Having a successful business is not just about creating the next big idea or must-have product; it is also about the people that one employs. A toxic work culture can be fatal for a business’s bottom line, yet a quick search through GlassDoor proves that there are plenty of companies being run into the ground thanks to mismanagement and poor leadership. 

While poor attitudes and shifty management are top reasons for employees leaving a company, not all businesses know how to pivot and correct toxic workplaces — much to the detriment of employee retention. A famous saying coined by Peter Drucker is that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” What does this mean, how does it influence a business’s success, and what can firms do to improve a suffering culture within a company?

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

While it may sound like a trendy bit of jargon, Peter Drucker’s statement gets to the core of what drives businesses — its people. Unsurprisingly, happy people put in 110 percent at their jobs, are likelier to stick around, and generally enjoy working in their roles. Conversely, unhappy employees are often running for the hills. This shows with businesses that struggle with employee retention: roles that feel like slow roads to nowhere, and management that enjoys unnecessary power trips. 

Ultimately, how a company treats its employees inevitably translates to how it manages public-facing interactions with clients or consumers. If employees are routinely told that their opinions are irrelevant and managers pointlessly pull rank or any feedback is met with dismissive statements like, “This is how it’s always been done,” it is safe to say that the company will ultimately stagnate. Sadly, this disjointed approach will also pass down to consumers or clients. 

So, what makes some companies true rock stars when it comes to corporate culture and other ones duds that cannot keep employees for up to a year? 

Make Sure Everyone’s Voice Is Heard

This isn’t to say that every opinion needs to be catered to as if it is a revelation. However, if the only people whose voices are given relevance are C-suite executives and a few high-rank managers, then the people who work within those departments are being told that their opinions and feedback are irrelevant. Businesses prioritizing the culture know that even the new intern who just joined last week can have relevant input thanks to the fresh perspective that comes from not having been enmeshed in the company for years. 

Overall, be committed to this promise. Do not encourage feedback and then punish employees brave enough to give honest responses that shine a light on problematic areas of a business. 

Remember That No One Is Above Change

The salaried employee is not the only person that needs to be flexible. Even if specific processes that previous executives implemented have been followed for years, it does not mean that they are accurate or even the most efficient way to manage core business tasks. The sign of a toxic workplace is one where the higher-ups are never willing to make concessions or change processes and mindsets — especially if they are outdated or inefficient. 

Do Not Hold Space For Toxic Behaviors

Nothing says “we are a toxic workplace” like a company that allows managers to treat their direct reports like grunts or where favored employees get to take extreme liberties while others have to toe the line. Everything from allowing off-color jokes to creating a fear-based workplace where any dissenting opinion is severely punished are great ways to send employees back to the job boards. 

This includes companies that offer plenty of lip service about their welcoming diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) workplace — only to marginalize and push out employees from underrepresented groups that call out problematic DEI issues when they arise. 

Celebrate Success Big And Small

Sure, closing a major multi-million dollar deal is a major win. Still, if the only employees who get showered with praise are those with the most visibility, it presents an image that anyone lower in the company is not essential. Avoid this by taking time to recognize employees who go the extra mile, whether it is working overtime to complete quarterly reports or even the cleaning staff that keeps the office spotless and the break room fully stocked. 

Be Intentional

Creating a welcoming office culture that celebrates all employees, gives space for voices, and avoids unnecessary shows of rank takes work and does not happen overnight — especially in companies that are trying to overhaul an existing toxic environment. As a C-suite or management-level employee, be intentional when creating plans to improve the workspace. While free lunches, endless snacks, and happy hours are nice, initiatives that actually underscore employee value are more critical. This can include periodic reviews that allow for payment increases or role changes, a meaningful benefit package employees can actually use, and creating a space where all voices are valued.