A few years ago, I took on an assignment to turn around a family-owned lending company and prepare it for sale. One of the biggest issues was a truly toxic culture in the Operations group. Fully half the company’s employees worked there, and they consistently treated our customers as if the customers were lying and cheating. A steady flow of customer complaints reached my desk. Yet my efforts to coax, and even demand, a change in the Operations group’s behavior made no discernible impact.
The culture of the operations group literally turned around overnight. People started treating customers, even those who were behind on their payments, with courtesy and respect. They also started treating each other better. The place calmed down, productivity improved dramatically, and the number of customer complaints that reached my desk dropped to a trickle.
There are two important lessons in this:
The first is that where your company’s culture is concerned, one bad apple – especially one in a management role – really can spoil the whole bunch. The second is that dealing directly with bad employee behavior, as difficult as it may be, is essential if you want your company to truly live the culture you’re trying to create.
Many business owners tell us that they consider their longtime employees to be family (and sometimes they are family). These owners usually say that it’s important to be tolerant, just as you would be with family members. In reality, this is an excuse to avoid difficult conversations. The culture of your company is defined not by the values you espouse but by the behavior you tolerate.