When it's time to reboot your culture

When Brian Scudamore started 1-800-GOT-JUNK, he was building out a vision he had while trying to pay his way through college. He'd realized a lot of people needed help decluttering their homes and getting rid of stuff they no longer wanted, so he turned that -- getting rid of junk -- into a business. What started as him and a truck quickly turned into a 12-man operation. 

When your culture is so unhealthy that you need to fire everyone

As demand grew, Scudamore hired people who could get the job done; however, focused on scaling, he didn't really pay attention to the quality of the people he was bringing on. Unfortunately, by 1994, he realized he had built a really unhealthy culture and fired his entire staff. 

"I was five years into my business and I realized that things weren’t working out," Scudamore told American Express. "I had 11 people working for me at the time, and nine of them were bad apples. I fired them all, though, because I knew that I had to clean house. I realized that I was not having fun anymore. I was avoiding time in the office. The business wasn’t delivering good customer service, it wasn’t friendly and we weren’t smiley. It was time for a change."

An act like that takes immense courage, and relentless dedication to a longterm vision. It might seem ruthless or cutthroat, but it paid off for Scudamore, whose company has been recognized as one the 50 Most Engaged Workplaces, World Blu Most Democratic Workplaces, Best Work Places in Canada, and Best Companies to work for in BC. 

Rather than lay people off, let people self-select themselves

A reboot doesn't always need to be so dramatic. While layoffs are often an important part of healing and rebuilding a culture, often not everyone needs to go. And at times, a change in company policy, philosophy or culture can drive those who no longer align with the company to leave on their own terms. One example is Zappos, who recently had 18% of their workforce accept a buyout after they implemented Holocracy at the company. 

The company says that the additional turnover in 2015 “was mostly due to us giving long-time employees the opportunity to pursue their dreams (average severance paid out was about 5.5 months pay when we last analyzed the data).” Additionally, the company seems unbothered by the numbers: “We have always felt like however many people took the offer was the right amount of people to take the offer, because what we really want is a group of Zapponians who are aligned, committed, and excited to push forward the purpose and vision of Zappos.” - The Atlantic

Do a quick assessment -- maybe things aren't so bad

Depending on the severity of the reboot your company needs, a refresh could be as simple as an action plan derived from an honest internal assessment:

  • What's working in our culture? 
  • What's not?
  • Is anyone at the company hurting our culture? 
  • Do we have any existing champions of the culture we want to elevate?
  • In a perfect world, what would our culture look like one year from now?
  • What might stand in our way of getting there, if we keep going as we are?
  • What additional resources or changes need to be made for us to realize our vision?

Over to you

Do you regularly assess the health of your company culture? We'd love to know how. And if you have any stories of company culture resets, we'd love to hear about them in the comments below, or via email (editor @ hris.dead.com)