Adam Grant to job seekers and business leaders: watch out for the 4Rs of a toxic work culture

Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina famously begins, “Happy families are alike; people think you can say the same thing for happy businesses.

It’s true that every toxic workplace has its unique fingerprint of bad fun, questionable ethics, and unethical regulations. Neither narcissistic managers nor HR departments are as bound by the rules as they are scary. But, according to some of the expert advice in the industry, under this diversity of the skin hides a lot of similarity.

Every toxic business culture is not toxic in its own right. Any form of dangerous corporate culture can be traced back to a handful of fundamental mistakes, they argue.

A “drunk” culture is not something you want

Part of the confusion about what makes a toxic culture, according to VC and author Hunter Walk, is that many of us use the word “toxic” It’s a culture that doesn’t like us. .

“Coinbase, which is very controversial in explaining what is expected of you, is not my cup of tea, but I can appreciate the light they provide for potential employees. The startups like a dream. But that personal interest and no return is neither good nor bad,” he wrote in his previous blog.

I’d rather cut off a few toes than work in a place that forces people to wear clothes and sit in cubicles for 12 hours a day, but it’s not to spend the entire property of the bank. It just means I’m not cut out for Goldman Sachs (no news there).

So if a bad culture isn’t something idiosyncratic and a person you can judge by gut feelings, how do you define a bad culture or bad business?

Adam Grant’s four deadly sins of a toxic workplace culture

In his latest WorkLife podcast, Wharton professor and best-selling author Adam Grant offers a simple framework to answer this question. He explained that a toxic business culture is about a lack of equality. Businesses become bitter when they go too far to one side on two scales of competing values: relationships with results and rules versus risk.

Put too much emphasis on one of these four 4Rs, he says, and you’ll be committing one of the four deadly sins of workplace culture:

  1. Relationships. If not stepping on toes or upsetting people is the most important thing in a business, it’s not surprising that getting things done falls down on the list of priorities. The result mediocrity and culture without responsibility. “If you do a terrible job, you can get ahead like people like you,” says Grant of this first form of ownership.

  2. Results. This is another result of changing relationships with results. At the top of this page are companies that value relationships so much that they throw human rights under the bus in the name of performance. Grant (and research) provides this diversity bitter it is the deadliest of business culture mistakes and can result in disrespect, harassment, unethical decisions, and cutting edge behavior.

  3. Rules. Every business needs to balance the stability of the rules regarding the costs of risks. If you stray too far from the rules, you’ll end up with art—and start killing. professional business. These are the companies that ask you to send a document in triplicate to use the bathroom, and look at the slightest changes in the status quo with suspicion and anger.

  4. Problem. At the other end of the spectrum from rules and business is the chaos of no rules. protest. When everyone can do whatever they want without coordination or coordination, people end up working in the same way, and important lessons are not learned. , and the effort is over.

“Code can be rewritten. Products can be built, changed, sunsets. Investors can be bought. But culture is like super-cement poured into every nook and cranny, often beyond the reach of a jackhammer. This is important because the classification, evaluation, and discussion of culture is very specific,” wrote Walk in his blog post.

Grant’s framework provides a simple way to do such an analysis. Whether you’re a job seeker trying to figure out if the company culture you’re joining is toxic or a manager who wants to make sure job seekers don’t find your culture toxic, it helps When you have a mental chart of the types of toxins you are looking for. Grant’s 4Rs provide that.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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