Why Great Employees Leave “Great Cultures”

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“We have a great culture.” We have all heard it. We have all said it. But what does that mean?

Ping-Pong tables, free meals, and beer on tap? No.

Yoga, CrossFit classes, and massage chairs? I so need that, but no.

The promise of being part of a hip, equity-incentivized, fast growing team? Closer, but still no.

Culture is often referred to as “the way things are done around here.” But to be useful, we need to get more specific than that. I’ve been working in HR for over twenty years, and the best companies I’ve worked with have recognized that there are three elements to a culture: behaviors, systems, and practices, all guided by an overarching set of values. A great culture is what you get when all three of these are aligned, and line up with the organization’s espoused values. When gaps start

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Toxic Workplaces

If your workplace is toxic, can you change it? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Nicholas Pearce, an associate professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. They talk through how to transform a toxic culture, whether you’re a junior employee, a manager, or in charge.

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Listen to more episodes and find out how to subscribe on the Dear HBR: page. Send in your questions about workplace dilemmas by emailing Dan and Alison at dearhbr@hbr.org.

From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:

HBR: Recognizing Employees Is the Simplest Way to Improve Morale by David Novak — “One question I loved to ask is, ‘What would you do if you had my job?’ Maybe the response will be a useful suggestion, in which case you should

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How One Hospital Improved Patient Handoffs for the Long Term

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Roughly 80% of serious medical errors (now the third leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer) can be traced to poor communication between care providers during patient handoffs, according to a 2012 Joint Commission report. This makes patient handoffs the most frequent and riskiest procedure in the hospital.

Despite the development of numerous techniques and tools to structure patient handoffs and improve the transfer of communication, we haven’t seen much improvement in reducing medical errors. The problem is two-fold: first, hospital administrators and managers struggle to effectively implement these tools. Second, they struggle to sustain change that’s made.

The perioperative unit at Midland Memorial Hospital (MMH) in Texas was in precisely that situation. Leaders noticed that the majority of patient handoffs had some level of missing information. While missing information was often not critically important or time-sensitive (e.g., patient

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Leaders, Stop Avoiding Hard Decisions

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HBR Staff

Too many leaders avoid making tough calls. In an effort not to upset others or lose status in the eyes of their followers, they concoct sophisticated justifications for putting off difficult decisions, and the delay often does far more damage than whatever fallout they were trying to avoid. In fact, hard decisions often get more complicated when they’re deferred. And as a leader gets more senior, the need to make hard calls only intensifies. In our ten-year longitudinal study of more than 2,700 leaders, 57% percent of newly appointed executives said that decisions were more complicated and difficult than they expected.

In my 30 years working with executives, I’ve heard leaders commonly use three rationalizations for putting off difficult decisions. By understanding the consequences of these excuses, you can work to avoid them.

“I’m being considerate of others.” For some leaders, the thought of estranging those they lead

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How to Establish Values on a Small Team

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When Tony Hsieh, founder of  Zappos, was asked what he’d do differently if he could restart his company from scratch, he responded with this: “If I could go back and do Zappos all over again I would actually come up with our values from day one.”

Developing your corporate values early in your company’s history can have a lasting and positive effect on your organization and its culture, and it’s easier to do when your team is small. After all, it’s much easier to steer a four-person speedboat than a 2,000-person cruise ship. Once your team grows larger, it may be challenging to reach consensus around what your values should be.

I’ve worked with a handful of small organizations as they’ve established the cultural tenets of their business — most recently, I went through the process of developing corporate values at my own tech startup. When

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You Don’t Have to Choose Between Fast, Cheap or Good. Instead, Change the Paradigm. – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM PWC

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How many times have you heard an executive assign familiar aphorisms to business challenges–and you just know it’s a means to justify bad behavior? They might say “business isn’t personal” as an excuse for sub-par treatment of others. Executives demand that employees “do more with less,” but then don’t allow people to focus on less. But the worst of them is one so many leaders seem to cling to: “Make a choice between fast, cheap or good.”

Old-school rhetoric like this produces the wrong answers and leads to more problems. Worse, for digital companies, it’s a practice that will keep the business and its people from truly transforming and competing.

The focus of an organization’s leaders can no longer center around compromising two out of three values. Instead, companies should focus on optimizing all of them. You can achieve all three when you’re working in the right ways

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Emergency Responders and the Dangers of “Masculinity Contests”

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Petr Svarc/Getty Images

During the horrific school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida, one of the sheriff’s deputies on the scene did not enter the building to confront the attacker. The internet, Parkland officials, and politicians reacted swiftly. The deputy was criticized by his boss for his supposed inaction and was called a “coward” by the president of the United States.

The use of this specific word was not accidental. More than just failing to act as a first responder, “coward” implies a much greater transgression: failing to act as a man. As Alex Kingsbury writes in the Boston Globe, it plays into a timeless American narrative: “the idea that real men dispatch bad men with a pull of the trigger.” Because the bonafide requirements of first responders’ jobs closely align with traditional ideals of heroic manhood (“strong,” “brave,” “risk-taking”)—ideals deeply rooted in culture and psychology—men in

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Emergency Responders and the Dangers of “Masculinity Contests”

mar18-23-200335413-001-Petr-Svarc
Petr Svarc/Getty Images

During the horrific school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida, one of the sheriff’s deputies on the scene did not enter the building to confront the attacker. The internet, Parkland officials, and politicians reacted swiftly. The deputy was criticized by his boss for his supposed inaction and was called a “coward” by the president of the United States.

The use of this specific word was not accidental. More than just failing to act as a first responder, “coward” implies a much greater transgression: failing to act as a man. As Alex Kingsbury writes in the Boston Globe, it plays into a timeless American narrative: “the idea that real men dispatch bad men with a pull of the trigger.” Because the bonafide requirements of first responders’ jobs closely align with traditional ideals of heroic manhood (“strong,” “brave,” “risk-taking”) — ideals deeply rooted in culture and psychology

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The Economics of Why Companies Don’t Fix Their Toxic Cultures

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Over the last decade, industries, academics, and the public sector have turned their focus toward culture and ethics in response to the financial crisis as well as misconduct at a broad range of corporations. But what role does culture play in corporate misconduct, and why do these problematic cultures persist?

My perspective and approach to misconduct risk are influenced by my work as a bank supervisor, and by my background and training as an economist. In my view, bank supervision must include attention to the culture at financial firms, not just to their financial safety and soundness. The justification for this attention comes from relatively simple economics. By thinking of a company’s culture as a form of investment subject to market failures, we can better understand why companies sometimes tolerate misconduct, and why they can’t always fix it on their own. Though my experience is in the financial

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The Economics of Why Companies Don’t Fix Their Toxic Cultures

mar18-22-908871120-naqiewei
naqiewei/Getty Images

Over the last decade, industries, academics, and the public sector have turned their focus toward culture and ethics in response to the financial crisis as well as misconduct at a broad range of corporations. But what role does culture play in corporate misconduct, and why do these problematic cultures persist?

My perspective and approach to misconduct risk are influenced by my work as a bank supervisor, and by my background and training as an economist. In my view, bank supervision must include attention to the culture at financial firms, not just to their financial safety and soundness. The justification for this attention comes from relatively simple economics. By thinking of a company’s culture as a form of investment subject to market failures, we can better understand why companies sometimes tolerate misconduct, and why they can’t always fix it on their own. Though my experience is in the financial

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Why We Don’t Let Coworkers Help Us, Even When We Need It

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When colleagues display helpful and cooperative “citizenship behaviors,” research has shown, they tend to develop high-quality social connections, which can improve individual and team performance through enhanced coordination, communication, and shared understanding within organizations. But there’s an obstacle to reaping those benefits — social psychologists have also found that people often react negatively to being helped. So we recently conducted a series of studies (forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology) to gain insight into how that dynamic plays out at work.

In a qualitative study, we asked 238 employees in a variety of industries to explain why they would or wouldn’t accept help from a coworker. From their responses, we identified five key reasons people avoid being helped: preferring to be self-reliant and complete their work on their own, wanting to protect their image, not wanting to feel obligated to return the favor, not

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The Swedish CEO Who Runs His Company Like a CrossFit Gym

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Work hard and you’ll see results. For many in today’s knowledge economy, this feeling is elusive. They struggle to see how their labor contributes directly to the performance of the corporation, or how it helps the progress of their career. While there’s often increased pressure to be more productive in the office, it’s sometimes hard not to wonder, “What’s the point?” Whether in marketing or sales, it often feels like jobs are contingent on external circumstances, the whims of executives, strategic pivots, and shareholder demands. What happened to being rewarded for consistent, quality work over the long-term?

There is perhaps one place where this paradigm still exists: the gym. Here, all are equal before the law of the squat rack. There is a straightforward relationship between input and output: Those who put in the hours are handsomely rewarded, and progress can be neatly tracked through the kind

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Create a Growth Culture, Not a Performance-Obsessed One

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Here’s the dilemma: In a competitive, complex, and volatile business environment, companies need more from their employees than ever. But the same forces rocking businesses are also overwhelming employees, driving up their fear, and compromising their capacity.

It’s no wonder that so many C-Suite leaders are focused on how to build higher performance cultures.  The irony, we’ve found, is that building a culture focused on performance may not be the best, healthiest, or most sustainable way to fuel results. Instead, it may be more effective to focus on creating a culture of growth.

A culture is simply the collection of beliefs on which people build their behavior. Learning organizations – Peter Senge’s term — classically focus on intellectually oriented issues such as knowledge and expertise.  That’s plainly critical, but a true growth culture also focuses on deeper issues connected to how people feel, and how they

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Work After #MeToo

From the Women at Work podcast:

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The hand on the thigh. The creepy come-on. The lingering leer. These are some of the milder forms of sexual harassment that women have been reporting in the wake of the #MeToo outpouring. Other women have made allegations of sexual assault and even rape at the office.

While once such accusations would be met with — at most — a monetary settlement and a non-disclosure agreement, today they are more likely to be publicized and investigated. Some have welcomed this change but are worried it won’t last. Others are worried #MeToo has gone too far already, and that perpetrators of harassment aren’t getting a fair chance to defend themselves — or that the movement will spark a backlash that’s ultimately worse for women.

We talk with Joan

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Disney Defines Its Corporate Culture by the Actions of Its Leaders – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM DISNEY INSTITUTE

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Photo Credit: Disney Institute
 

Everyone has heard the phrase “Actions speak louder than words.” But did you know that this idea can be your key to establishing the thriving organizational culture you desire?

While corporate culture is often defined as the shared values and beliefs of the people who make up an organization, leaders sometimes overlook how that culture is effectively communicated through behavior and actions.  

Leaders must be intentional, proactive, and authentic when it comes to fostering an environment that supports the

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Ban These 5 Words From Your Corporate Values Statement

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Practically every organization today has a set of core values that ideally function as the “operating instructions” of the company.  The goal of articulating the essential and enduring principles of your organization is to inform, inspire, and instruct the day-to-day behaviors of everyone who works at your company. But this rarely happens, because most core values statements don’t get at what’s unique about the firm.

According to the Booz Allen Hamilton and Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program researchers, most corporations’ values incorporate similar words and ideas. 90% of them reference ethical behavior or use the word “integrity,” 88% mention commitment to customers, and 76% cite teamwork and trust.

I’ve seen this first-hand in my work helping companies define or re-define their core values. Several words always come up in practically every discussion, no matter if the company is a large enterprise or a small

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IKEA’s Success Can’t Be Attributed to One Charismatic Leader

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During my conversations with CEOs, it always comes to a point where they say: “I want to leave a legacy.”  Any CEO would be satisfied with the business legacy left by Ingvar Kamprad, the IKEA founder who died last weekend.  The store he founded, with its iconic blue and yellow logo and functional, minimalist furniture, is the largest furniture retailer in the world.  Latest figures show it has 190,000 employees, 411 stores in 49 countries, and a revenue of 36 billion euros.  Famous for its Allen wrench-assembled flat-pack furniture, Swedish meatballs, and the maze-like shopping routes through its showrooms, it hit upon a winning formula.  It provided a differentiated offering that disrupted the industry at the time: affordable, build-it-yourself home furnishings sold in massive stores built on cheap, out-of-town real estate. But how did it hit on this winning strategy?

There is no doubt that

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Dealing with Sexual Harassment When Your Company Is Too Small to Have HR

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The subject of sexual misconduct at work is dominating mainstream conversation and board room agendas. This doesn’t just mean men and women who run large global enterprises, Fortune 500 behemoths, film studios, and media platforms. The conversation is happening in small businesses as well.

In the U.S. 43% of employees work in organizations with 50 or fewer people. It would be a mistake to think that a smaller workforce means a decreased chance of sexual harassment. In fact, a few characteristics make small firms more susceptible.

For example, at a smaller firm, people may engage with each other more frequently and that proximity can make the impact of any harassment feel disproportionately large. It can be extremely disruptive if two out of twenty employees suddenly can’t work together and need to be separated. And the legal and punitive costs of sexual harassment cases can feel steeper to a firm

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Sexual Harassment Is Pervasive in the Restaurant Industry. Here’s What Needs to Change

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Scores of recent stories have exposed the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in industries such as Hollywood, tech, politics, and academia. Less attention has been given to lower-paying jobs, such as those in the service and hospitality industry, where the problem runs rampant.

More sexual harassment claims in the U.S. are filed in the restaurant industry than in any other, where as many as 90% of women and 70% of men reportedly experience some form of sexual harassment. While the industry has had its share of high-profile stories (with a number of well-known chefs and TV personalities being accused of inappropriate behavior), even more insidious is the routine harassment of service workers by managers, coworkers, and, importantly, customers.

There are several factors that make restaurant employees particularly susceptible to sexual harassment. First, men make up the majority of management and higher-paying roles in the U.S. restaurant industry.

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Stop Neglecting Remote Workers

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When we talk about the importance of building strong relationships with employees, there’s a growing contingent that we often neglect: those who don’t work in the main office. This means not just the 31% of Americans who work remotely four or five days a week but also the people in satellite locations, where workers can easily feel forgotten. I’ve experienced this problem both as a manager and as an employee. For instance, when I ran a startup in San Francisco that was acquired by a company based in Toronto, I went from overseeing on-site and off-site employees to leading an entirely off-site branch of a faraway business. Being a remote employee myself, and having my entire team also fall into that category, forced me to think differently about how to build team culture and keep everyone engaged and motivated.

I traveled to headquarters to meet the team, figure out the

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