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A toxic company culture can poison even the most passionate and dedicated employees. Unfortunately, this was the case at Ellard Technologies. The once fast-growing tech startup had lost its way, plagued by low morale, lack of vision, and divisive internal politics.
Many employees felt adrift, unsure of the company's direction or their own roles. Without a clear mission to rally behind, people operated in silos rather than collaborating. Meetings were tense shouting matches instead of focused strategy sessions. There was no camaraderie or sense of shared purpose binding teammates together.
This corroded culture took a toll on productivity and innovation. Talented people became disengaged, doing the bare minimum instead of bringing their creativity and passion to the job. The company's early vision of changing the world through technology felt like a distant memory. Short-term profits were prioritized over long-term investments.
Toxic culture doesn't happen overnight. It creeps in gradually through thoughtless policies, bad incentives, lack of leadership, and employees' own apathy. Researchers have found that unhealthy norms can develop when leaders and managers are distracted, overworked, or prioritizing the wrong things.
Without intervention, negativity and dysfunction become the status quo. Talent flees, performance suffers, and the company slides into decline. Numerous organizations have crumbled under the weight of cultural problems. Kodak, despite pioneering digital photography, went bankrupt in 2012 partly due to its rigid, old-fashioned culture.
A lack of purpose and meaning at work leaves employees feeling directionless and unfulfilled. Without a clear sense of how their role contributes to something larger, people struggle to find motivation and engagement. This epidemic of aimlessness has far-reaching consequences for workers' wellbeing as well as company performance.
In a recent Gallup survey, only 33% of employees reported feeling engaged at their jobs. The majority said they feel disconnected, sleepwalking through the workday and counting down the minutes until quitting time. Another poll by Staples revealed that nearly 60% of North American workers don"t have a good understanding of their company"s vision.
Feeling directionless often stems from misalignment between personal values and company values. Employees want to feel that their work matters and contributes to a larger purpose. But many companies fail to effectively communicate their vision and purpose. Workers are then left confused about how their individual roles fit into the big picture.
A sense of purpose is key for motivation and productivity. Researchers have found that having purpose is linked to better life satisfaction, self-esteem, and resilience. Purpose-oriented employees have more grit and perseverance when facing challenges at work. They report better health and sleep quality due to lower stress.
Without purpose, workers struggle to find meaning in their tasks. Cultivating passion and creativity becomes difficult when the end goal is unclear. Key priorities blur together, leading to frustration and lackluster performance. Employees may still be competent at their actual job duties, but struggle to go above and beyond or take initiative.
Chronic boredom and disengagement have far-reaching impacts. Employees who don't understand the company's purpose are more likely to miss work and ultimately quit their jobs. For those who stay, motivation and performance decline over time in the absence of meaningful direction.
Realizing the urgent need for culture change, Ellard's leadership team decided to take an unconventional approach: they brought in a professional life coach to work with employees. Though often associated with self-help, life coaching has become increasingly popular in the corporate world as a way to drive transformation. Rather than dictating solutions, coaches empower people to find their own answers through self-discovery and values alignment.
Ellard partnered with Accomplish Coaching to facilitate one-on-one sessions for all employees. These confidential meetings gave people a safe space to reflect on their purpose, values, strengths, and goals. For many, it was the first time their opinions had been sought out. The experience was eye-opening.
Employees appreciated the chance to process workplace challenges with an objective third party. As one participant shared, "Our coaching sessions created room for me to think more deeply about what I want to accomplish here. My coach asked thoughtful questions that helped me get clarity."
The coach encouraged people to envision their ideal workplace culture. This exercise highlighted gaps between the current and desired reality. Many expressed wanting a greater sense of connection, open communication, and creativity.
In addition to one-on-one meetings, the coach led team workshops focused on building trust and vulnerability. Colleagues participated in bonding activities like sharing personal stories and motivations. These interactions built empathy and erased divisions between departments. For the first time, people saw each other as human beings rather than faceless coworkers.
Participants also learned techniques for aligning daily choices with core values. The coach introduced vision boards, affirmations, and mindfulness practices to keep employees centered amidst stress. Equipped with these tools, people reported increased resilience and ability to stay focused.
A critical step in the coaching process was helping employees get in touch with their core values and passions. This self-discovery enabled them to find purpose and meaning in their work.
Values are the deeply held beliefs that shape our choices and behavior. When aligned with company values, they provide an internal compass to guide decisions and actions. However, many people don"t consciously consider their values. The coach encouraged introspective exercises like envisioning an ideal life and identifying common themes. This unearthed employees' top values like innovation, collaboration, work-life balance, and contribution to society.
Understanding passions also catalyzed engagement. Passion provides fuel and energy to persevere through challenges. Employees explored activities that ignited their curiosity and excitement. For some, this meant collaborating cross-functionally on projects. Others felt motivated by mentoring junior colleagues or volunteering in the community. Several requested to switch roles to better align with their passions.
By identifying values and passions, employees gained clarity about their priorities and ideal work environment. This revelation was incredibly empowering. Workers realized they had more control over their experience than previously thought. Small actions like joining a workplace committee or volunteering for a desired project helped them feel purposeful and energized.
As one employee shared, "I rediscovered my passion for software design through the coaching exercises. This led me to request a transfer to our development team which has been reinvigorating. I'm excited to come to work and contribute my skills in a more impactful way."
Another admitted, "I didn't realize how much my values around work-life balance had changed over the years. The coach helped me see that my long hours were taking a toll on my health and family life. I've now set boundaries to leave work on time which has reduced my stress levels."
This values alignment rippled through the organization as employees made empowered choices. One worker started a weekly mindfulness session to promote focus and camaraderie with his team. Another suggested a job shadowing program so people could explore different roles. Small actions added up to gradually transform workplace culture.
The coach encouraged a technique called "dreamlining" where people envisioned their ideal life in 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years. This helped identify milestones for personal growth, relationships, health, career, and more. Employees then translated these into S.M.A.R.T. goals - specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
For example, Sam realized his passion for mentoring others. His 1-year goal was to establish a mentorship program between senior and junior engineers. In 5 years, he aimed to manage the program across the entire engineering department.
Janelle uncovered a desire to improve work-life balance. She set a goal to leave the office by 6pm twice a week over the next 3 months. In a year, she wanted to take two weeks of vacation which she hadn"t done in over 5 years.
Meaningful goals require soul-searching. Employees asked themselves tough questions, like "How do I want to grow this year?", "What legacy do I want to leave?", "What matters most to me in life?" This exercise prompted many "a-ha" moments about untapped aspirations.
Of course, goals require follow-through. Participants received coaching on overcoming obstacles like fear of failure. They learned to break big goals down into bite-sized action steps. Small wins built momentum and self-efficacy.
Coworkers supported each other"s goals through mentorship, advice, or collaborating on projects. This camaraderie replaced previous silos and competitiveness. Employees felt invested in helping colleagues grow into their full potential.
Managers also received coaching on nurturing goal achievement. Rather than micromanaging, they learned to have empowering conversations focused on removing roadblocks. Checking in on goals became an opportunity for growth rather than criticism.
Amidst the chaos of modern workplaces, gaining clarity and focus is easier said than done. Employees juggle overflowing inboxes, back-to-back meetings, and constantly shifting priorities. Distractions and noise make it difficult to think deeply, strategize, and align efforts with overarching goals. However, the coaching process helped Ellard employees cut through the clutter to gain much-needed clarity and focus.
Participants learned to structure their days to maximize productivity and energy levels. The coach introduced techniques like time-blocking to create distraction-free blocks for focused work. Scheduling priorities rather than reacting helped employees feel in control of their packed schedules. Daily reflection at the end of the workday enabled people to process what went well and what needed adjustment.
The coach also emphasized the importance of mental health breaks to recharge creativity. Employees began taking walking meetings or retreating to quiet spaces when needing an energy reset. The simple act of stepping away from the desk for even a few minutes did wonders for gaining perspective and clarity.
In team meetings, the coach modeled active listening and synthesizing takeaways to prevent misalignment. Participants adopted these skills to have clearer conversations. Summarizing key discussion points and action items before moving on kept everyone aligned.
Employees also learned to identify and minimize unnecessary work that didn"t align with goals. This cleared away distractions to focus time and energy on what really mattered, both individually and organizationally. As Janelle realized, "I was wasting so much time replying to emails that were "nice to know" rather than "need to know." The coach helped me implement systems to only focus my limited time on critical tasks."
The ability to gain clarity and focus doesn"t happen overnight. It requires vigilance and continually realigning with values, passion, and purpose. However, small habits like daily reflection or time-blocking accumulate into profound transformation. Employees reported being able to think more creatively and strategically amidst the workplace frenzy. As focus increased, so did job satisfaction and engagement.
Rather than feeling depleted, employees had the energy to enthusiastically tackle challenges. They became more proactive, finding ways to apply their skills for greater impact rather than waiting for direction. Coworkers noticed their colleagues seemed "sharper and more present" in meetings, contributing valuable insights.
The transformation at Ellard soon bore fruit in the form of improved morale and performance across the company. After months of coaching focused on self-discovery, values alignment, and purpose, employees exhibited markedly higher engagement and productivity.
Boosting morale was critical for sparking a new trajectory after years of negativity and decline. Participants emerged from coaching feeling energized and empowered to drive positive change. They appreciated leadership's investment in their growth and input through the coaching process. This sparked renewed loyalty and passion.
Another admitted, "My morale had been so low that I was halfway out the door. After coaching revealed my strengths and purpose, I'm fully committed to turning things around here."
Research shows that morale and engagement are intricately linked to performance. In a Gallup study across 195 organizations and thousands of business units, teams with high morale consistently exceeded profitability, productivity, safety records, and quality metrics of teams with poor morale. They also had significantly lower turnover, shrinkage, and absenteeism.
At Ellard, improved morale translated into employees exhibiting more initiative, creativity, and going above-and-beyond. Mark, who uncovered a passion for sustainability through coaching, spearheaded an office composting and recycling program. This not only aligned with his values but also saved thousands annually in waste disposal costs.
Another participant, Akiko, set a goal to improve cross-department collaboration. She formed an events committee to organize informal social activities. Her team building efforts broke down previous silos. Coworkers now proactively share ideas and expertise between departments.
Previously disenchanted workers felt invested in company success for the first time in years. For example, the marketing department responded to a last-minute project request by rallying together and working evenings/weekends to successfully deliver before the deadline. Their agility saved a high-profile client account.
This turbocharged performance unearthed employee potential that had been languishing under the former toxic culture. Hidden talents emerged when given the opportunity. Leadership was pleasantly surprised by the fresh ideas and initiatives bubbling up organically from below.
Seeing positive impact served as a self-fulfilling prophecy to continue building momentum. Employees felt pride in rehabilitating the company culture and empowered to do more. As one participant shared, "It feels amazing to work with teammates who are equally committed to excellence. We experienced firsthand how much more we can achieve together through the coaching."
The rising tide lifted all boats. Re-engaged employees elevated collective performance as colleagues also increased their standards. A virtuous cycle took hold, replacing the former vicious cycle of negativity and decline.
The transformation at Ellard underscores that culture change must come from within. An outside consultant can provide tools and perspective, but employees themselves must do the hard work. They must look inward to identify core values, unearth passions, and discover purpose. This self-driven introspection enabled Ellard participants to take ownership of change, rather than passively waiting for management to provide direction.
Research confirms that purpose-driven employees are key drivers of positive culture. They don't accept the status quo but feel compelled to act on their values and shape their environment. Small actions snowball into waves of change.
Consider how Starbucks underwent a remarkable turnaround in 2008, led by engaged employees rather than top-down initiatives. A leaked memo by founder Howard Schultz revealed that the company had lost its way, valuing profits over quality and customer experience. Store morale suffered from cut labor hours and increased pressure to meet targets. Schultz called on employees to collectively rehabilitate the culture. Workers responded enthusiastically, brainstorming improvements like more efficient workflows. Baristas also started greeting regulars by name and writing uplifting messages on cups. These small details showcased renewed passion and care, winning back customer loyalty. Within two years, the company completely rebounded.
A similar movement arose at Ford in 2006 as executives realized their culture had become too negative and hierarchical. The CEO appealed to all employees to commit to working together in a spirit of openness, transparency and humanity. Workers took up the charge, speaking up in meetings and showing sincere interest in each other's lives. Leadership followed suit, asking for input rather than dictating. The cultural shift enabled Ford to successfully navigate the recession while domestic competitors faltered.
The open source movement also demonstrates the power of intrinsically motivated people unified by shared purpose. Thousands of volunteers around the world collaborate on software like Linux and Mozilla. Contributors give their time and expertise not for monetary gain but because they believe open access to technology creates social good. This common purpose bonds strangers across geographic and cultural divides. The result is high-quality open source software that rivals offerings from tech giants.
The lesson for companies is clear: Culture transformation cannot be superficial or imposed from outside. Lasting change must tap into employees' deeply held values and hunger for purposeful work. Galvanized by inner conviction, they become unstoppable change agents. Their passionate actions speak louder than any PR campaign or rebranding effort.
The journey of purpose is a lifelong one, full of twists and turns as we navigate changes within ourselves and the world around us. While Ellard Technologies has made great strides, sustaining cultural transformation requires ongoing vigilance. Complacency and inertia threaten to gradually erode engagement over time. How can the company continue progressing on its path of purpose?
Regular check-ins will be critical for re-centering and realigning. The coaching exercises of envisioning ideal lives, exploring passions, and setting meaningful goals must become habitual rituals. Scheduling quarterly reviews ensures these practices remain top of mind amidst busy schedules. Coworkers should share progress on goals while identifying potential roadblocks. Managers must continue having empowering conversations that nurture growth.
Leadership should frequently communicate the company's vision and purpose. This gives employees' individual roles context and meaning. Celebrating small wins will also keep momentum going. Consider a monthly callout of "Purpose Heroes" who exemplified values through impactful actions.
However, the company must strike a balance between structure and flexibility. Imposing too many programs and requirements risks snuffing out the organic, employee-driven transformation. The most powerful changes at Ellard bubbled up from within when people felt inspired to act on their passions. Preserve space for autonomy while guiding through gentle nudges.
Foster a growth mindset recognizing transformation is continuous, not a one-time event. View setbacks as opportunities for learning. Rotate employees through different roles to broaden perspectives and shape culture from the inside out. Bring in outside coaches or advisors to offer fresh viewpoints and best practices. But also regularly survey employees to hear their ideas for improvement.
Extend purpose beyond office walls into the community. Enable employees to volunteer for causes they care about through service days or donations. Collaborate with nonprofits and local schools to share resources and mentor the next generation. Outreach programs unite colleagues while benefiting society.