“A sure sign of an unhealthy culture is communication that flows down rather than up and across.” My experience is that most executives and managers think they’re great communicators (!), and even if they are, don’t recognize the importance of continuing to learn and practice with EVERYONE in the organization.  How’s your company’s communication practice going?


The Five Most Common Culture Problems — And Their Solutions

Liz Ryan


Dear Liz,

I’m interviewing to become the first HR Director for a business-to-business services firm. I’ve had two interviews and I really like what I’ve heard so far. For my third (and I believe, final) interview, the regional President who will interview me has asked me to prepare questions for him.

I do have questions for him, but I want to focus in on his Business Pain as I’ve learned from you to do! If they didn’t have significant pain, they wouldn’t be replacing their former HR Manager (who moved out of state) with an HR Director now.

The company outsources its payroll, benefits and HRIS to a third-party vendor. Everyone I have met in the company says that the vendor does a great job. So, I think the region’s Business Pain is more in the area of culture, which is not surprising because they are growing fast and hiring a lot of people.

What are some of the most common culture problems you observe, and if you can share them in a few words, how do you solve the most common problems? I want to talk about my experience creating training programs, communication programs and retention programs as I think these kinds of interventions could be very useful for my (hopefully) new employer.

Thanks Liz!



Dear Chris,

Often as HR practitioners we are taught to see the world through program-colored glasses. That is, we get used to observing a team and a workplace with the question, “What do these folks need — more training, more communication or a different pay structure?” planted in our heads.

We have tools at our disposal — the ability to write policies, classrooms and devices through which we can reach our teammates, and so on — and we want to use them! I teach the opposite approach. Forget about interventions for now and focus on what is happening inside your possible next employer. What is causing your regional President sleepless nights right now? I guarantee you he isn’t lying awake thinking “I need a new leadership development program!”

Pain shows up in little ways at first. Your regional President (I’m calling him Mike) undoubtedly runs into daily or many-times-daily issues that make him wonder “Are we doing everything we need to do to keep this team focused and connected as we grow?” The answer may well be “No.” It’s very hard for growing companies to keep all the pieces together.

Small companies tend to grow a ton in a short term and then overreact by installing too much HR infrastructure (and the worst, crusty kind of infrastructure to boot). They rush to install formal systems like 360-degree feedback programs and annual Employee Engagement Surveys.