What Is a Healthy Culture?

By Alan Weinstein, Vistage Chair | Executive Coach| Entrepreneur | Management Consultant | Author | College Professor | Presented by Vistage.

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This is the first of a two-part series on healthy cultures. See the second blog here. Vistage prides itself in identifying ways to help its members succeed. Our speakers and chairs work with members to learn and apply best practices that drive successful organizational outcomes. One area we focus on is creating a healthy culture. I recently interviewed Vistage members, both domestic and international, who created and implemented healthy cultures in their organizations. I would like to share what I learned from these members.

However, before I share the attributes of a healthy culture, I would like to first describe some attributes of unhealthy cultures. I am confident you will recognize these attributes from your personal experience with culture. In this first blog of a two-part series, I will share a few typical characteristics of unhealthy cultures.

Drama. Unhealthy cultures seem to wallow in drama. Employees tend to be fixated on telling stories about what is wrong with the company, conflicts frequently exist between departments and individuals who operate on their own personal agendas, and energy is spent defending or attacking policies and people.

Politics.  We often hear the phrase “It’s who you know, not what you know.” Using personal relationships to enhance one’s career, manipulating the system to gain advantage, and internal competition rather than organizational alignment are all attributes of cultures that thrive on politics.

Bureaucracy.  This is a concept that is often misunderstood. Most people think of bureaucracy negatively–as dysfunctional, slowing down decision making, and compartmentalizing the major functions of an organization. In its worst form, we agree with this description, but bureaucracy is not inherently bad. It can provide stability, clarity of roles and responsibilities, and a rational process for making decisions. However, organizations that put adherence to rules and procedures ahead of focusing on employee and customer needs are examples of unhealthy cultures.

Marginalizing People. Treating people as a variable expense, defining and engineering jobs based on tasks to be performed or on workflow efficiencies while ignoring a job’s toll on workers, and treating people as tools rather than partners in the quest for success are all examples of unhealthy cultures.

Winner Take All. This mentality is particularly troublesome in our economy today. The differential in pay and status between executives who manage companies and the average worker has been growing. Workers who do not share in or feel to have been a part of the financial success of the company are often dissonant and have little loyalty to the company or its goals.

Organizations with unhealthy cultures pay a price in poor employee engagement and lost opportunity to maximize organizational success. In part two of our two-part series, I will contrast unhealthy cultural attributes with those of healthy cultures as practiced by the Vistage members I interviewed. Healthy cultures focus on positive human energy not on drama, politics, or rules and procedures. They treat employees with respect and appreciation for their contributions as players on a winning team, capable of accomplishing extraordinary results. Healthy cultures lead to high morale, high productivity, and the capability to overcome obstacles through problem solving, a can-do attitude, and the unleashing of positive human energy.


Presented By:

Vistage is the world’s largest executive coaching organization for small and midsize businesses. For more than 60 years they have been helping CEOs, business owners and key executives solve their toughest challenges through a comprehensive approach to success. At the heart of their proven formula is confidential peer advisory groups and executive coaching sessions.


Disclaimer: The above commentary entails the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

After receiving his PhD in Organizational Psychology Dr. Weinstein held professorships at Carnegie-Mellon, Oakland University, and Canisius College. At Canisius he chaired the Management & Marketing Department, founded the Center for Entrepreneurship, The Institute for Family Business, and Entrepreneurs on Campus. In 1992, Dr. Weinstein started the first Vistage group in Western New York and currently chairs a key group and an Emerging Leader group. He served on several boards of directors including Perry’s Ice Cream, Lasertron, Stride Tool and Ciminelli Development. Dr. Weinstein authored Executive Coaching and the Process of Change and co-authored Unleashing Human Energy through Culture Change with Donald Rust. He and Rust are currently writing a book on how small to mid-sized companies created healthy cultures that drove their business success.

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