How to Spot a Fraudulent Company Culture

 

In recent months, we’ve seen a lot of organizations publicly touting their company values of diversity, inclusion, fairness, integrity, and trust, only to get called out later for not backing those lofty words up with any meaningful practice.

With so much focus and scrutiny lately on statements versus action in the business world, it’s time for us to get real, raw, and candid about company culture. Will this make some readers uncomfortable? Definitely. Is pushing through that discomfort part of the process? Absolutely. 

Getting real means diving into honest and fearless self-reflection. It means turning an unblinking eye toward how we lead and contribute culturally in our workplaces. 

Engagement scores are at a historic low right now, with only 22% of companies reporting any positive results. In light of this dismal statistic, we’re asking: How many organizations truly embody the values they claim are paramount to their cultural foundations? Moreover, do organizations know how to define, nurture, and manage this desired “culture,” or are these statements window-dressing to respond to what one believes the market wants to see or hear? 

The following list provides tips for how to spot a fraudulent culture, and how to take your first steps to fix it.

 

1. Leaders do not "walk the talk."

We all know the saying, "actions speak louder than words." This rings true when you consider how a leaders' actions (behaviors and interactions) align with an organization's stated cultural values. As research has shown, people's actions are the best way to gauge their real attitudes. Further, the results of those actions are what reveal an organization’s true culture and associated value systems.

For example, if you want to know whether to believe an organization that claims to value its employees and their contributions, simply ask a leader or an employee on the front-line of the business, "do you feel valued from the company?” and "can you reference the last act of appreciation shown to you by a leader or peer within the company?" That front-line team member’s response will begin to reveal how well leaders walk the talk!

 

2. Leaders cannot explain a value's worth to the business.

Consider anything of value to you in your life. Can you explain what it is worth to you? I bet most will say yes! Can you do the same about the core values that serve as the foundation of your organizational culture? An honest leader will say, "no." A value is defined as something that is of high importance, worth, or usefulness. A collector of antique cars can speak to the worth of the car; its rareness, uniqueness, and how that car must, therefore, receive special care and protection. The same premise should apply to the company values, which are paramount to the business. 

 

3. The "culture" is not sustainable.

Like a fake watch, a fake culture may look shiny and new at first, but it falls apart and tarnishes quickly over time. If an organization's values are not integrated into its leader’s daily language, practice, and measure of performance, then the organization’s culture will come across as  merely superficial..REMA 1000 CEO Henrik Burkal once said, "You know a corporate values program is doomed to fail when they start printing mouse mats with the values." 

Ask yourself how many mouse mats, picture frames, and drink cups have you seen with your company’s values printed on them, and then ask yourself why

 

4. See no values, speak no values, hear no values.

Often a company’s values are not visible and come up rarely in daily discussions (especially when leaders are making important decisions). Furthermore, no one in the organization can articulate the behaviors that produce the values. Don't believe me? Just ask your team. If no one from your team can articulate the behaviors they need to exhibit those values, you must question the values’ authenticity. 

The caveat to this point is that a leader should not have to keep reminding their staff about the values because your organization lives them out in their actions and decisions on a daily basis. The company values that form a company's culture should become obvious. There should be no need to over-market your company culture!

 

5. Leaders reference company values only when convenient.

Some leaders speak their values and leverage the premise behind them when appropriate; however, when the going gets tough in a business, those same leaders abandon their much-touted principles for an easier path. 

For example, we once engaged a client that espoused having a "people first" culture. Yet, when things got a bit hectic, they always reverted to their autocratic default style, where people were in fact the last point of consideration or engagement. Their "people first" culture did not ring true. It was simply window dressing. If you find that your organization's company values are only referenced to validate what others want to hear instead of allowing actions and decision to "speak" for the values, then you may have a disingenuous culture on your hands.

 

6. The company's value statements aren’t even their own.

Did you know that 80 percent of the Fortune 100 tout their values publicly, and among that group, 80 percent of them share the same values, almost word-for-word? Have you ever asked yourself why? The reality is many companies have hired "strategists" who all cherry-pick from the same popularly used values. 

This is not to suggest that some companies do not genuinely believe these values are important to their business. However, many do not genuinely believe in, embody, or practice these values daily. Many organizations have copied from other organizations or written values to satisfy desired perceptions. They become an ornament for the company instead of the framework for how leaders engage and interact to drive results for the business. 

 

7. No harm, no foul.

Nothing kills a great culture faster than employees watching a leadership team tolerate a bad one. In other words, where there are no consequences for management behaviors that are not aligned with an organization's stated values, there is no accountability to the culture you wish to create. Consider a quote once shared by a past client: "You promote what you permit." What you permit becomes your REAL culture. 

So, are you uncomfortable now? Are you self-reflecting as a leader? Good. Let the truth guide your next steps. Don't just sit there. Make your culture real. Create real cultural integrity. 


Look for more videos exploring these topics and more -- coming soon.


At POWERS, we believe that culture drives performance, and we work closely with businesses across all industries to address the above issues and more. If this piece resonated with you, we encourage you to continue the conversation and get in touch by emailing Dr. Donte Vaughn here or Randall Powers here

About the Authors

Vice President Organizational
Leadership & Culture

Dr. Donte Vaughn is the VP of Organizational Leadership and Culture with over 16 years of experience driving results.

Managing Partner

Randall Powers concentrates on Operational and Financial Due Diligence, Strategic Development,, and Business Development.