We know that culture matters. As our workplaces evolve, so too does the increasing focus we put on cultural behaviours within our organisations. When we think of our stand out performers within the business, it’s likely that the first names which come to mind are those who are vocal advocates for our culture.
However, there are times when this isn’t the case. We have all experienced those employees who, when it comes to delivery output, are stand out; yet when it comes to cultural alignment, can be at best apathetic, and at worst, downright destructive. What do we do when one of our star performers is causing serious detriment to our culture?
Start with the basics
As always, we need to start with the basics. Armed with evidence-based examples of where behaviours are very clearly not aligned with the culture and the values of the organisation, the first step is to simply sit down and have a conversation.
There is an important differentiator to make between those individuals whose behaviour is out of kilter with the culture as a result of temporary frustrations or other factors, and those who are more fundamentally out of step. In the case of the former, a conversation to raise awareness of the issue, followed by an agreed action plan to address their frustrations and get them back onto an even keel, is usually sufficient to successfully address.
Prioritising cultural alignment
With the latter, it can be more difficult to elicit the change in behaviours that you need to see. A simple conversation still needs to be the starting point, but this needs to be done in the context that some of those behaviours which you are seeing are inherent to the person themselves. We are only ever able to change people to the degree that they want to be changed, and we are never going to alter their fundamental beliefs and personal values.
It is for this reason that prioritising cultural alignment within the recruitment process is so critical. Skills can be taught; innate alignment with our corporate values and the ways that we work cannot. Where we have ensured that our recruitment approach reflects this, the number of incidents where we find an employee either deliberately or subconsciously working against our culture should be minimal. However, where this isn’t the case – or hasn’t been the case historically – we may find ourselves on the back foot and therefore need to make a decision on how we address those – often long-standing – employees whose performance output is high, but whose cultural behaviours are destructive.
Can you afford not to act?
There is one school of thought which suggests that in such circumstances, we should do nothing. The risk, it would be argued, is that such high performers are critical to our business – regardless of their behaviours. The concerns over the impact on delivery may be so high that a difficult conversation around their ways of working may be avoided completely, for fear of upsetting or infuriating the individual in question, and thereby negatively impacting on output.
My counterargument to this would be, can you honestly afford not to act? Sure, there is a risk when it comes to that individual’s delivery output, but I would argue that the risk of not acting is far greater. It is apathy that will kill a business faster than almost anything else.
The ripple effect
Why? Because the influence that individual may have on others, by behaving in a manner which either deliberately or otherwise directly opposes our culture, is likely to have far greater ramifications on our overall business performance than either removing or upsetting them as an individual will do.
The detrimental impact caused by employees not aligned with our culture on our overall delivery as a business cannot be underestimated. Almost anyone who has ever worked within an organisation will be familiar with what starts to happen when we allow people demonstrating negative behaviours to remain without consequence. We see the “ripple effect” occurring – particularly with those who are in high profile or influential positions – whereby their behaviours start to spill over to others who they regularly interact with.
At the heart of our employee experience
On the basis that we have defined our organisational culture because we feel it best enables us to achieve our business objectives, the damage caused by allowing individuals, or groups of individuals, to behave in such a way, can be extensive and long-lasting. This is particularly the case where such behaviours go unchallenged, leading to an acceptance, and a perception by others that this is an acceptable way to act.
When we think about our employee experience, the culture of our business sits at the heart of that. It is the reason that failing to act where we have high performers working against our culture is simply not an option. Of course, the aim is always to be able to turn around behaviours, and realign them. Sometimes this will be possible. Other times it may not. By encouraging a culture of transparency, and pro-acting to address issues, we give both us and our employees the best possible chance of eliciting the change we need to see.
Yes, it will mean embarking upon some difficult conversations. Yes, you may experience some short-term pain as a result. But when we step back and take a look at the bigger picture… the overall change and business impact that we achieve as a result, can be transformational.