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

Special Report – The Jamaican Professional in Trinidad

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What are the challenges faced by the Jamaican professional who moves to work in Trinidad?

While there are lot of rumours and stories, my personal experience made me wonder if I was alone in my observations, or whether others were also having the same experience.

After a conversation with Dale, my colleague (and wife) we decided to mirror a prior effort completed in 2006. “trini exec 1The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica” was a unique study intended to capture the experience of C-level managers who had transferred to work in Jamaica. It’s available as a free download here.

The “Jamaican Professional in Trinidad” is not a perfect mirror image, but together, you may find that they provide a unique, fascinating look at what it’s like for professionals from one culture to work in another, and vice versa.

To download a copy of “The Jamaican Professional in Trinidad – A Practical Guide”, just provide us with your name and email address below.

New Project – The Jamaican Professional In Trinidad [Research]

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Ja prof in Tdad projectYou may be familiar with our 2007 study – “The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica.” It remains the standard in practical, cross-Caribbean studies of cultural differences experienced by working professionals. (Download a copy here.)

On the heels of its success we are launching a new study: The Jamaican Professional in Trinidad.

If you are willing to be interviewed and/or surveyed anonymously, or know someone who might be, do let me know here.

Once again, the intent is not to generate academic data. We intend the final result to be a useful companion for Jamaican professionals hoping to make an effective transition to living and working in the twin-island republic.

 

Are You Sure That Telling People to Think Positively Works?

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“Positive Thinking” has been touted as the remedy for all sorts of ills, but as time changes, is this technique one that still works?

After an unproductive encounter with a positive thinker recently, I decided to dig in to the researcher and it appears that we have evolved, so that it no longer works the way it once did.

Here’s my Gleaner article on the subject, published yesterday. Positive Thinking Can Be Bad for Business.

Customer Development – As Important to Product Development

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I’m reading a book that makes the case that startups need to develop customers at the same time they are developing new products. The two processes need to proceed in parallel, from the very beginning, in order to test the hypothesis that a real customer-need is being addressed.

 

It’s a great book and I summarized what I was learning in this article in the Gleaner – The Customer May Not Always be Right.