The Toxic Workplace – Creating a “Toxic Shield”

23-02-2010 | steve | Uncategorized |

As we enter another decade, the pressure on organizations to survive, sustain growth and boost profits within new economic realities has resulted in increased stress on leaders and employees. Mergers, globalization and declining returns have launched waves of job cuts creating leaner companies. Surviving employees are left with far greater workloads. And the need for leadership is just as great!

Amid the chaos of relentless demands, conflicting priorities, poor communication and a lack of recognition looms the opportunity for escalating discontent. Over a long period of time that can fester and become toxic, affecting the health of both the organization and, most notably, the employees within leading to low morale, lack of co-operation, conflict, apathy and hostility. Left unchecked, these symptoms of a toxic workplace make it difficult for business leaders and teams to run the organization and compete effectively in the marketplace.

To fend off toxicity, a toxic shield can be set up by applying strong leadership at each level; the individual, teams, and the organization as a whole. And during stressful times, all three contribute to create an environment that is unhealthy and unproductive.

Here are three steps to help you get started forging your toxic shield

ONE - Clearly define the goals, roles and resources required for success as an organization. Couple that with a compelling vision for your business that will bind the members of the organization together, working towards a common goal. To reinforce the vision, ensure your leadership demonstrates the organizational values, making them evident and integrated throughout the entire business; performance appraisal systems, rewards and recognition programs, team development, training and day-to-day operational procedures.

TWO – Ensure that teams understand how their tasks contribute to the organizations goals and the day-to-day operational needs of the company. Translate goals and needs into action using corporate values as a guideline. Set team norms or guidelines to enable team members to hold each other accountable for BADhaviours and BADitiudes. Leaders, in turn, must hold teams accountable for their efforts and tie systems such as performance appraisal, promotion and recognition to the values to generate greater alignment and commitment.

THREE – Focus on the individual. Employees may feel they are a long way down the corporate food chain. Shorten the distance by interacting with individuals on a personal level. Eliminate the elements which fuel a toxic personality: intimidation, rudeness, incivility, rumour mongering, self interest. These are only a small list of BADhaviours that can rapidly turn pockets of negativity into a widespread poisonous workplace, making it unbearable for everyone.

AND A BONUS – Consider that you might be part of the problem.  Management guru, Max Depree once said, “The performance of the team is the only real proof of leadership,” so if the team is faltering, maybe your leadership ability is lacking.  Show some “personal” leadership and seek feedback, coaching and further training. Be open to the possibility that your personal values and that of the company are not aligned and it is time to make changes or seek other employment before termination becomes a viable option.

Let’s face it; organizations are focused on the bottom line and that is good as many dreams and aspirations are dependent on the economic success of a company. Earning a living is difficult enough without the personal harm that comes from a toxic workplace. Setting up a toxic shield, through proactive leadership, will go a long way towards protecting your employees, reduce anxieties and improve productivity. The challenge is how long you will wait before you take action?

2010, the year YOU can help a leader be more effective!

19-01-2010 | steve | Uncategorized |

Great News! I’ve been invited to deliver my first seminar for the University of Calgary and I’m requesting your help.

The program I’m teaching is PERFECT for managers/leaders who are responsible to build effective, collaborative and successful teams.

Promises! Promises! is an experiential learning seminar focused on building relationships amidst the chaos of seemingly different objectives. Operating in an environment of intrigue, deceit, scandals and conflicting priorities, participants experience how their behaviours affect the process of creating exceptional results.  Underlying theses challenges, participants experience first hand, elements of building trust, team unity, effective communication, personal leadership, risk assessment and resource management.

The design of the program places people on specific teams (represented by countries).  As a representative to one of the 10 different countries, the goal is to fulfill the promises made to your people while working to create a United League of Nations.

Personally, there is NOTHING like this program to experience first hand, many of the situations teams endure.

If you know of a manager, leader or decision maker who would like to engage in a fun and spirited learning experience, I would be grateful if you passed this information along – and I’m confident they’ll be grateful you did too!

Click here
for details & registration or contact me for more information.

Thank you for your help and continue to…

CREATE a great day!

The Toxic Personality – Base of Power

21-12-2009 | steve | Uncategorized |

As we continue to explore the impacts of a toxic personality, we need to determine what gives them the strength to affect others and the environment around them. These people are a daunting force and leverage any and all enablers around them to build their “base of power”.

In my past, as a leader I ignored the BADhaviours and BADitutes in favour of productivity. Contrary to popular assumption, that people will not put up with this type of BADhaviour, I DID (and those on our team as well) and continued to for a long time. WHY?  Because Bob (not his real name) was very good at his job. He was smart! He was productive! Surely we could cut him slack, right?

Eventually Bob moved on. What a sense of relief for the team! But I always wondered why I accepted or worse yet, condoned his behaviours.

In Bob’s case, I turned a blind eye to his conduct because I deferred to his expertise and work ability.  And as the new manager in the department, I leaned on him as a trusted resource. I became a guardian of his style, and refused to hear other voices saying otherwise.

This story highlights how skilled a toxic personality is at surviving (and even thriving) and can be quite skilled at their craft even with a light shining on them.  The BADhaviours and BADitudes persisted because Bob had an ally – ME. Thus I learned how Bob extended his base of power first hand.

Here are three enablers that strengthen Bob’s base of power.  A combination that reinforced toxic behaviours and made it more difficult to deal with the problem:

1) A positive or favorable relationship with the leader (the guardian)

2) Leadership or team endorsement of expertise, tenure or position

3) Positive recognition of productivity levels

These are positive traits in most situations, but in the hands of a toxic personality they become tools to protect or advance their position and agenda.

Thinking of your workplace, have you seen this type of manipulation? And if YES, does it continue because of their base of power?  I will be exploring how to counter this in future blogs. I would be keenly interested in hearing your story and what  tactics you implemented to lessen their base of power?

Until then,

Create a great day!

The Toxic Personality – Searching for a Solution

23-11-2009 | steve | Uncategorized |

In the Harvard Business Review (April 2009), Porath and Pearson studied rude behaviour in the office, polling thousands of managers and employees across diverse companies. The impact of negative behaviour upon coworkers was significant:

38% decreased their work quality
48% decreased their work effort
66% said their performance declined

Most importantly, a majority of respondents spent an undue amount of energy avoiding the toxic person or worrying about the last incident; time and energy that could have been directed at improving the bottom line.

The toxic personality is very adept at camouflage and claim to be unaware of their behaviours (though I think that Larry’s boss is well aware of his).

There is something you can do! In upcoming editions of Ignition I will dig deeper into solutions, but here are three basic steps to help minimize the effect and strength of a toxic personality:

1.  Don’t turn the other cheek. As with the bully in the playground, a toxic personality requires direct dialogue: targeted feedback that requires courage and a dose of fierce conversation. Remember to focus on the behaviour, not the person, and be specific as to what was observed and felt. “Just the facts” works best here.

2.  Use the power of the team and create a set of norms. Craft a set of guidelines that everyone agrees to. Identify behaviours that are valued and those that are not. Determining the consequences when someone breaks the rules will add strength to the guidelines and allow the group to regulate themselves.

3.  Check yourself. As difficult as this sounds, you may be part of the problem, so complete a self assessment of your behaviours. Are you “greasing the rails” and adding to an already toxic workplace by being silent or joining in? Are you living your values and do they align with that of the organization? You may be surprised to discover that there is a disconnect that needs attention. If in doubt, seek some feedback from a variety of sources to validate your insights.

Addressing toxicity in your workplace isn’t a quick and easy process. Following the steps above will not make all the negativity disappear but it is a start; a spark that can be fanned and encouraged.

When I think of Larry’s situation, some efforts to minimize the impacts of a toxic personality could have prevented the exodus of expertise and talent that has now created a gap in the company he left behind. How much time, money and energy will be required to fill Larry’s shoes?

I suspect, considerable.

The Toxic Personality – a definition

10-11-2009 | steve | Toxic Personalities |

Anyone who knows me well knows that I enjoy delving into personality profiles, behaviours and traits.  As a practitioner of change and workplace performance, my attention turns to the many facets of the toxic personality; how it is impacting our workplace and each other.  With a view as to what makes a healthy work environment you can expect a number of my future blogs focused on this subject.  What strategies, what tactics and what can be done to restore productivity and civility back in our jobs.

Today, I met with Larry, one of the most upbeat guys I know. Larry was so excited about his new job. He loved the company he used to work for so I was surprised by the change. When asked what prompted the decision to move, he related that he had tired of working for a tyrant of a boss. Larry’s story was riddled with examples of rudeness, bullying, sarcasm, incivility, rumour mongering, overblown ego, demeaning emails, and profane language; all the telltale signs of a toxic personality in full swing. Faced with these challenges, Larry made a valiant effort to work around them, but after being exposed to this poisonous person for a period of term, Larry decided he had had enough. He was tired, depressed and “sucked dry” of energy. More importantly, it was affecting his own behavior, and through him his family and friends as well.

Sadly, while Larry has been able to escape such a terrible working environment, Larry’s previous colleagues continue to work with a boss that makes life challenging.

The toxic personality as those who continually show a pattern of behaviour that hinders individuals and teams from achieving their potential. Not just behaviours but “BADhaviours” that breakdown relationships, minimize contributions and stunt performance.

With the economic realities facing companies today, no organization can afford to ignore a toxic workplace and the personalities that foster it. However, exposing toxic elements that exist in the workplace is not an easy process.  In my next blog, I’ll touch on what can be done to identify and help make changes to behaviours.