Category Archives: Leadership Strategies
A number of years ago there came to light a scientific case study called “The Dilution Effect”
It posited that an increase in species to create a greater biodiversity could greatly reduce the risk of Lyme disease in humans. Thus, generating a broader spectrum across an ecosystem could prevent the environment that allows Lyme to reside and infect ticks that spread the disease.
While the research is still being done to prove this study, there is a laboratory where dilution can help mitigate a toxic environment. The workplace.
A toxic culture is usually the presence of counter-cultural individuals and/or teams within an organization that threaten to poison the current environment.
While many times the wisdom is to prune and remove these individuals it is more necessary to replace them and grow the organization with those who are more pure with the work culture you are promoting.
There are times when you need to separate or allow attrition to remove toxic people from your company. This is vital to ensure the culture stays intact and is not corrupted. Yet even more important is to replace them with people who are closely aligned with your core values and culture and will keep the culture intact. Otherwise you will run the risk of introducing toxic behaviors and attitudes and return to the same, or worse, state that you were originally in.
Another steps is to continue to hire and grow the organization with people who are more closely congruent with your culture, creating a larger and larger dynamic that can minimize the toxic impact of others. In some cases, as I have discovered in my own leadership career, gaining a broader base of employees who are culturally instep can actually change some peoples’ toxic behaviors into champions of the culture – a kind of FOMO (fear of missing out) workplace transformation.
Think about it this way. You have a beaker of pure water and introduce a drop of raw sewage into it. That pure water is tainted and now needs a larger influx of pure water to flush out the sewage and mitigate the harm done by the impure substance. This represents lessening the impact of toxic individuals by replacing them with more culturally sound people.
In addition, you can also dump the beaker and refill it with pure water, akin to removing the toxic individual.
The premise is simple but you need to exercise discernment in keeping those who are culture champions engaged as you build around them, and not replacing them as well. This is a challenge to keeping the right mixture and balance in your organization of tenured people who have grown the culture and newer, culturally-aligned individuals graft in sometime later. Having the right focus on building complimentary teams and creating harmony and engagement adds to the equation, so keeping this in mind is vital to growing the culture without dividing it inadvertently.
The dreaded “elephant in the room”. Those conversations that should happen, but most of the time do not. Or as explained by definition:
“A major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so”
There are many reason why these conversations to address the “elephant” never happen:
- Fear – that bringing it up could cost you credibility or your job
- Comfort – that it’s easier to not make waves and just work around the problem
- Underestimation – not realizing that the situation has bigger ramifications than one realizes
- Apathy – not caring enough to address (“It’s not my problem.”)
By not having the tough conversation about the situation, the following fallout usually happens:
- Fear culture persists
- People gain undue and unchecked power and influence (colleagues, managers, shareholders, etc)
- Decline in productivity, efficiencies, and other metrics leading to declining performance overall
- Disengagement due to low morale and discontentment
In never addressing the “elephant in the room” a general uneasiness and untrustworthy environment settles in that can wreak havoc throughout the organization.
It’s imperative that any conversation that needs to be had to address those “elephants” needs to occur. In order to break the silence and overcome the anxiety to have straight talk, you should use these following guidelines to get the discussion out in the open:
- Resolve not to be remiss. Omitting an issue causes more harm than good always. Purpose to start the discussion by knowing that you owe it to others to bring this topic to the forefront.
- Foster professionalism. How you approach the conversation can ease the tension. Anger, outrage, and other non-professional conduct can greatly hamper the effectiveness of the discussion. Be calm and set everyone else at ease.
- Make it constructive. Make it clear that you want to have a working dialogue of the issue at hand. Set the expectations early to get the most out of the talk and allow everyone opportunity for input.
- Be objective. This can be tricky, especially when items such as harassment or bullying come into play. But having as much facts to back up what is being discusses can solidify the validity of the issue and not leave room for people to shrug it off.
- Find other audiences. Sometimes the people that need to hear the message are the least receptive. By finding others who share the same opinion about the issue will make it not about you but about the issue and how much it impacts others.
- Create a dialogue. Get as many others talking about it as possible in the discussions. It is important to also note that these talks may not be just once and over with. Constructive issue resolving may take multiple discussions to reach understanding and solutions. Keep it open at all times.
- Get actionable steps. Have those involved including yourself take responsibility for a portion of the solution. Some people may have to take full ownership for their actions as no one else can. Others may need to help with processes, checks and balances. Everyone at least needs to work on fostering a culture of open talk without fear or apathy. Make sure those steps are being taken seriously and followed through.
Elephants in the room are not pleasant beasts. They need to be herded out and having everyone skirt around the issue only makes matters worse. Your culture may not be conducive to talking open, but it only takes one person and some of the suggestions above to start changing that in your organization.
Many of the successful training programs follow this general pattern for building job proficiency:
- Why Do
- How Do
- I Do
- We Do
- You Do
While this is a great way to transfer knowledge to others, there seems to be another application in which a leader can use this model.
What if a leader uses this to understand what their employees go through in order to better understand their jobs and roles?
Leaders can sometimes get removed from the nuances of their staff’s job functions, which often results in decisions that negatively impact various employees. If a leader better understood how a certain role functions, and what the challenges are to complete those job tasks regularly, then better team development and decision making would certainly evolve.
Let’s take this model and run it through:
- Find out why employees do the various steps of the job task. Do they know why, and have a competency beyond “just because”? Also, why do employees do what they do? Is there a reason they don’t perform a certain step such as technical issues, expediency, or failed procedures and systems?
- When you discover how certain roles perform certain tasks, you can better discover areas of productivity, talent, and skills that lend themselves to that task. Someone may do a process that works great for them, and not outside of procedural norms, that might save time, money, or injury risk. In addition, you may find better ways to train and garner increased efficiency in those areas. Plus, you’ll also be better versed in the ways your employees apply skills, training, and barriers to get their jobs accomplished.
- This means yourself. Immerse yourself into understanding what your team members contend with on a regular basis. Ask questions and make sure you fully understand to bridge the gap between oversight and competency yourself.
- If at all possible (and it always is) work alongside your people to see what they do in action. Don a hard hat or smock and see and feel how they do their specific tasks. Have them show you and let them feel good about giving you insight into their world. Spend time with other employees to ensure you know the full scope of what the entire team needs to execute their jobs.
- Now that you’re fully conversant in your people’s work tasks, it’s totally up to you going forward. It’s incumbent upon you as a leader to make sure any decision (work process, policy change, etc) does not negatively impact the staff. If anything, your knowledge should help steer their jobs to increased engagement, competency and – more importantly – better customer service, as they most likely have higher touchpoints with your customers.
If a leader can use this to understand their teams jobs better, think about the possibilities of using this to investigate employee performance issues, policy compliance, or other concerns within the organization. It prevents rushing to judgement, have others make decisions that can adversely impact team morale and/or performance, and maybe will prevent managing out an employee who has no other input and just needs to have their concerns seen firsthand.
Train yourself to follow the same model you develop your staff in order to be a better leader yourself.