One of my favorite managers was Joe. He was a corporate superstar. He was reliable, responsible, a straight-shooter, and he got results. He was a respected leader for our team- he listened, championed our ideas, shared what was happening at the top, and supported our career growth and success.

I eventually left Joe’s team for an expanded role but followed Joe’s successful career through our quarterly mentoring discussions. When I learned that he took a new role at a new company, I couldn’t wait to learn more. But I didn’t get the chance- by the time we caught up he had left his job. I was surprised and wanted to learn more.

“Liz, it just wasn’t a good fit.”

The statistics prove that a positive work culture impacts the bottom line. We hear people say “it’s not a good fit” but what does that really mean? Here is what I learned from Joe:

My Ideas Were Not Heard. Joe was a senior guy with great ideas but frequently found his ideas or new ways of doing things were shot down quickly at his new company. After a handful of “idea rejections,” Joe said he was hesitant to share new ideas and even afraid to speak up.

I Couldn’t Be Myself. Joe said that there were lots of “rules” in his new company that didn’t necessarily align to his values. These restrictive and sometimes questionable rules around the way work happened made Joe feel like he had to pretend to be someone else. According to Joe, “when I was constantly asked to do simple tasks in a very specific way, I felt like I couldn’t be myself at work and I was being judged on little things.”

Culture Revolved Around a Few vs. Many. To Joe, it seemed as though all decisions were made top-down by a very few instead of the broader organization. This “my way or the highway” mentality left Joe feeling like he had no control over his work. He explained, “I’m an experienced professional with a long track record of success. It was like my views didn’t matter.”

Lack of Trust. According to Joe, “There was a genuine lack of trust which led to my inability to make a real impact. Because there was a lack of flexibility in the way I worked, I didn’t have the freedom to be creative and do my best work. The source of this was a lack of trust.”

One-Way Feedback. Joe shared that he received a lot of feedback, mostly things he could work on but never was given the opportunity to discuss or give feedback to his leadership. “This made me question my confidence at times.”

In the end, Joe found a new role that was better suited to his skills and experience but had wished he asked different questions during his interview process that probed on the following:

  • Flexibility to do your work, your way, within corporate guidelines vs. rules
  • Managers that champion ideas, empower you to make decisions, and display empathy
  • Two-way, open dialogue to share feedback, ideas, and how things are going

What do you think? What other warning signs say there might be a problem with corporate culture?