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The biggest work productivity killer: culture

We’ve all had days where the productive person who walked through the door in the morning loses steam by mid-afternoon. There are a variety of factors that can kill work productivity including poor job fit and being forced to work alongside low performers. But according to an informal survey PI conducted at the 2018 MassTLC TechJam, poor culture fit tops the list.

When visitors came to our booth, we asked them to answer one question: What are your biggest productivity killers? Tasked with choosing between boss, culture, job fit, or team, the majority of the roughly 1,000 people we spoke with said culture problems are the biggest factor affecting work productivity.

Lack of culture fit and toxic culture: both drain work productivity

What makes an organization unique is its culture. A strong, intentional, and well-communicated organizational culture is the foundation of any good company, and what sets it apart from its competitors. Strong organizational culture is what helps companies win awards like Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work award, and it’s integral to employee retention. Culture is what attracts candidates to apply to a company job posting and entices them to sign on the dotted line once an offer is made.

But what happens when an organization’s culture is the very reason for employee disengagement? One of the four forces that disrupt employee engagement and productivity is lack of fit with company culture. And as we discussed in our toxic workplace culture webinar, there are a number of things that can create and breed toxicity in an organization. For example, in the following webinar clip, PI’s VP of People Ops, Jackie Dube, talks about the importance of always letting employees know where they stand—and the disengagement and resulting drop in productivity that occurs when companies don’t follow this best practice. 

How lack of fit with company culture hurts employee work productivity

Employees want to “fit” with their organization’s culture. They want to feel as if they’re part of something positive—a culture of values they feel positive about and a mission they can get behind and support.

While screening candidates for culture fit is something that should always happen during the hiring process, the reality is that this rarely happens. And so companies end up with a workforce of people who don’t align with their organizational culture; this is detrimental to the company’s bottom line. Employees who are misaligned with their company culture will never go the extra mile or put in “extra” discretionary effort. On the other hand, when employees are aligned with their company culture, they work extra hard to help the company reach its strategic goals and outperform their less-engaged peers.

How a toxic company culture depletes productivity

While culture is designed in the C-Suite, it’s lived and perpetuated through the employees on the ground. Organizations enter dangerous waters when the message on their about us page contradicts the message their employees display day in and day out. As we mentioned earlier, there are many factors that create a toxic workplace. If any of the following factors ring true for you, you’ll want to take corrective action:

  • You don’t have your core values outlined and articulated.
  • Your employees don’t know your company values.
  • Your processes and procedures don’t align with your core values.
  • You don’t pay attention to the behavioral drives and needs of yourselves and each other.
  • Your managers don’t provide regular feedback.
  • Your managers don’t embody your organizational values.
  • Your employees are entitled.
  • You place people in roles that they’re not naturally wired to do.
  • Your people are resistant to changes happening in the organization.

So how can you help your people get on board with your organizational culture to minimize toxicity and maximize engagement and work productivity

Maximize work productivity by following these best practices for designing, communicating, and enforcing organizational culture.

You don’t want your employees’ minds consumed with thoughts like whether they’re aligning with your culture. Here are three tips for designing an award-winning culture, clearly communicating that culture to everyone in the organization, and ensuring all employees are aligned with it.

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1. Be sure your organizational culture aligns with your business strategy.

You need employees who are crystal clear on what your strategic goals are so they can work toward executing them. When your culture code reflects your strategy, you set your employees up for success. Let’s say you’re focused on new product development; you’ll want to design a culture of innovation where failure is reframed as a learning experience rather than something negative. 

Some smart companies ask their employees to participate in the creation of their culture code. If you’re interested in doing this, get employees across all departments together for various brainstorming sessions, order some food, and talk it out as a group. Ask yourselves: What mindsets or behaviors are required to execute our business strategy? What do we stand for? 

These brainstorming sessions ensure that your people understand your culture and feel like they were a part of creating it. It also brings to the surface any lingering questions and acts as an outlet for employees to air any concerns regarding current culture.

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2. Identify gaps between culture and strategy and work to close them.

Use tools like engagement surveys and focus groups to measure how well your employees currently understand and align with your company culture. Chances are you’re going to find some gaps—especially if your employees weren’t involved in its creation.

There are various ways to close those gaps. You can update your rewards system; do this by promoting employees who embody your values and then communicating the reason why they were promoted so everyone understands. Another method is to develop a shared language in which you weave cultural values into everyday conversation. For example, if a core value is “energy,” talk about it at every team and all-company meeting and also encourage employees to give public shout-outs to peers who embody this cultural value on a dedicated Slack channel.

It’s no secret that highly productive employees give companies a competitive advantage. The more effort you take to design, communicate, and nurture a strong organizational culture, the more rewards you’ll reap. 


Matt Poepsel, PhD is the author of Expand the Circle: Enlightened Leadership for Our New World of Work and host of the Lead the People podcast. He serves as Vice President & Godfather of Talent Optimization at The Predictive Index. He holds a PhD in Psychology, an MBA, and a Harvard Business School Certificate of Management Excellence. Matt has more than 25 years of leadership experience as a software executive and consultant. He’s also a US Marine, an Ironman triathlon finisher, and a student of Buddhist philosophy.

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