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corporate culture employee experience leadership

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There are a lot of things that contribute to a corporate culture, and many organizations put a lot of effort into building a strong culture. Culture is hard to define, and it can look different to people at the top of the organization than it is does to those employees working down in the trenches. Just like many things in life, the best intentions might not always play out how you want them to. So how do you know if the culture you actually have is good or bad?

I like to think of it this way: we’ve all been watching TV and seen those commercials for a new prescription drug. At the end of the commercial, the announcer starts to list all of the potential side effects of taking the drug, like weight gain, hair loss, nausea, and in some cases even death. Those side effects are terrible! Who would actually take a drug that could possibly lead to their death?

Organizations also have side effects that are either good or bad. In some cases, the work side effects can be similar to actual drug side effects: hair loss, stress, arguments with loved ones, etc. They all come from working for your organization.

So here’s the test: if I were to bottle up what it’s like to work for your organization and put it in pill form, would you take that pill? If it’s a good culture with good side effects, you would probably eagerly take the pill. But if it’s a bad culture with negative side effects, you would likely be running as far away from that pill as possible.

The interesting thing is that when I talk with confidentially one on one with many executives and ask that question, the overwhelming response is that they wouldn’t take the pill. How is it that leaders want others to swallow a pill that they themselves aren’t willing to swallow? What does that tell us about our workplace culture overall? There is definitely room for improvement.

Executives might not want to take the pill, but employees are swallowing it every day. The higher the dose, or the longer employees work for the company, the stronger the side effects will be, good or bad. Employees may start off excited to work for an organization, but over time the side effects of a negative culture start to weigh on them and lead to stress, health problems, and burn-out. Conversely, if an employee works for an organization with a great culture and positive side effects, those good things will grow and the employee will become more engaged, enthusiastic, and involved the longer they work for the company.

In the pharmaceutical world, pills go through a lot of testing before they are available to the public. It should be the same in the business world. Managers and executives should be the first ones to swallow the pill. They are the champions for the company culture and need to know if it is really good or bad. If they take the pill and realize it is contributing to negativity in their lives, the culture needs to be changed.

Corporate culture can’t be changed or created overnight, just like a drug formula isn’t created instantly. In many cases, it takes trial and error to find the right combination of ingredients to produce the intended effect with minimal negative consequences. Don’t treat your employees like lab rats — involve them in the process and work together that creates a corporate culture that empowers and engages employees and that provides positive side effects that people want to partake of.

My new book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley) analyzes over 250 global organizations to understand how to create a place where people genuinely want to show up to work. Get my free training series to create powerful Employee Experiences, future proof your career and life, or become a member of the new Facebook Community The Future If… and join the discussion.

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