Justin M. Deonarine is an industrial organizational psychologist with Psychometrics Canada, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)-member company that provides assessment consulting services to help businesses hire the right individuals and develop teams and leaders. Justin is engaged in data-driven research to develop custom solutions that help individuals and organizations optimize performance. We asked him about the problems of disconnected corporate cultures. Here's what he shared:

Entrepreneurs and business leaders often believe that they hold the power to shape their company's culture. But, do they?

I recently analyzed an eye-opening case study about a national retail chain with more than 20,000 employees where senior leadership promoted innovative thinking as a core value. In support of that value, Human Resources insisted that an innovative approach was a requirement for every position, including front-line employees. However, the front-line management team disagreed, conceding that innovative thinking wasn't critical for success in front-line service.

Here's the eye-opening part: Years of psychometric assessment data revealed a rather low appetite for innovation across all levels of the organization--including senior leadership. In fact, following established rules was one of the stronger traits exhibited company-wide.

To recap, senior leadership wanted employees to innovate, but in reality, innovation was taking a back seat to established procedures. So, why was this happening?

It's a surprisingly common scenario. Companies across all industries realize the value of establishing a "great" corporate culture. Each year, thousands of posts are written about how to build or harness a "great" culture. Google it, and you'll get over 581 million results. However, a "great" corporate culture doesn't automatically yield business success. Companies with "great" cultures can fail, while plenty of companies with "toxic" cultures thrive.

Why is "great" in quotes? Because a fitting culture--one that would be "great" for your organization--isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. There's no magic formula for successfully building a culture that works in your business. Corporate cultures are often modeled after a few successful companies, but would every aspect of those cultures work for your unique organization?

A different view of corporate culture

I see corporate culture as a Gestalt entity: Individuals share common attitudes and values, and the culture arises from those commonalities--either positive or negative. But it's important to remember that different cultures work for different groups. For example, some organizations support a cut-throat culture and people who thrive on competition love it. Others consider cut-throat cultures as negative and avoid them, preferring a cooperative atmosphere.

The two key traits of a good culture for your company are:

  1. Your culture allows everyone in the company to succeed.
  2. Your culture works for everyone involved.

It's that simple.

Can the leadership team influence culture?

Does leadership have a say in an organization's culture? Some, but perhaps not as much as you'd think or leaders might want. Leaders can implement policies that would benefit the organization (flexible working hours), but the actual wants of senior leadership (disruptive innovation) may not necessarily be realized.

When leaders are aware of both themselves and employees' needs, values that resonate emerge and steer everyone in a unified direction--the hallmark of a "connected" corporate culture.

If leaders aren't aware of themselves and others, groups with different values form and clash. A "disconnected" culture arises, and groups compete to promote the culture that best serves their interests. Feasibility, rationality and acceptance are ignored.

What are the signs of a disconnected corporate culture?

How can you recognize a disconnected corporate culture? General signs include high turnover, low morale, lack of productivity, unhappy employees and potentially dissatisfied clients. And watch out for these comments on employer-rating websites:

  • "Employees are silenced and treated like lambs in a slaughterhouse."
  • "The company would run a lot more smoothly with the CEO out of the way."
  • "Advice to management: Never enter the office. We are better without you."

How can you avoid a disconnected culture?

Clearly, no company wants such reviews popping up in Google searches. As with many "diseases," prevention is key. It's critical to identify and mitigate disconnection before employees leave and post negative reviews.

In the case study mentioned earlier, the management team's objections served as a wake-up call to HR. They realized that innovation--even though it's a trait aligned with organizational values--wouldn't lead to employee success in front-line roles. Open communication saved the company potential turnover issues--and probably some negative reviews.

In other words, it's critical to connect with all levels of your organization. Learn what their challenges are, and understand what employees need to succeed.

Psychometric assessments can be a powerful starting point in building or maintaining a connected corporate culture. They provide a framework to help individuals understand themselves (self-awareness) and others (other-awareness).

Corporate culture is the extension of other-awareness at an organizational level. While these frameworks help individuals understand themselves and those around them, a consistent framework within a company helps to promote the emergence of shared values--and therefore, a connected culture.