Toxic Culture: 3 Things For Your Senior Leadership Clients to Avoid

  • by WBECS Team
  • Mar 04, 2019

It’s unfortunate, but it happens. Antiquated ways of thinking. Refusing to embrace change. Unwillingness to hear the views of others. These are just some of the reasons why you may be called in by a company to coach them out of what has developed into a toxic situation.

More often than not, problems run from the top down, with senior management responsible for setting bad examples, embedding them as the norm into the consciousness of those who report to them, the wider team, and, in some cases, the entire company.

To help a business overcome a toxic work culture, you can offer them these three pieces of advice:

  1. Get your priorities in order

One of the main reasons a toxic culture develops in any team or business, is people not knowing where their focus should truly lie. A leader should provide a clear idea of direction for their staff, through the setting of key performance indicators and regular communication.

The mistake often made is when a manager’s attention span is a little short. Their excitement about the next exciting trend hops about sporadically. Forcing staff to down tools and perpetually start new things is damaging to productivity. Projects will remain unfinished or take far longer than they ought to have done. The knock-on effect of that on a team can be potentially disastrous. When people are constantly pulled in several directions, they can lose sight of the bigger picture – the reason why the work is important – leading to frustration and dissatisfaction.

The answer to this one is simple: make the team’s focus proactive, not reactive. Of course, sometimes things come up out of the blue. It can be good to seize opportunities when they arise. However, if a leader can help their team to avoid knee-jerk reactions to trends by preempting and forward planning as much as possible, the more productive they will be. They will be able to clearly see their own progress, and what it means for the business as a whole, promoting a sense of worth and purpose amongst staff.

  1. ‘We’re better than them’ syndrome

Unhealthy rivalries between managers, teams or colleagues are not conducive to efficient, professional working environments. Authority figures should have the ability to make an entire company feel like one big, united team. Managers who promote an ‘us versus them’ ideology are not helping themselves, let alone the business as a whole.

Everyone works differently. If people are encouraged to constantly measure themselves against others, they will struggle to feel accepted, supported, and/or appreciated. Any business is only as good as it’s staff. Richard Branson himself once said, “Healthy, engaged employees are your top competitive advantage.” Place them in unhealthy situations, however, and they will take their disgruntled attitudes to your customers, which is detrimental to commercial success.

Help your client to understand alternative incentives which can be implemented company-wide – incentives that are results driven, rather than about winners and losers.

  1. Deal with conflicts of interest

Nothing de-motivates staff members more than if they repeatedly voice a concern that is ignored, or resolved unsatisfactorily. A manager’s team members need to know that, a) their opinions and feelings matter; and b) if something is making them uncomfortable or affecting their ability to work to full capacity and with optimum enthusiasm, it will be taken seriously.

A company that frequently mishandles grievances will often see a continually-high turnover of staff. This ends up costing thousands of dollars in wasted training and misspent man hours. People won’t want to stay where their voices can’t be heard. No one wants to be in an endless spiral of negativity. Conflict is unproductive, damaging and potentially expensive.

Communication is key. First: a leader must cultivate an environment where staff feel safe to approach management with their views without fear of reproach. Second: time must be set aside to properly discuss the problem. Third: any issue must be resolved in a manner that everyone is happy with, in a timely manner, and, preferably, confirmed in writing. This way, all parties are satisfied and no one is left in any doubt that all has been done that could be done, and the outcome is proven for all to see.

Oftentimes, a toxic culture can exist within a business like gas escaping from a burner – it can pose a threat without being seen, and can go unnoticed for long periods of time – but the fallout can be devastating. As an Executive Coach, it’s imperative that you help your client be a breath of fresh air, rather than a struck match.

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