How to turn a negative business culture into a positive one
I’ve spent many years working with automotive businesses to develop their cultures and I have seen the full spectrum ranging from businesses with extremely negative, self-destructive working environments through to ones with positive and engaging cultures that just need some finetuning.

But what is a ‘culture’ and why it is so important? I define it as the way your business does things: What are its values? What does it stand for? What are its morals and ethics, its history and traditions, staff behaviour, the overall feel of the place? But above all how does it communicate to the outside world?

Most business cultures develop by default over time. Yet the very best cultures – the ones that last and are successful – are planned meticulously by their leaders.

Why is culture so important?
You may not realise it but your customers place great importance on your business culture – often more than the product or service itself. This is particularly true of Millennials who want to identify with you as a business and share your values and ethics.

The problem in many organisations is that senior managers don’t recognise the true importance of culture, because the higher up the food chain you are, the less you are affected by it. However, your staff greatly influence it and are greatly influenced by it. And what about your customers? Well they are the ones who value your culture most of all because that’s really what they are buying into.

Many business leaders also make the mistake of thinking that to change the culture you just change the people. Whilst this is true to an extent, I know many organisations which exist today that have been established for over a century where all the employees are different but the same culture exists, because it’s been passed down; there is a strong identity which permeates the business. By contrast, I know one organisation which has had a self-destruct culture ever since it was established over 130 years ago. The reason it still survives today is because it’s a football club. And no, I’m not telling you who my team is!

Five signs of a poor culture
Politics & troublemakers – we have all worked in organisations where there is back-biting, politics, tittle-tattle, and complaining. Not to mention out and out troublemakers – people who seem hell bent on causing as many difficulties as they possibly can. This is destructive and your customers can smell this a mile away.

Lack of business identity – ask yourself, who are you? What do you do? What do you stand for? You’d be surprised by how few companies do this well and convey their message effectively to the customer.

Poor customer service – this is usually the symptom of an underlying problem, in most cases a lack of staff engagement.

Poor staff retention – look at your staff turnover figures. The UK motor industry has a high turnover rate for sales staff. Not only is this bad for customers who want to see continuity, it is costing you a fortune – we estimate around £50K per employee when you factor in salary, training, lost business, and poor customer service.

Poor communication – internally and externally. Are staff involved in decision- making? Are there regular team meetings? Is there confusion and chaos? How well is your business identity and message communicated to customers and the local community?

How to Build a Positive Culture
1. Research

Start by talking to the most important people – your customers. After all they are the ones who want to buy into your culture. Ask them what they like and don’t like about your business. Don’t just send out a survey, rather take the time to really talk and listen to them when they are in the business. This has two main benefits: firstly, the fact that you are taking the time to ask personally their opinion is very important to customers; secondly, you will find out a lot more by engaging in a proper conversation with someone – often it’s the things they don’t say that are the most revealing.

The other important group are your staff. Nothing beats getting the team in a semi-informal session after work and asking them what is good/bad about the business. You can do this in a positive way by asking questions like “what changes to the working environment would improve things for customers and staff”? This always gets people talking.

Aim to come up with the Big 5 issues to address. The benefit is you are allowing people to air their grievances in a controlled environment so it automatically reduces politics and complaints. It also provides focus – you can’t change everything overnight so just concentrate on the key things. You will also get lots of ideas on how to improve the business in a positive way.

2. Create your identity

Who are you and what do you stand for as a business? Test this theory by asking staff members at random and you’ll get many different answers. The key here is to have a consistent view.

Many organisations have mission statements on the walls and in their company literature paper which are utterly meaningless. That’s because most staff don’t even know what they are and probably weren’t involved in creating them. So, a far better way is to agree with the team the behaviours you all value as a business.

Consider your involvement in the local community and your values – and be mindful that beliefs are very important to Millennials. You need to remember this because they are going to be your customer base for the next 50 years.

The benefit of all of this is that staff start to take ownership and buy into what the business stands for.

Spell it out in writing and keep it short and simple, but most importantly get everyone’s agreement. You’ll also start to find that if anyone steps out of line with these values the other staff will pull them up on it. So, it automatically improves discipline in your organisation.

3. Tackle the troublemakers

It’s never been so easy under today’s HR legislation to discipline staff – the problem is the fear and reluctance of managers to address it. It’s often easier to turn a blind eye. However, the fact is that good staff leave your organisation because of these people. Don’t allow these individuals to destroy your business from within.

4. Recruit, train, retain

The time has come to look more seriously at how and who we recruit. Increasingly more automotive companies are enjoying the benefits of specialist recruitment services as well as creating their own dedicated functions.

Start to have a serious look at your staff profile and don’t be afraid to look outside the industry. Look for people who are brand ambassadors, who share your values and ethics, people who can communicate professionally and have high levels of emotional intelligence – these are far more important qualities that automotive knowledge and how to sell.

Millennials also place great value on personal and professional development, so it’s important you take their training seriously.

And lastly, keep a close eye on those staff retention figures. Your business requires stability to be successful and profitable. You do not need a revolving door!

5. Communicate & Evaluate

In my experience the organisations with the best cultures are usually the most profitable. It’s always good to hold regular staff meetings to see how things are developing, whilst also reviewing the business results. You will start to notice correlations between an improving culture and increased business performance.

Ask the questions:
What’s improved, what hasn’t? Is it a better place to work? Do staff feel more valued? Are our customers more satisfied? What have been the business results? Are we performing better and more profitably?

Communicate and reward success throughout the business but also engage with your local community and groups. How we tell our success stories to the outside world matters more today than ever.


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