Does Your Culture Clash?

I have been talking to a lot of people—printers mostly, but civilians too—who are experiencing challenges in their workplace. Infighting, sabotage, espionage and every other “_age” you can name.

It got me thinking. It’s bad enough that we have competition from all over the globe and the Internet, while clients squeeze us for every dime. What we DON’T talk about or acknowledge are the fights that we fight inside our own walls.

So here’s what I want to know: What is your culture like?

Below are some archetypical printshop cultures that I have witnessed firsthand. My intention is to get some feedback and solution ideas from all my “many” followers out there, and do a follow up piece on remedies for these very dangerous conditions…

FEAR FACTOR—There is usually an explosive leader hiding behind his/her office door. Everyone is afraid of him/her, and consequently, there is not much innovation or initiative being taken for fear of criticism or outright punishment. There are a lot of rules and processes to follow, which can be very good and helpful to keep things running smoothly. But, when they’re taken to extremes, can result in people being so afraid to make a mistake that very little beyond the bare minimum is getting done.

EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF—This kind of environment is often the result of many members of the team working remotely, or a shop where it is very difficult for people to relate to one another on a personal level. Perhaps no one has had a chance to find any common ground. Or maybe all the employees are just so different, which, then again, can be a good thing if collaboration and teamwork are encouraged. Otherwise, people just tend to feel very alone.

CYA—It stands for Cover Your A**, of course, and has some of the same characteristics of FEAR FACTOR, but there’s a lot more finger pointing. The concept of throwing someone under the bus is very common in a CYA environment. If people are punished, written up, or chastised for making honest mistakes, you will almost always find a CYA shop. That’s not to say that behaviors should not be corrected, but there is always a productive way to coach someone to help them understand what the company’s standards are.

Now working as a consultant, Kelly sold digital printing for 15 years so she understands the challenges, frustrations and pitfalls of building a successful sales practice. Her mission is to help printers of all sizes sell more stuff. Kelly's areas of focus include client recovery, retention and acquisition, and marketing communications projects.
Kelly graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Political Science and, among other notable accomplishments, co-founded the Windy City Rollers, a professional women's roller derby league.

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    This is a great article… and I am going to be most interested in following the feedback that it brings. There are three more that exist (and I personally deal with)… so would like to see what advice could be offered to assist me in navigating the difficult waters I swim in.

    #1. a passive/aggressive personality that refuses to do things any way BUT their way. They’ll pretend to cooperate, but the minute their out of your presence–they regroup and do what they want and ignore your wishes/instructions.

    #2. a staff member who refuses to work with others. They prefer to be an island and work alone. They resist team effort on all fronts–and get bombastic confrontational if challenged on the issue. There are two individuals under this person… and due to him not liking to interact with people–they get little to none direction and mentoring for growth. So you have three individuals sitting at three opposite corners of the room with headphones on–all working in isolation. No team communication or synergy.

    #3. dealing with a relative of the owner of the company. They don’t follow any company rules or guidelines… often making up their own rules. It does no good talking to the owner, as the owner dislikes confrontation and avoids the person herself due to how unpleasant he treats people. She often emails him communications rather than meet with him in person herself.


  • http://Kelly Kelly

    Thank you so much for your very thoughtful answer – unfortunately, we have had no other takers, so all I can tell you is whenever I clash with someone, I do everything in my power to win him/her over, so matter what it costs me in the humility category. I GUESS this might apply to all three of your issues.

    All I know is, you can only control what YOU can control. You will never be able to change people, and without organizational support, that seems unlikely. If you can’t beat ’em, join em. And you catch more flies with honey. What other cliches can I use?

    I would try to relate to these people on a personal level and see what can be accomplished. It really might work.

  • http://Jon Jon

    Hi Kelly,

    How about all of the above? We have 175 employees and in different departments we have different cultures. We may actually have more than four! We do have some areas that run very smooth but those tend to be the departments with the best managers and leaders.

    I believe that culture is created from the top down and you must have good management to have great culture. See Quad/Graphics under Harry. Without a strong, engaged leader at the top you end up with rogue managers filled with power exerting their will on their employees. So unless you get lucky with a good mid-level manager, your doomed to one of the cultures you list above.

    Would love to see more in-depth coverage of this topic.

  • http://Rocco Rocco

    I’ve worked in situations where all of those problems exist, and in situations where none of those problems exist. The difference is stark.

    The workplace you’ve described requires an extraordinary amount of non-productive energy. This energy is taken directly from productive efforts; efforts which might include implementing new technology, research and development, planning, training and education—just to name a few.

    In the “toxic waste dump” environment, negative pressure is used to achieve minimal results. When there is a failure, blame must be assigned immediately. It’s the most important thing. Everyone is made aware of the person or department who contributed to the latest screw-up. Instead of building teamwork and partnerships, this builds defenses and antagonism. Employees and even supervisors are afraid to make decisions. Even minor improvements can be tremendously difficult in the waste dump.

    In a different environment, employees are encouraged to make decisions. They are trusted to do so because productive effort has been spent teaching them to make the right decisions. Naturally, if someone repeats a mistake something must be done, but a public lashing designed to intimidate is never the answer. Asking questions is sincerely encouraged; it’s understood that asking questions is how people learn. Supervisors are supportive and calm. That’s how they were identified for their positions. When things go wrong—and they will—supervisors take it offline, come up with a solution and implement it. Team-building is part of a supervisors daily routine, and it’s contagious.

    If you suspect your company has problems, start here:

    1. Seek the truth and accept it.
    Is your workplace a toxic waste dump? The first step in fixing the problem is acknowledging it.

    2. Determine whether your company is open to a new philosophy.
    If the owner or principal believes in fear-based management, it doesn’t matter what you think. You may not be able to implement change here, consider alternatives.

    3. Evaluate and upgrade your staff.
    Are the people in positions of authority part of the solution or part of the problem? Good employees don’t always make good supervisors. Without good examples to follow, where would they have learned these skills? They didn’t, so either educate them or make the necessary changes.

  • http://JesseWayne Jesse Wayne

    Rocco has described my work environment pretty accurately, unfortunately Item number 2 is the case and alternatives are nearly impossible to find with the economy in the tank.

    So, the suffering must continue on a daily basis until I can find something else.
    It is a shame as we have a lot of talented individuals that are the only thing that is providing a pulse for ailing establishment.
    With strong, dynamic people oriented leadership we could weather this economic storm, however, it appears as if we may suffer a slow death like many other printing companies.

    (By the way, speaking out, even in the most diplomatic way is not acknowledged and usually frowned upon.)