3 Undeniable Signs That Your Culture is Failing

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Culture is not just one aspect of the game-it’s the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.–Lou Gerstner, Jr.

Crafting and sustaining a memorable organizational culture is not easy and does not happen over night. Many organizations plow forward with tactical execution of things like celebrations and free food for all. Despite these actions, many totally overlook the signs that their culture may be failing. I have highlighted some undeniable signs that organizational culture is on the downturn.

1. Employees Don’t Trust Leaders.

The leader sets an example, whether in the Army or in civilian life, The other people in the organization take their cue from the leader, not from what the leader says, but what the leader does.”–Colin Powell

This is the reality for many organizations. Unfortunately, employees feel powerless when working with leaders they do not trust. Here is the thing; When leaders believe in and behave in line with organizational values and norms, the passion shines through. Then, the rest of the organization can follow.

Employees lose that trust and desire to follow as soon as the leader’s integrity is compromised, because the front line now feels a sense of betrayal.

As Colin Powell alludes to above, it is what leaders do or fail to do that nurtures a strong trust foundation. Trust is the bedrock for any positive and magnetic culture. A positive culture fails without it.

Try to do everything you can do to build trust with your people. It will provide the fuel for a winning culture.

RELATED READING: Are You Doing Culture on Purpose?

2. Employees Don’t Feel Valued.

The role of a creative leader is not to have all of the ideas; its to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued. —Ken Robinson

I spend a lot of time meeting and sitting down with front line employees during focus groups. The one common thread I hear is a pride in being able to voice their opinion during the focus group. I get a real sense that they don’t often feel heard. In fact, the very sad state is that many organizational leaders actually ask their employees for feedback, but then do nothing about what they hear.

That is even worse.

By asking for ideas, but never either implementing ideas, or letting them know why you decided to go in a different direction, you erode their desire to contribute creative ideas.

What if you contributed valuable energy to innovate on a particular project and then they decided not to move forward-without a word? I would feel deflated, because I would think that I wasted my energy.

Please value your people’s opinion and voice. Empower them to think outside of the box to maintain an innovative culture.

3. There Is No Alignment.

While the other two signs are really sad to witness, there is nothing more painful than a lack of organizational alignment.

What do I mean by this?

If no one agrees on how everyone should behave in relation to one another. When employees get mixed messages from different members of leadership. When the senior team has different ideas about direction, but continue to focus on the tactical side of the business.

This can be a very confusing time for managers, supervisors and their teams who are looking for inspiration and a clear direction. They want to know what they are working towards.  When there is no clear sense of organizational unity, culture is negatively impacted.


Fundamentally, positive organizational cultures stem from organizations full of trust; where employees feel valued for what they contribute; and when the mission, vision, values and norms are adopted by all. Once we remove any of these necessary elements, we will not be able to sustain a winning culture.

Please take your time when curating all elements of your culture so that it can endure.

Want to find out what your employees think about your culture? Ask them. Download this free tip sheet on Gathering Unfiltered and Trustworthy Employee Feedback if you need some direction.


As always, thank you for reading. I know that this is not anywhere near an exhaustive list, but these three signs are the most prominent in my mind. I would welcome your input and stories about your experience in a failing culture. It would be interesting, too, to read examples of an organization that did successfully rebound.

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2 Responses

  1. Bob Gately
    | Reply

    Sounds right to me.

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