organizational culture

Organizational Culture: Empathy Won’t Pay the Bills

by Oct 3, 2022Advisory Groups

New Hires Care About Organizational Culture

In order to attract and retain top talent, leaders have made culture building a priority. But often overlooked in discussions about company culture is how often they can exist at opposite ends of a spectrum.

On one end, you have cultures that are all about execution. These tend to be hard-driving organizations that demand accountability and high-performance levels. They have a hard edge, and people tend to weed themselves out of cultures like these if they can’t cut it.

On the flip side are cultures built on empathy. You can almost tell what this culture looks like as soon as you walk in the door: People are very supportive of one another, and everyone seems ready to celebrate even the most minor of wins at the drop of a hat. On the surface, everything looks healthy and fun. But a deeper look will tell you that a culture built only on empathy doesn’t execute well–which means they underperform.


Celebrating the Insignificant

I’ve seen several examples of overly empathetic organizational culture throughout my career. They tend to result when a company has some failure in the market–where they can’t achieve their objectives related to financial performance, customer acquisition, or product development.

Since they can’t win in the marketplace, they try to create internal wins so that the team feels something positive is going on. That’s why even the most insignificant achievement–something that might have nothing to do with the company’s customers–becomes an occasion to celebrate.

Companies can quickly go off the rails as soon as they take their eye off the prize–pleasing their customers. Their performance will continue to spiral downward.


The Danger Zone

If you find that your company culture has begun to prioritize empathy over execution, as a leader you need to start making changes.

Sure, we must acknowledge that organizations that emphasize execution above all else might not always be sustainable. The truth is that you need a balance of empathy and performance.

But the danger is more significant in an overly empathetic culture because you risk losing touch with your customers–and eventually, your business will pay the ultimate price.

That means you need to tackle the project of changing your company culture.


Change Things Up

As with any change management project, you must begin by setting the vision of where you and the team are headed.

Then, it would help if you engineered some small wins around performance-based goals to begin building culture and momentum. Reward the directionally correct behaviors in how they shift the focus from internal celebration to celebrating customer wins. It would help if you got the team to accept that approval and reasons to celebrate the need to begin and end with the customer in mind.

Unfortunately, if you find you can’t get the culture turned around, you’re doomed. Companies with high empathy and low execution don’t last long.

Every change begins with identifying the problem in the first place. So ask yourself: What kind of culture do you have? If you’re a team of hard-driving execution maniacs, maybe you could soften things up to be less cutthroat and more supportive of one another.

But if you recognize that you have too much empathy and not enough execution, it’s time to change the company culture or face the consequences.