Cressida Dick, the head of the London Metropolitan Police, has resigned amidst ongoing complaints about the Met Police’s toxic working culture. What started with Uber’s ‘aggressive’ culture in 2017 has become an unstoppable global tide of change, highlighting that financial performance and organisational efficiency mean nothing without happy and engaged people.
Your culture becomes the worst thing you are willing to tolerate.
In seeking to transform a toxic culture, there can be no doubt that a new leader at the London Met Police will have their work cut out for them. If I was advising this new leader, here are five practical tips I would share on how to change a destructive working culture.
1. Gather data
There’s simply no way of knowing just how good or bad things are, without data. An annual employee engagement survey won’t cut it, so invest in working with a technology partner that will enable you to gather critical data about workplace culture and behaviours across every single team. Things might be fantastic at one site and abysmal at another. Data provides insights that better inform decisions on ensuring the right interventions in the right teams.
2. Co-create the culture
Designing the desired workplace culture is not a task reserved for senior leadership and HR professionals. Instead, it should be co-created with the input of your employees, ensuring that all voices are heard. Meet with marginalised groups at work and listen to their experiences and ask how you can do better.
3. Bring culture to life
Workplace culture is a living, breathing organism. It lives in the way people interact with and treat each other. It comes alive in the way teams and individuals communicate, collaborate, make decisions and resolve conflict.
Culture thrives or dies by the behaviours we reward and those we refuse to tolerate. Bring your culture to life by:
Committing to and publishing a list of ‘even over’ guidelines (such as ‘ideas even over hierarchy’ or ‘people even over profits’) and live by these in all that you do
Having a set of clearly defined values and supporting behaviours
Having every team complete a culture canvas and agree on how they will bring the culture to life every day through meetings, decision making and feedback
Ensuring that you’re able to maintain your culture and course correct by measuring culture once per quarter and gathering regular employee feedback through pulse surveys and other tools
4. Build capacity
It’s only through changed behaviour that we can gauge whether we have truly shifted the needle. Deploy formal interpersonal skills training interventions, as well as ongoing coaching and mentoring to help solidify the desired workplace behaviours.
Teach people how to give constructive feedback and how to resolve conflict. Encourage a culture of regular check-ins and ongoing dialogue and improvements through coaching conversations.
5. Celebrate, don’t Tolerate
Your culture becomes the worst thing you are willing to tolerate. So don’t tolerate even the slightest hint of behaviour that is not aligned with the culture you have set out to create. There is no such thing as ‘harmless’ or ‘locker room talk’ at work.
It is important to recognise and reward values-congruent behaviour and actions that amplify the desired culture. But it is equally necessary to take swift and decisive action and seek to correct (or ultimately punish) actions and behaviours that detract from it, consistently and across the board.
Workplace culture is forged on a daily basis and it is shown in the behaviours that are tolerated, the people who are promoted and the achievements that are celebrated. Changing a toxic workplace culture isn’t easy, but – as leaders such as Dara Khosrowshahi of Uber and Satya Nadella of Microsoft have shown – it’s definitely possible.