Turning Around a Negative Business Culture

business cultureWorkplace negativity can bring down an entire team. It erodes morale and productivity. The culture quickly follows the downward spiral and becomes “unintentionally negative.” In today’s competitive hiring arena, this becomes a real Achilles’ heal for an employer. The problem is not only the few who are spreading the negativity, it’s the good employees who do not want to be in that environment who will leave as a result. As I discussed last week in my blog “Breaking up is Hard to Do,” you will have to let go of some of the people involved, but for the rest, you quickly need to address the negative business culture that has arisen.

Not surprisingly, the turnaround starts with leadership. You can’t expect this problem to magically disappear just because you got rid of a few bad apples. There may have been some validity to their complaints and left unaddressed, the wounds will surface again because you didn’t get at the root cause. As a leader, you need to get involved. There was a great piece I came across, “Simple Ways Leaders Can Help to Refocus a Team’s Negative Outlook,” that talked about practical ways to address this situation:

Practice transparent communication – This means stopping all blame, complaining and justification as the team continues a negative outlook. As a leader, it’s up to you to take in the information, decide on a course of action with your team, but avoid using any of the above or you become part of the problem.  Often when we listen, we believe we already know the answer and so we aren’t truly listening. We are biding our time until we can provide the solution. In this situation you need to be open to any solution, not the one you “know” is right. Open communication and engaging management will help curb negativity.

Don’t encourage victimhood over personal power – Never pretend you don’t know what is going on. If you have victims, including yourself, you also have rescuers and persecutors (the classic Drama Triangle). You can’t play any of the roles. Take control, ownership and responsibility for a problem, and encourage your people to do the same. It’s about the solution, not who’s to blame for where you are at.

Return the team spirit to the present – We all have long memories, and we go back to how things were handled in the past to predict how they will be handled today. This keeps people stuck in the past and focusing on the “bad things” rather than the present which doesn’t have to be negative. Focus on the present and the future.

Seek out and articulate the positive – Happiness is a choice. Yes, you really can choose to see a situation positively, regardless of how bad it might seem. As a leader, you need to find the positive (not falsely) and talk about it in a way that presents possibilities, not realities that cannot change.

Create opportunities to express gratitude –  Leadership is about acknowledging when people do well, recognizing a contribution, however small, will go a long way towards changing a negative culture. Recently, a good friend of mine took another job when a recruiter called because she was tired of never being recognized for her contributions. The company was shocked and will have a difficult time replacing her.

These are just a few of the ways that leaders can turn a negative workplace around. It doesn’t happen overnight and you will have to be very intentional, but it is possible. Leaders go first!