Paul Butler | Improving Workplace Cultures

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

I was recently in my favorite bagel store, waiting for my order to be prepared, when I struck up a conversation with a stranger who was also waiting for her order. She began lamenting the decline of the area, citing the “drug issues” that were on the rise. Being a proud resident of my hometown, I inquired for more details.  

She went on to describe how, during her morning walks, she frequently encountered drug paraphernalia on the sidewalks. “Can you believe it?” she asked, “We have to step around the needles and ensure our little pooch doesn’t step on them.” 

As a fellow Santa Claritan, she continued to express her disgust at the increasing amount of graffiti on the bridges right here in Awesometown. It was at this point that I politely interrupted her to ask if she had ever reported what she observed. Had she ever contacted the police or the graffiti hotline?  

I shared an example from our own experience where we suspected illegal drug use near our house, and after a call to the sheriff, they arrived within 15 minutes and addressed the issue. I also mentioned another instance at Hart Park where we noticed graffiti on a curbstone. A call to the city’s hotline brought a crew who promptly removed the graffiti. 

Before she could respond, her order arrived, and she hurried out of the store, calling back over her shoulder: “We don’t care about reporting what we see — we’re moving to Nashville when my husband retires.” And that’s how it unfolded at Dink’s. 

This encounter got me thinking about how many neighborhoods have deteriorated simply because people failed to speak up. The relevant authorities can only do so much, and as neighbors, we can lend a helping hand by reporting issues and even volunteering when possible. 

Applying this principle to the workplace, it made me reflect on how many organizations have toxic cultures because no one speaks up about issues that should be addressed by the leadership. Consider the number of organizations that have fallen from grace and ceased to exist because people remained silent about what they observed. Think of examples like Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Global Crossing, and Tyco International, to name just a few. Internal investigations often confirmed this fact: Many saw something but few said something. 

From our experience at Newleaf Training and Development, nothing can spread through an organization more rapidly than negativity, gossip and backbiting if not addressed by leadership. These are like workplace graffiti, indicators of deeper issues. Similarly, if direct or indirect fraud is allowed to persist within an organization due to pressure to achieve results at any cost, morale will plummet. Why? Because as human beings, we inherently recognize right from wrong. Few are willing to speak up, and as a result, heads remain down. 

We recently consulted with an organization that had a disengaged workforce. It was disheartening to see that only 24% of the employees were willing to speak up during a survey process we offered, despite providing various platforms for feedback and assuring absolute confidentiality. It must be demoralizing for someone to spend a significant portion of their waking hours in a place with a suboptimal culture but not speak up for fear of reprisal or the belief that nothing will change. 

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Whether we’re talking about our workplace or our home, let’s all commit to speaking up and, ideally, taking action to improve matters where we can.  

It’s people who shape neighborhoods, and the same applies to workplace cultures. Good can prevail over bad if enough people are willing to make a positive impact. 

And if it doesn’t work out, there’s always the option of moving to Nashville, as, according to my fellow bagel shop patron, it truly does sound like an awesome place. 

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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