Several times each year our firm is hired to assess organizational culture. These culture assessments primarily serve to inform our recruiting efforts, but on occasion they afford us the opportunity to help business leaders get a clearer gauge of their organizational health. We spend time with the senior leadership team, middle managers, front lines, and more, working through the same set of questions. For example, “which of the core values do you resonate with the most and why?” “How would you assess the leadership of the organization?” The responses are anonymous and thus produce some fairly honest feedback. We pool the data and summarize our findings in a report for the senior leadership team. Often, what follows is a significant shift in the cultural trajectory.

As a baseline we have developed a framework for four types of healthy cultures and four types of toxic cultures. Today we’ll focus on the former.

by Matt Thomas

Meet Julie and Jake. They are both mid-market CEOs. Julie runs a well funded SaaS company. She co-founded the business with a close friend who has since moved onto another project. Now Julie sits alone at the top of a healthy organization with dry powder, optimistic investors, and a newly formed board of advisors. She recently graced the cover of a popular technology magazine and is celebrated as an up and coming CEO to watch. Her company consistently ranks high on national “Top Places to Work” lists. Julie’s executive team is strong and in a recent company wide leadership evaluation, the feedback was nearly unanimous. Julie’s people love her and they trust her.

Jake leads a large manufacturing operation. He bought the business from his dad 5 years ago, has tripled revenue, and recently acquired two of his biggest competitors. Privately held, the buck starts and stops with Jake. He has a reputation for being aggressive, unpredictable, and charismatic. Last year, Jake turned over half of his executive team for the fourth year in a row. Weekly he scrolls through the glassdoor reviews trying to guess which former employee posted each negative review. For the past two years he has worked with an executive coach focusing primarily on vulnerability in the workplace. He has not made much progress. Jake’s people fear him and they do not trust him.

Other than industry and origin story, what separates these two? They are both bright, driven, and eager to leave their mark on the world. Their organizations have clear vision, values, and strong financial models. From the outside looking in they would both be viewed as tremendous success stories. So what gives?