The 3 Levels of Culture Your Company Must Avoid

The 3 Levels of Culture Your Company Must Avoid

John Eades 09/03/2018 4
The 3 Levels of Culture Your Company Must Avoid

Most of us can name companies known for not only their monetary success but their success in creating a culture in which employees are proud and happy to belong.

Companies like Southwest Airlines, Chick-fil-A, or Movement Mortgage all share the distinction of great financial and cultural success. Beyond knowing who these organizations are, if you want to reproduce their thriving culture within your own organization, it is important to know what culture is in the first place.

Daniel Coyle author of The Culture Code says this about culture:

"While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it's not. Culture is a set of living relationships working towards a shared goal. It's not something you are. It's something you do."

Here is where culture gets interesting; every organization or team has a culture and it's constantly evolving and changing whether they know it or not.

What we found after working with companies of all sizes is most organizational leaders are completely unaware or have no way to identify the quality of the culture in their workplace. In an effort to help change this, my team at LearnLoft did research to separate and categories these companies based on employee or team-wide culture surveys.

What we found was distinct differences in the characteristics of some organizations and teams vs. others. Here are 5 levels of company culture including characteristics and takeaways to help your organization.

Level 1: Toxic

No one wants to work in a Toxic culture. That's evident because only a small percentage of organizations last when they have a Toxic culture. The organizations that do last typically have a revolutionary idea or technology.  

You would be able to identify if your organization has a Toxic culture if there is a "churn and burn" mentality with employees or there is no sense of connection with team members. Tocix cultures make up 11.8 percent of companies researched.  

The takeaway: If you are currently working in a Toxic culture with no sign of change in executive leadership, now is the time to start looking elsewhere for employment.

Level 2: Deficient

Deficient is better than a Toxic, but by no means is it a great place to work. An easy way to identify a Deficient culture is by observing a workplace. You can tell a drastic difference between an executive leader and a non-executive. They have separate office spaces, conference rooms, printers, lunchrooms, and parking spaces. 

While most would say this is normal because of the traditional workspaces of the 90's what it does is build physical or invisible walls between team members and their ability to connect. Causing a lack of innovation, creativity, and teamwork. Deficient cultures make up 49 percent of teams studied.

The takeaway: Working in a Deficient culture will take a major toll on your professional and personal happiness. Try and introduce culture building things like pot-luck lunches, or open innovation meetings. These are the first steps to see if executive leadership will get behind new ways of employee connection. 

Level 3: Common

Common culture is the second most popular culture making up 23 percent or companies studied. I like to think of these cultures as those where the "few carry the weight of many." A few top performers are "all-in" and carry the organization about as far as it possibly can go.

Common cultures typically share additional characteristics such as low to medium turnover and struggle to integrate different generations within the workplace.

The takeaway: The best way to get out of a Common culture is to begin changing the attitude and language that team members are used to using. Try reducing workplace gossip and calling team members out who bring a negative attitude to work.

The following next levels are the very best if you want your company to succeed.

Level 4: Advanced

Advanced is a big step up from Common because you get into cultures wherein people seek out opportunities to be a part of what is going on. There is always a direct connection between the work being done and the purpose of what the organization does in the world. 

Executive leaders proactively work to shape and mold the culture daily. It's weaved in all areas of the business from hiring, to employee development, to constant communication. Advanced cultures make up 11 percent of teams studied.

The takeaway:  Run surveys or host open roundtables across the organization to identify things executive leadership can do to further improve the workplace environment.  

Level 5: Elite

Elite cultures are the best of the best. These are highly connected work environments from the C-Suite to the lowest level employees. In Elite cultures, words and phrases are powerful and are used all the time to the point where they become habits. (For example, at any Chick-fil-A restaurant you hear their employees say "my pleasure") 

A few additional characteristics include: teams see a future working together; other organizations look to mimic or copy its culture, and they consistently exceed growth targets. Elite cultures make up about 5 percent of organizations studied.

The takeaway: Staying at the top will be the challenge. As turnover in founders or executive leaders begins to happen continuing to stay connected to the organization's purpose and core values will be a challenge. But if anyone can do it, your organization certainly can.  

Here is the best part, every organization or team has the ability and capacity to be an elite culture. Just know changing cultures takes a lot of time, energy and effort but in the end, it will be well worth it. 

Share this article

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

terms and condition.
  • Ryan Green

    The level 5 is the most difficult one, not all companies can achieve it

  • Dylan Tierney

    Without culture you cannot grow your company, interesting points

  • Benny Hana

    Most organisations have a deficient culture because employees aren't valued and are always seen as afterthoughts

  • James Blakemore

    Is there a culture beyond the elite level ??? I am sure that it exists in some luxury hotels for A listers......

Share this article

John Eades

Leadership Expert

John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on, LinkedIn Pulse,,, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College. 

Cookies user prefences
We use cookies to ensure you to get the best experience on our website. If you decline the use of cookies, this website may not function as expected.
Accept all
Decline all
Read more
Tools used to analyze the data to measure the effectiveness of a website and to understand how it works.
Google Analytics