create a Collaborative Environment

All of these practices can seriously endanger the health of your organization. If you’re noticing any of them creeping up, put these four fixes in place to safeguard your company from becoming more of a cult than a culture:

1. Take Responsibility

Once you’ve diagnosed the situation, take responsibility rather than avoid the issues at hand. Author Ronald Heifetz suggests reducing avoidance mechanisms such as denying, scapegoating, or pretending that the problem is technical. Companies that attack individuals rather than issues risk further cult-like behavior.Owning the behavior is difficult. You should allow people to take responsibility for problems, but they should do so at a rate they can handle.

2. Introduce New Talent

Strive to introduce new, talented employees who live on the fringes of a culture fit. If you onboard people who challenge the culture, your company will be able to grow and mature.You may need to rely on new members of the organization to raise the issue of cult-like behavior because they’re experiencing your company for the first time. Encourage acceptance of these new employees — particularly when your goal is to change the company’s trajectory.

3. Create Dialogue Mechanisms

Develop mechanisms for leaders and employees to engage in honest, two-way dialogue in a safe environment. Talking with new hires, consultants, and advisors will force your organization to think about problems from multiple angles.You must protect people who raise hard questions. At first, raising these potential problems will generate distress, but the questions will challenge your employees to rethink the issues at stake.

4. Reward Responsible Risk-Taking

Establish a new team, business, or investment with clear authority to take risks and create beyond the organization’s previous boundaries. Businesses can only grow through introducing new ideas and taking appropriate risks.Share the charter of the new team with your company to ensure that individuals threatened by the venture know that the team is working on behalf of the whole.

Some companies would disagree with the notion that creating a cult-like culture is a bad thing — they believe that culture drives people’s thinking and behaviors to increase performance and productivity. It’s a fine line to walk, but leaders shouldn’t be compelled to manipulate their employees or do things that benefit the company at the expense of employee livelihood.

Instead, create a system in which people are informed, engaged, and aligned around a compelling path forward. If you promote an open environment that values new talent, you may even save a few dollars on bus fare.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

What Campaign Culture Teaches Us About Employee Engagement

campaign culture

gothamCulture’s Samantha Goldman came to us with some incredible organizational experience under her belt: campaign work. Studying employee engagement through that lens became her thesis at The New School and is the basis for her first ever LinkedIn post (congrats Samantha!).  Here’s an excerpt:

Political campaign organizations are rarely discussed alongside broader issues of management, leadership and organizational culture. Yet, because of their agility, ability to scale quickly and high level of engaged staff, organizations can learn a lot from them.

To build off these insights, leaders in non-campaign organizations can connect staff to a clear singular mission in personal ways, empower and invest in staff as the front line of the organization and develop a culture focused on learning and adaptability. These best practices can apply to organizations with short-term or long-term endeavors. Even if the endeavor is longer than a campaign cycle, leaders can still build a strong sense of urgency centered on scaling up using key measurable goals and milestones.

Campaigns are heightened environments that showcase the power of organizational culture and staff engagement. Why shouldn’t we deconstruct them to apply best practices in other settings?

(Click here to read Samantha’s full article: Election Cycle Wisdom)

Forbes: Cross-Training As The Best Defense Against Indispensable Employees

If one team member is unable to get his work done, another should be prepared to step up. So, consider cross-training as your best defense for unforeseen circumstances or relying too much on a sole employee. Not only is this level of strategic planning beneficial for organizational purposes, but it can also help the inner workings of your business. From increased sustainability to efficiency, cross-training ensures that your company — and its employees — will be able to handle whatever challenges may come its way.

If you’re not cross-training your employees, Chris suggests in this article that it may be time to start.

The Talent Retention Myth: A Devil’s Advocate Viewpoint

We hear it all the time, the continuous chatter of experts reiterating the same old talking points about what organizations need to do to retain and engage a younger workforce. All this talk got me thinking.

What if we got it all wrong? What if we are being held captive by our own beliefs and assumptions about the very nature and structure of work in today’s society?

Common thinking is that we, as leaders of organizations, should retain talent as long as possible in order to capitalize on things like organizational knowledge, relationships with co-workers and vendors and that, somehow, employees who stay with us will be eternally motivated and highly productive team members. We may also subscribe to the risk mitigation side of the argument, seeking to keep talent to avoid the costs, financial and otherwise, of having to recruit new talent to fill in the gaps that departing employees leave.

The issue with this philosophy is that we are basing these rationales on our own (older generational) beliefs that the longer the tenure of the employee the more productive, engaged and fulfilled they are. We equate tenure with loyalty and loyalty is a sought after attribute. Workers of the millennial generation, and younger, don’t necessarily view their experience with one employer from a permanence perspective. Instead, they move from job to job, and organization to organization, in a constant effort to find a place where they can make a meaningful contribution and develop.

What if, rather than trying our best to hold onto younger employees and satisfying our own needs, we redesigned work to be accomplished by people who would give us their all while they were with us, but who could also quickly and easily pass the knowledge onto new generations of employees when they moved on? Rather than fighting against the values and trends of the times, what if we embraced the values of younger generations and evolved the way in which we do business to capitalize on a more consistent stream of new and fresh viewpoints and ideas? What if, instead of spending mounting resources trying to retain talent, we used those resources elsewhere and flexed our way of thinking to thrive in a new age of business?

With the speed of change in organizations today, is the job even the same thing it was two or three years ago? One might argue that many jobs today evolve rather quickly and the gains of retaining talent are a bit overstated. Let’s think about re-designing work and re-shaping organizational cultures to take advantage of new talent that fills these roles over time.

5 Tips For Turning A Performance Deficit Into Your Company’s Best Year Yet

We all know that in a company’s big picture, consistently failing to meet performance goals can have dire repercussions. But falling short of these goals can also affect how a workplace functions on a day-to-day basis. Employees can lose passion for their work or even look for other, healthier companies. Their productivity is likely to fade alongside their enthusiasm.

That’s why it’s so important to keep on top of these performance failures and change course before small losses snowball into bigger ones. In this article, Chris Cancialosi discusses how you can take these failures and turn them into opportunities to make your company healthier and stronger.

Everything You Need To Know About Management You Learned In Psych 101

As a student, you almost certainly spent more time dreading general education courses than actually paying attention to them, and following the final, you quickly forgot the material altogether. After all, you’re never going to use calculus again, right?

Psychology 101, however, is one course that does play a pivotal role in business operations — particularly team management. Reacquaint yourself with the basic principles of psychology to boost your leadership, your team’s motivation, and your company’s success.

Well-Being & The Bottom Line

Remember the time when that boy in your fourth-period class made fun of your glasses and it totally ruined your day? Fifth and sixth periods offered up tons of new knowledge but you were too busy swimming in a sea of four-eyed misery to notice?

Maybe it wasn’t your nerdy specs, but we’ve all suffered similar affronts to our self-image. It’s amazing how negative experiences and the emotions they elicit can hijack our brains. And what might have once been fodder for teenage drama actually continues into our professional adult lives. Research on emotions and cognition suggests personal wellness has real implications for your company’s bottom line. In a fast-paced knowledge economy where we must innovate more quickly and more often to get ahead, leaders can’t afford, literally, to ignore the well-being of their employees.

A recent meta-analysis examining research into the relationship between employee well-being and business outcomes showed that business performance improves as employee engagement goes up (Harter, Schmidt, & Keyes, 2002). This is not news but rarely does this idea get linked to the bottom line. Consider perhaps the most obvious outcome of employee engagement: retention and turnover. If your company replaces its employees to the tune of $30,000 per person, it makes good sense to fight to retain your talent. This is not to mention less immediately quantifiable outcomes of engagement such as productivity, creativity and collaboration – just the stuff your company needs to reach optimal performance.

To avoid perpetuating those brain-hijacking negative emotions in the workplace, leaders need to make employee wellness a priority. But before you gather everyone in the conference room for a soothing kumbaya or attempt to win hearts and minds by starting up a Taco Tuesday tradition, here are a few quick questions to gauge if you are building the right environment for employee actualization:

  • Do your employees know what’s expected of them? While autonomy is important, at the end of the day employees need to know what they’re expected to achieve. More importantly, however, is making sure they understand the value of their contributions to the organization’s work.
  • Is your rewards system oriented toward the long-term? It’s imperative that employee’s basic needs like fair compensation and appropriate resources are readily available. But the best leaders look to the long term by considering how rewards and opportunities can benefit all aspects of employee health. Giving someone a raise might make her happy in the short term, but employees need emotional and intellectual fulfillment to commit for the longer haul.
  • Are you all in this together? The well-known cliché that we spend more time with our coworkers than our loved ones shouldn’t necessarily be a sad commentary on our lives. Work provides us with a casual social outlet, but research shows that when an employee feels a strong sense of belonging at work, well-being goes up. Feeling that someone in the organization cares about him can not only increase the chances he’ll stay there but has also shown to increase productivity and even the quality of service that he then passes on to customers.
  • Do you know what your employees love to do? Perhaps the best things leaders can do is understand not just their employees’ strengths but also what they love to do. You might ask, “If you could focus on just one part of your job all day long, what would it be?” Studies show that business outcomes and long-term retention rates improve when employers give employees space to indulge and grow their most beloved talents.

gothamCulture recently worked with a client who closely considered these questions. To explore how they could invest in the not just the physical but also emotional, intellectual and social health of its employees, they asked us to design a program for some of its senior team focused on employee well-being both in and outside of work. What was clear to them, and to us, is that organizations that want to move beyond surviving to thriving in the marketplace need to pay more attention to employees’ “higher level” needs.

Five Keys to Building a Healthy and Productive Virtual Culture

gothamCulture is a truly virtual work environment. With a team that is separated by geography and time zones, it is imperative to learn how to best work together in ways that help us live our value of Authentic Community. Here are a few of the tricks we’ve learned along the way

1. Use technology to your advantage

This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how challenging it can be to break people’s old habits to get folks to adopt new ways of using technology to get things done. We make a concerted effort to utilize chat and videoconferencing technology on a daily basis to help maintain and foster effective working relationships with staff and associates. Every effort is made to minimize the “space” between people.

2. Keep the team “up to speed”

In a fast-paced small business like ours, with team members who may be in a different city each night, it’s easy to get caught up in our own little worlds- working feverishly to provide top quality services to our clients. Based on feedback we received from our staff, we instituted structured, weekly team meetings where team members log into a Google Hangout from wherever in the world they may be to connect with the rest of the team. Everyone contributes to the weekly team meeting. We not only get a chance to give the team a feeling for the bigger picture, we are also able to identify areas of risk and reallocate resources in the short-term to ensure that all of our client engagements are executed flawlessly.

Typical weekly meeting at gothamCulture.

3. Set rules of engagement for virtual work

In order to help expedite effective working relationships virtually, we recommend setting clear rules of engagement up front that team members can agree upon and to which they can hold each other mutually accountable. These norms may evolve over time as you refine the ways in which you interact virtually, but we’ve found that setting some ground rules at the beginning really helped us to bake virtual work into our culture in an effective way.

4. Be crystal clear about your purpose, mission, and values

We can’t overstate this enough. When all else fails, we know that our team members will know exactly where to spend their time and attention and how best to prioritize their workload. By ensuring clarity of purpose and alignment around what is truly most important to us as an organization, all team members can manage themselves to be most productive – even in the absence of direct and timely supervision. If you aren’t clear about who you are and where you’re going, how can you expect your employees to know where to focus their energies?

5. Find ways to encourage collaboration on project work

At gothamCulture, we are deliberate about structuring work in ways that force team members to collaborate across great distances. Not only does it result in higher work quality, but it also creates reasons for team members to interact in ways that they might not have otherwise done. These long-distance collaborations give newer members of the team a chance to learn from our more seasoned experts.