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.

Desire – the emotion that sparks action

04-10-2009 | steve | Uncategorized |

To desire; such a basic emotion but one that shapes the world we live in.  It arouses the imagination, it is filled with hope, and it recognizes a gap that exists.  Desire is the spark that moves us forward but what can you do if the spark is snuffed.

Recently, I read about Camp Kindle.  It is a camp for kids (and families) with cancer.  A place where kids have a chance just to be kids.  It is also a story about the desire Christine Wandzura had over twenty years ago when her son, Derek, passed away with cancer in here Calgary.  He loved going to camp but it was located in BC.  It was then that Christine desired to create a place where kids with cancer in Alberta could go and she saw something that was missing, she dreamed of such a place and she worked towards that goal.  Without that desire, a burning desire, Camp Kindle would not have happened.

Another story about a dream, a desire and the conviction to make it happen.  How about your story?

Take a moment, stop and think of your greatest desire.  Does it make you smile or warm your heart?  Awesome!

Can you see what the impact will be have once you have reached that destination?  The faces, the emotions, the sense of accomplishment all mixed in together.  Fantastic!

So what’s next; what needs to happen today to take you closer to fulfilling your desire?  Has desire left the building?  Do you wonder if it will ever happen?  Is the fire only flickering?  How do you turn it into a raging campfire?

I have been pondering this myself.  The desire to have an impact on those around me has waned.  I have wondered why I even bother.  It would be easier to pack it in and live a much more quiet life.  Sound familiar?  YUCK!

So here is what I did to avoid just existing and move to realize my desire to ignite lives daily – my tagline and mantra.  Perhaps it will to serve to help you re-kindle the  flame.

1)    Recognize – acknowledge that you may be off course.  There is nothing wrong about admitting that you may be lost in the moment.  Have faith that you will be able to continue the journey forward.

2)    Reconnect – take stock of where you are; what inspired you and why this is important to you?  Re-visit the moment when desire was first ignited.  What happened to set you on the path you are now taking?

3)    Recruit – spread the word and talk to those people who are closest to you.  Be frank.  Ask for their help.  Let them know where you are.  They share your passion and they will not let you down.  They want you to succeed.

Finally, TAKE ACTION, even if it is a small step.   Build momentum; create enough sparks that will build into a fire.  Who knows, the next story I read to inspire me could be yours.  That would be absolutely thrilling!

What is your greatest desire?

What will ignite you to action?

Why not now?