Encouraging Your Boss to Change Toxic Culture


Studies suggest that your company’s culture plays a huge role in your job satisfaction and career success. But what happens if you work in a department where the culture is toxic?

Should you just move on, or is it possible to encourage management to make cultural changes without getting the boot? You actually have a greater ability to impact culture than you might think.

“Cultural change starts with personal transformation,” explained Tim Kuppler, co-founder of Culture University, which is dedicated to improving workplace culture. “Just a few people trying new behaviors that deliver better results can launch a cultural shift.”

Before you jump into a potential situation that might damage your career and reputation, here are some suggestions for encouraging cultural change without offending your supervisor:

Focus on Changes that Benefit Your Boss

Criticizing the culture won’t help. For starters, your boss may not like it; and quite frankly, most leaders would like to change their culture, but they don’t know how.

A better strategy is to suggest changes to collective workflow that will eliminate frustrations and problems for your boss. Remember, although perks and incentives help to shape the culture, culture is ultimately defined as a set of shared values and unwritten rules that drive organizational behavior.

In companies with a micromanaging culture, for example, tech pros may feel the need to obtain approval for every little task, or they may hesitate to release software updates that aren’t “bug-free.” Suggesting changes to tools and processes that empower people and fast-track the delivery of software and system updates may be well received—provided they reduce turnover and help your boss meet his or her performance objectives.

“Results precede cultural change,” Kuppler said. “Start with what you can influence and initiate small changes that deliver results. If the new behaviors work, then the culture will start to change.”

Educate, Don’t Sell

Entrenched organizational cultures tend to change slowly over time. Educating everyone on the benefits of company culture improvement, or using different techniques for requirements gathering or testing, can generate momentum for change.

“Start by sharing articles or statistics that show how a change saves money and increases profit,” suggested Miles Burke, founder & CEO of 6Q, a developer of employee feedback tools. “Use a company Slack account or email list to bring up these topics up in a general way.”

Sharing examples of third-party success stories or data from credible sources gets everyone thinking about how they could improve their work, rather than just doing their work. In turn, that generates enthusiasm for change and thoughts of what might be achieved by doing things differently.

Enlist Support

When management and staff work together, it eliminates silos and accelerates cultural transformation. In fact, many experts believe that the most successful companies build their cultures from the top-down and bottom-up simultaneously.

When enlisting support from your boss or teammates, things will go better if you offer solutions and improvements instead of problems. Reinforce change by complimenting your boss or PM on new processes or policies that improve results and motivate the team.

“Don’t focus on where you are now or why the culture exists, focus on goals and where you want to be,” Kuppler said.

Don’t broach the subject in a group setting; build support for your ideas through one-on-one conversations. Otherwise, you risk the perception that you are being demanding or suggesting ultimatums, Burke noted: “Ask for permission to run a survey or ask your colleagues for suggestions on ways to power up the team; the best advice often comes from co-workers.”

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