The Perils of a Toxic Organizational Cutlure

Startling language – I know – but this is precisely how many of the people working right next to you and/or within your organization feel every single day. They bring these feelings in the office with them; they are serving your clients, your patients, your constituents, your students, your customers, your teams, your staff, your faculty, your directors, your leaders, your executives and You.

The Nobody Group

These people – the “Nobody” group – hold titles that cover the spectrum and reflect positions from the highest and lowest levels on the organizational chart. They run the gamut from organizational cultureC-Suite executives to finance managers, to human resource professionals, to consultants, trainers, strategists, leaders, directors, managers, teachers, electricians, social workers, doctors, lawyers, custodial, etc. within and across all industries.

The “Nobody” group is comprised of those who feel irrelevant to the organizational system, don’t know how they connect to the mission, vision and big picture, let alone any organizational strategy. They don’t feel challenged, have not connected their passion to their purpose, and likely feel demoralized on the job. Yes, the people you say are your team, don’t know where, how or even if they really matter to organizational success or to you, and yet, it is acceptable that they spend the organization’s money and time giving you a mere glimpse of what their real potential could be while looking for another job on your computer systems.

How Does One Get in the Nobody Group?

How do we become part of the “Nobody” group? Well, we can put ourselves in the group by not adequately staying abreast of the knowledge, competencies and practices in our respective field; by not networking and building meaningful relationships; by not being politically savvy, by not being a leader or being emotionally intelligence enough to connect; by not demonstrating effective communication and conflict management skills; by not being strategic; and by a whole host of other methods and behaviors.

But wait a minute – most people in the “Nobody” group did not get there by choice; they did not miss the mark and fail to do what is listed in the above paragraph. Most people actually do work hard to elevate themselves, their platforms and their portfolios by getting more training, more education, more certifications, more experience, and still more, more, more credentials so that they can go out there and be noticed, stand out from the crowd, compete, and land that perfect, wonderful job or career/business opportunity. And yet, after all of this, people land in their dream jobs and get positions at their dream organizations and realize they are actually a big Nobody!

Here is the big IRONY! In an organization where people feel like “nobodys” and “somebodys” everyone is unhappy because power grabs, bullying and micromanaging thrive. It is an “us” and “them” culture with false transparencies, mistrust and massive leadership failures. There is not a real safe place for any group in an environment like this so even the “somebodys” are so insecure that they are not even being effective and don’t get much real meaning from their place.

Here are Three (3) Reasons to Explain How and Why this Happens

1. The Culture Supports Complacency

It is my position that after you remove the small percentage that place themselves in the “Nobody” group, you still have a huge percentage of professionals, paraprofessionals and laborers who are placed in this category either by design, chance or default – and by way of a complacent culture where chaos trumps accountability, leaders and employees at all levels are left to die on the vine.

Communication is not transparent, the organization trifles through a new leader, a new strategy, and a new change initiative often enough to keep everyone off balance. Managing the chaos becomes the theme of the culture, and people try to find as much gratification as possible from that.

2. Leadership Doesn’t Notice

The strategy, culture and leadership landscape are so dysfunctional that everything becomes too cumbersome to get properly addressed. Often times ineffectual leaders are so busy fighting and scraping to get to or keep their place in the so called “Somebody” group that they don’t care to notice or don’t know what to do about it.

The lack of action and decisions mean the same sad messages continue to be sent and received, and the ultimate costs to the organization in human capital and financial waste cycle on. In this type of environment even those in the “Somebody” group are miserable because they never really feel like “somebody,” so they settle for the cosmetics of the view and hope no one figures them out.

3. Poor Performance Gets Rewarded

No one can define the actual expected strategic outcomes from department to department or division to division or even within a single department. Hence, no one is truly measuring anything. Metrics may even be outlined and data may be collected, but no one is ever turning it into meaningful intelligence for decision makers. When you can’t interpret how one program or service adds value over another, you can’t adequately reward or eliminate the program or service, and project managers and team don’t get properly distinguished for success!

If it can’t be defined, it can’t be defended and it also can’t be acknowledged. High performers don’t get recognized in any meaningful way, and when you are not recognizing and rewarding high performance, you are treating everyone’s performance the same.

By default that means that poor performance gets rewarded because there is no distinguishable performance system in place. Surely, some people in the “Somebody” group know they don’t belong there, but because there is no distinction being made, the high performers – the real somebodys – that are in the “Nobody” group will just stay there until they can leave the organization.

It’s All About Me

‘I am in the “Somebody” group – a position of some influence, some level of authority or leadership, and I have to protect my place.’

This is what many “somebodys” feel and think every single day – hence the “It’s all about me” mentality. It may not be that these people don’t actually care about their team members, staff, faculty, or employees (fill it in with what your staff members are called). They are afraid that they could lose their “Somebody” spot, which is fragile to begin with, if they go forth advocating for the BIG and small things that need to happen to change the climate.

The solution is NOT to become one more person in the unhappy “Somebody” group.  At the very least, after reading this post, if you feel you are in the “Nobody” group, you solution puzzle.smallnow know you need no longer fret about getting into the “Somebody” group. You see because those in the “Somebody” group make it all about them because they aren’t hanging on any better, may even be doing worse, than you are.

The grass in this type of organization is brown on all sides – not greener. Your goal is not to get to the “Somebody” group and make it all about you; your goal is better targeted to get out of any of these groups by either serving as a catalyst to change the organizational climate or move on to a completely better one.

There are several other factors/reasons that this somebody / nobody climate exists. Can you highlight some below?

by Terina Allen
President & CEO, ARVis Institute
Chair, ARVoices Strategic Leadership Network