Three Signs Your Company Culture is Going Down the Tubes

If you’re an FOT reader, then we already know you’re an enlightened person and there’s a pretty good chance you already understand the importance of culture in an organization. But even for the enlightened, it’s a squishy concept – you usually know when it’s good and you know when it’s bad. Knowing when it’s going down the tubes, however, isn’t quite as easy. So I thought I’d help out.  Over the past month or so, I’ve made it a point to ask people I have met from a variety of organizations about the early warning signs that the culture of a company is potentially going down the tubes.  I asked people to give me an actual quote they’ve heard in their companies that gave them pause. So, skip the fancy culture assessments by highly paid consultants because it’s simple – if you hear any of these statements in your organization, Houston you’ve got a problem!

  1. Yes, I know that Sally hasn’t been performing up to expectations, but we’re pretty busy and Sally at 10% is better than nothing.”  Translation:  The performance standards in your company have slipped to the point that it’s ok for a manager to actually say this out loud!  Think about it – what’s the one thing that will kill morale in a company on the spot?  It’s knowing that poor performance is tolerated or more specifically, you expect ME to pick up the slack.  Not cool.  Plus it makes me question any of the positive feedback you’ve given.  Am I really doing a good job or are you just too scared to tell me the truth?   If you don’t squash this type of thinking fast you run the risk of it spreading throughout your entire organization.
  2. This candidate doesn’t really have all the skills that I was looking for when we started this search. But sometimes you have to just hire who’s available.”  Translation:  At best the hiring manager just doesn’t understand how to screen for the skills he really needs or candidates with a particular skill set could be scarce.  At worst the hiring manager is only looking out for themselves and doesn’t truly appreciate and/or understand the culture of your organization.  This type of thinking leads directly back to point number one.  As an HR Pro, if we come across situations like these, we need to have the COURAGE to say no.  But not just no and move on, because as the first line on the hiring front this one lies with us too.
  3. That’s not my/our responsibility.”  Translation:  You’re screwed!  Well, maybe it’s not completely over but unless you take drastic action immediately you might as well just close up shop.  Seriously, this is like the DEFCON 5 of culture.  Somehow you ended up with an employee(s) who are more concerned with their own piece of the puzzle instead of caring about the good of the whole or who are no longer connected to the mission and vision of your company.  Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for this one.  It requires a full stop – re-clarifying the mission of your company and re-connecting your people to it and getting rid of those people who don’t.  

These are just the 3 quotes I thought were the best indicators that you’ve got a problem on your hands, and I’m sure there are more.  Would love to hear what quotes YOU think are a signal the culture is going down the tubes!

FOT Background Check

Andy Porter
Andy Porter is Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA which means he works with some wicked smaaht people. Some days, he indeed does wear short shorts around the office(call it a morale booster) but it really just makes people uncomfortable. Other days, he spits some mad game on cheese. No really – he’s somewhat of a cheese aficionado. But more importantly? At Broad he gets to his small part to help change the world of healthcare.


  1. Greg says:

    Here are a few more: “This place only cares about money and not its employees or clients”, “I’ll work here until something better comes along”, “I get sick the last day of the weekend because I know I have to come in the next day”. Yes these are actual quotes from employees (whose names will remain anonymous…along with my own, well at least my last name).

  2. Dave Jenkins says:

    DEFCON 5 = total peace.
    DEFCON 1 = open warfare.
    You have it backwards, methinks.

  3. davidburkus says:

    Good words. I think there’s an argument for #3 being all you need to tell if the company is toast.

  4. Ann says:

    Interesting observations but you are missing the key piece of the puzzle. WHY do people feel this way? I think Greg hit that nail on the head.

    Loyalty is a two-way street. Too many corporations demand loyalty from employees but don’t reciprocate.

  5. Cathy says:

    “I have never had to work this hard to be mediocre.” This reflects a culture where management or administration is disconnected to what is tuly happening on the front lines with customers.

  6. How about “I never know when I’m doing something right”?

    Today, it seems like too many employees have no idea what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and whether they’re doing it the right way. While they seem like the obvious solution, annual performance reviews are part of the problem. When employees get feedback once a year, your company culture is in the U-bend.

  7. Ellie says:

    Lately every other day I get a new e-mail from a different middle manager/supervisor: “Sadly, today is my last day at the company. I have really enjoyed working here and hope everyone carries on as before. But a new opportunity has opened up for me elsewhere. So regretfully, I am moving on. Goodbye, it’s been a pleasure.”

    Uh, okay, once, maybe twice, but more?? I’m starting to think of sinking ships!!

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