Five signals that your company’s culture is in chaos

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We've recently had a chat with Fons Trompenaars about the signals that can indicate a company culture in chaos. In this article we'll share our findings with you 🔎


Five signals that your company’s culture is in chaos

HR has always been about people. It’s the supportive framework that lets people focus on doing their jobs. Done right, HR processes make every step from first contact to exit discussion a smooth, frictionless experience.  

Culture is all about the people. It is a vibrant, constantly evolving social artifact that results when people decide to live, work, and socialise together. It is the knowledge, customs, and values that guide the daily actions of all people within an organisation. And, in many businesses, it is in crisis. 

This crisis may be hidden. It may be out in the open. Either way, it is extremely important to recognise, because a culture crisis will put serious strain on your employees – and affect your organisation’s progress towards its goals – if not addressed. Below are 5 signals that may indicate that your company’s culture is in chaos: 

1. You have many employee benefits, but burnout and motivation are big issues 

The ping pong table, 4 months of maternity and paternity leave, and annual get togethers in Marbella listed on your website’s careers page all amount to what looks like a very nice incentive package. But these are not starting points for defining and building your culture – they merely the outermost layers of your cultural blueprint. 

Do your online job applications emphasise innovation, but your working culture revolves around a top-down leadership style and risk-averse processes? How your culture is externally represented may attract a certain kind of person – but the reality of work life at your organisation may be better suited to different people. If so, the resulting dissonance will cause ripples in your cultural fabric. 

2. You are multicultural, but fractured 

The world is wide, and opportunities for expansion are plentiful. And the path of growth for many organisations leads across the borders of their home markets. But, as product/market fit in your home country is no guarantee of international success, culture/country fit is also a real challenge for businesses with international workforces. 

On top of that, the differences between the disciplines within your company may be just as wide as between countries. Does Finance know how to speak “marketing”? Are employees often unsure about what the rest of their business is up to? If the answer is yes, there is work to do. 

3. You have values, but you can’t see them play out in the daily life of your company 

Are your values really your values? Values are often not the nice, shiny words found in your brand slide deck, but rather the collective behaviours and decision-making principles that are so commonplace in your organisation, they aren’t even thought about.  

What do your people really value? How do they really behave on a daily basis? And, most importantly, who are the standard bearers for setting and acting out your values within your company? If your management and leadership teams often behave contrary to the values you espouse, then there is either a lack of leadership training, or your values have been incorrectly built.  

4. You focus on goals and leadership, but employees feel unable to do their jobs well 

Start-ups are loosely bonded seas of innovation and potential. Growth companies need authority and structure to build stability and repeatable processes. However, too much structure can lead to a crisis of autonomy. While well-meant, management’s efforts to understand the situation today, and build a roadmap for tomorrow, can make people feel as through their agency is taken away. 

This is no-one’s fault. But it must be recognised and rectified before it becomes a real issue. If decision-making makes leadership a bottleneck for progress, it is likely that employees are missing task-orientation – clearly-bounded focus areas with defined roles, responsibilities, and scopes, that free them to act with more autonomy and get the wheels turning once more. 

5. You have a culture code, but nobody knows what’s in it 

The three most important things people value in their working lives are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Everything else falls under these three needs. Yet a culture code is often built in isolation by a dedicated team that spends months researching and compiling the perfect, exhaustive list of things they wish their culture to be. 

Culture is a constantly evolving thing. It cannot be frozen in glass and held in stasis. The moment an exhaustive culture code is complete, it is outdated. A culture code should be an MVP, deployed within your organisation, constantly honed through open dialogue between all parts of the business. If your culture code isn’t this, it’s not likely to resonate and connect with your people. 


Chaos is one side of the cultural dilemma. The other is bureaucracy. You need a little of both, but like Yin and Yang, in a way that that each mutually complement each other. Culture is not a zero sum game.