In too many companies, there is the appearance of harmony and alignment but in reality there’s often dysfunction simmering beneath the surface. The intention behind cultivating a nice culture is often genuine. Leaders believe they’re doing a good thing that will motivate people and create inclusion. But often it has the opposite effect and the result is a lack of honest communication, intellectual bravery, innovation, and accountability.
Creating a “nice” company culture is a laudable goal. But has your company taken “niceness” too far? Is there dysfunction simmering beneath the surface? An insistence on politeness can result in a lack of honest communication, intellectual bravery, and accountability. If you’re concerned your organization’s culture has veered into toxic niceness, try these tactics.
• Reset expectations. Be explicit that you want people to give candid feedback and ask tough questions. This change won’t be easy so clearly explain the organization’s current state, future state, and how the transition between the two will work.
• Demonstrate vulnerability. Don’t expect others to usher in a new era of truth-telling if you haven’t modeled the behavior first. You must be the first mover, demonstrating fallibility, and showing people that candor is rewarded.
• Provide air cover for people who speak up. When people do express dissenting views don’t reprimand them, but thank them.
Publicly challenge the status quo you helped create. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail “…there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.” Don’t cover that up in your efforts to be nice. Channel and manage the tension. That’s real kindness.
Do you have a strong company culture?
Is your culture too nice?
Clark, R. T. (2021, June). The Hazards of a “Nice” Company Culture. Harvard Business Review.
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