I have written frequently about problem workplaces, but have not discussed the important fact that most of these started out as desirable places to work. In fact, almost all of the companies I worked for were, or had been at one time, a fantastic place to build a career.
From what I observed, some of the problem workplaces I encountered actually provided stimulating and rewarding work environments before their decline occurred and there were common patterns in almost every decline.
Even the best working environments can become unhealthy if the corporate culture sickens and dies after repeated attacks from within. If management does not realize what a treasure they have in their corporate culture, they may stand idly by while new executives uproot and destroy it. Some executives may not even recognize the power of the
corporate culture, perhaps because they had little part in creating it.
The corporate culture is the informal agreement on how the company is being run.
Ask any sociologist what happens when you mess with the mores and folkways of a group. (cue the disaster music…)
The corporate culture is created by the combined actions of the
employees and executives during the early life of the company. The
rituals and values that are created through the struggles of early
company life are a powerful bond that ensures cooperation and mutual
support. They facilitate communication of necessary information upwards
and downwards throughout the organization.
The fast growth of some companies brings new managers on
board who know little of these rituals and their importance. When these
values are unknown or ignored by these second generation managers, the
workforce is given notice that they no longer have a voice in company
These new, second generation, management people are often drawn from
large corporations with feudal corporate cultures. They bring their
"efficiency-based" culture with them and make little attempt to
understand or make use of the culture which has made the company
They are often better at playing politics than the original staff,
so they rise to positions where they can do real damage to the
corporation they were brought in to assist.
They may be sincere and dedicated, but the harder they work to
organize and staticise things, and reduce every activity to numbers,
the closer they come to killing off the original company culture.
Eventually they transform the company into a soulless industrial machine and everything is perfect!
At this point, the most capable employees have long since been seeking positions elsewhere.
If the original management does not recover its senses and take
steps to restore some of the early corporate culture, the company
becomes one of the problem workplaces I have described elsewhere.
If you have worked for a company that went through this transformation, I’d be interested in your comments.