Toxic Culture Resistance

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Leading in a toxic culture? Transform it by absorbing, not resisting

How do you escape a corporate culture you hate to work in each day? Should it be attacked head-on, or is another more subtle approach needed?

Perhaps you know the feeling of being trapped in a toxic work environment. The stress you experience each weekday is real. It can’t be escaped by positive thinking, thoughts, and prayers or any of the other techniques that work on lesser problems. Plus, simplistic advice like “Just quit, nuh?” isn’t helpful in a weak economy where everyone you know is scrambling to hold on to a job.

Unfortunately, we are taught from early on to conquer evil by launching strong resistance. After all, this approach worked to end slavery, get the vote and achieve independence. It also works in wars.

Fighting hard to win seems to be the best way to change your company’s culture. It appears to be a far better strategy than merely surrendering making it the tactic most corporate leaders use.

Unfortunately, it has faults which only makes things worse. Here are three examples.

Denial

An executive sits at her desk looking at the exit statistics. The best performers are consistently leaving for other companies, siphoning away the second-bests within a few months. Before long, only third-bests will remain—a recipe for disaster.

The head of human resources tries to convince her there’s a huge internal problem. But she refuses to accept it. Her people are being stolen by those with deeper pockets, an injustice. She angrily denies that the culture of her company is driving people away.

In her mind, she is the big victim.

Scolding

A CEO scrolls through the survey results. The staff has spoken: employee satisfaction and engagement scores have dipped even further. Obviously, the prior year’s interventions didn’t work, in spite of his hard work and extra effort. In fact, they actually made things worse.

“They shouldn’t feel this way.”

His response is all-too-human. As a species, we have a remarkable ability to argue with reality even when it’s staring us in the face. The response is instinctive – a way to protect ourselves from bad news.

It’s also beside the point. Given his goal of changing a toxic culture, the new scores provide valuable data which tell a nuanced story. Instead of being discarded, they need to be the basis for new plans going forward, as the leadership team “wheels and comes again.”

However, whenever he repeats the refrain in every executive meeting, real discussion stops. Lots of words are spoken, but his comment inserts a dangerous fiction at the moment the team should be grappling with hard truths.

As a result, they make no progress.

Selfish Disengagement

A Managing Director is stunned by the ungrateful nature of his staff members. His official Coffee Chats, an opportunity to meet with small groups of employees, has not turned out the way he wanted.

“Is this all you people do each day… just b***h and moan?” he finally lashes out, frustrated. All future open conversations are cancelled.

In his mind, they only became a bottomless pit of complaints. Instead of presenting a useful balance of positive and negative experiences, they dwelt on the bad stuff.

In response, he withdraws, turning into himself: an act of self-preservation in which he can lick his wounds in private. He limits his meetings to people he knows are happy, eschewing group gatherings. After all, no-one seems to care that he is also a human being who has real feelings.

The First Step

The behaviors displayed in the above examples are commonplace among leaders.

In each case, they experience unwanted internal feelings, triggered by other people’s unhappy expressions. To cope, they attack the source in the hope it will go away.

This tactic sometimes works in life, on simple problems. However, it fails to transform complex corporate cultures. In the high stakes positions they inhabit, the only answer is to learn how to fully accept, absorb and “be with” the stuff most people resist. In other words, instead of turning unwanted internal feelings into the enemy, they must mature to a place when they can be embraced.

While this is much easier to write or say than to practice, top executives need to evolve to the point where they can step aside from their own instinctive reactions. It’s the first, unavoidable step towards transforming themselves, demonstrating the radical kind of inside-out change that people need to see.

 

As such, this message isn’t only for top executives. It’s for any employee caught in a toxic company they can’t stand, but can’t immediately leave. Acceptance rather than resistance is the most powerful first step.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180225/francis-wade-toxic-workplace-resistance

Boosting your temporal IQ

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We may laugh along with our leaders about our personal productivity and constant overwhelm, but those who have worked in developed countries know that top organisations take time seriously.

It’s no coincidence. Corporate success relies on individuals who execute brilliantly, never run late, and don’t forget to do their tasks.

But here in Jamaica, we are perplexed. We want the crime-free growth opportunities that occur in a strong economy built on high-performing companies. Yet, when pressured, we continually excuse the fact that we are individually slack. For example, almost no one complained when every meeting of the 2017 Jamaican Parliament started late.

Instead, tardiness is met with a joke. The brave few who insist on timeliness are sidelined as ‘anal’, as boards, teams and cabinets tolerate behaviours that keep us mediocre. When this vibe is amplified across society, contributing to mayhem and murder, we scratch our heads: ‘What’s wrong with THOSE people?’

Nothing.

They are simply echoing the low standards we all indulge in, even when we know we’d have to give them up if we ever migrated to a developed country.

 

IMAGINE – A JAMAICAN?

 

A few years ago at a conference in the United States, I listened in agony as the top organiser explained why they needed to check my credentials twice before inviting me to speak. “We just had to ask,” she shared, “Is he for real? Who would imagine that someone in Jamaica knows something about time management?”

Unfortunately, we have collectively earned this suspicion. Our economy hasn’t grown since the 1960s – a case study for stagnation, resistant even to above-average outside investment. In terms of our macro-productivity, we fight to stay a step above last place among countries in the hemisphere.

But the conference organiser was no economist. She was talking about the lack of micro-productivity visitors see upon landing ‘Jamaica time’. It’s why they took two different taxis from their hotel to the airport, ‘just in case’.

We can rescue our reputation with a focus on a locally defined temporal intelligence quotient, or TemQ. It would help us understand the extremes – the Bolt-like performance seen in the world’s best companies versus our sloppy, everyday mediocrity. It could also provide us with universal targets to aim for, whether we happen to be an individual workman, CEO or Supreme Court judge.

For example, our prime minister could declare an ‘Arrive on Time Week’. Such a challenge would push us to discover and practice industrial engineering techniques needed everywhere in our economy to meet Vision 2030 and the productivity problems it describes.

Until then, how can your company use TemQ right away? Here are three suggestions.

 

STEP 1 – ESTABLISH TIME USAGE OUTCOMES

 

Professionals with high TemQs set clear intentions for each hour of the day. A high percentage of their plans are effective, which means they use mobile, digital planning tools, create a daily schedule which includes travel and recovery times, insert buffer periods for interruptions and other unexpected events, and track their time usage to effect improvements.

By contrast, individuals with low TemQ are hapless creatures of random impulses and miscues. They are often seen as a very busy but produce little of value as they bounce from one fascinating, shiny object to another.

 

STEP 2 – HIGHLIGHT ERRORS IN TASK EXECUTION

 

As a professional climbs the corporate ladder and adds more to-dos, their productivity is challenged in new ways. Each increase brings them closer to a recurrence of old symptoms they thought they had overcome, such as forgetting important commitments, seeing tasks too long or missing due dates.

The person with low TemQ won’t even notice these mild issues until they turn into crises. However, their counterparts remain eternally vigilant and see these early signs of trouble.

 

STEP 3 – DEVELOP

 

 

META-SKILLS

 

High TemQ individuals don’t panic when such unwanted symptoms pop up. Instead, they realise that they need an upgrade and go about diagnosing their habits, practices and apps in a systematic way. In other words, they demonstrate the meta-skills needed to build added capacity – the only approach which keeps up with a continuously increasing workload.

Unfortunately, low TemQ professionals get stuck and never improve, slipping into a mindset that partly explains our stagnant productivity. After all, if we aren’t actively expanding our individual TemQ, why should our companies thrive and our economy grow?

Ecuadoreans had a similar challenge, estimating that lateness costs them 4.3 per cent of GDP. In response, they launched a national tardiness campaign.

The good news is that, unlike our IQ, we can all easily begin to improve our TemQ with practical improvements. There’s no reason for us to continue joking about a matter which has sharp life-or-death consequences.

It’s time to invest, on a personal level, in the productive Jamaica we want to become.

– Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of ‘Perfect Time-Based Productivity’. To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: columns@fwconsulting.com.