10 Ways to Create (Instead of Criticize) Company Culture

“I could hear their whispers in his office as I walked down the hall. When I rolled by, it was dead silent. Then, as I passed, the whispers resumed. They were obviously talking about me….”

A good friend shared that story from a previous place of employment for him. A place of leadership, where he was “the boss” of these people, who clearly wanted to stay in little cocoons of criticism as opposed to stepping out into the courageous places of conversation.

We all know it too well, and at our worst, we’re all contributors.


Not the constructive kind. But rather, the destructive, ego-centric, self-protected, gossipy kind.

“That {insert leader’s name} is clueless…”

“Did you hear that {insert someone who makes you feel insecure} got demoted? Serves her right.”

“They passed me up for that other idiot for the promotion I deserve…”

“Our clients are seriously the worst.”

“This job is so lame, I hate it, can’t wait for the weekend, need to get out of here, don’t get paid enough, and the coffee is terrible.”

The tricky thing about this magnetic toxicity is there’s often SOME level of truth to just about all of the complaints and critiques.

But the troubling part is these backchannel bitch sessions rarely offer solutions. They just further divide, build unhealthy alliances, and erode culture.

In my nearly two decades in the corporate world, I’ve learned a few lessons on how to be a person who CREATES culture more often than you CRITICIZE it. And I’ve criticized more than I’d like to admit, but in owning the times I’ve done so, and growing in my awareness of it, hopefully it’s creating something healthier in and around me.

Here are 10 ways to create a better company culture, right where you are:

  1. Resist the Urge to Gossip: it’s filled with tons of energy, and it feels good to be in the know on some juicy story, but if the person being talked about were in the room, would you feel the same way?
  2. Be a Problem Solver: low value employees create problems, average value employees identify problems, highly valuable leaders (regardless of position in the organization) solve problems. Want to have massive influence? Identify problems, then find solutions for them.
  3. Own Your Mistakes: Criticizers shift, dodge, and blame. Creators own up to the ways they’ve fallen short.
  4. Take Initiative and Responsibility: in any business, on any day, there are thousands of things that can be improved. Don’t wait around for someone to tell you exactly what to do. Raise your hand and do something about it.
  5. Build Trust: According to Cory Scheer (my favorite Trust guru), trust is built by being competent, problem-solving, and benevolent (or others-focused). The opposite of those components (incompetent, problem-creating, and self-focused tend to go hand-in-hand with Criticizers.
  6. See Something Positive: I’m not a neuroscientist, but I do know the brain is a wonderful (and dangerous) operating system that builds upon the things we feed it. Criticizers see the negative, harp on the negative, and in turn, create more negativity. Creators acknowledge something positive (even in the face of adversity and negativity), focus on the positive, and in turn, create more positivity.
  7. Express Gratitude: It’s related to #6, but nearly everyone in the world (your boss and colleagues included) suffer from an encouragement deficit. We’re all running around on fumes, hoping we’re doing the right stuff. Tell someone something specific every day that you’re grateful for that they did, and watch what starts to happen.
  8. Do What You Say: When people show up every day and do what they say they’re going to do, this deep current of dependability starts flowing. Instead of the muddy puddles of criticism.
  9. Build a Critique Sandwich: We’ve all heard of the compliment sandwich, this one just labels what’s in between the bread instead. When we have critical things to say (there are healthy and unhealthy ways of doing so), say them directly (to the person, not behind their back), specifically (let them know exactly what the issue is), and with positive intentions (not to cut them down, humiliate, or shame them). The bread of this sandwich? An affirming entry of the value you see in the person, and a reminding close that you’re for them.
  10. Create More Than You Criticize: It would be foolish to call for the abolishment of criticism. We’re critical, judgmental, selfish, arrogant, short-sighted, unhealthy, insecure, afraid humans at times, after all. But take the beautiful path of Creation, more often than the rugged terrain of Criticism, and watch what begins to blossom in that culture of yours.

Go create, resisting the urge to criticize.





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