4 Signs You’re Dealing With A Toxic Workplace

Now that we’re all paying attention to workplace culture, here’s the unfortunate news: It’s not always pretty. A workplace can be just as broken and dysfunctional as a rotten relationship. Like the couple in counseling, you don’t really know how bad it is until you’re focusing on it.

As a leader, you’re in a uniquely powerful position. You can turn it into a total win. But that’s only if you’re willing to do the work. First, you have to drill into your organization’s core values, and you may not like what you find. When the truth looks ugly, do you stop looking, and just return to business with blinders on? Is there a way to conceal it from the employees, fix it at some future date and hope they don’t notice? No. It’s already an elephant in the room, believe me. And your employees see it a lot more clearly than you do.

The first step to healing is facing the truth. Here are four key signs the workplace culture is toxic. If you own them and commit to fixing them, you’re heading towards a far better place for everyone.

  1. You churn like butter at the lower layers. Entry-level and lower-mid level positions are your canaries in the coal mine. If you can’t engage people as they come in, something’s missing. If your entry-level employees tend to leave before their one-year anniversary, there’s a problem. Further, given that you’re dealing with mostly millennials and younger generations at this level, there’s already a foot-out-the-door mentality. So, like climate change, the worse it is, the worse it will get. One key oversight is not supporting employees. Among key reasons to leave a job, millennials want to be given the chance and support to grow into leadership positions.
  1. There’s no line out the door to get in.There were 5.4 million job openings in the month of February, during what is still a turbulent labor market. For some fields, there are always more openings than talent to fill them. It’s not expected to change in 2016. Meanwhile, do a search for “great work environment” or “best place to work” and you’ll get some 82 million options. Listing great employers is trending, which means a great workplace will get noticed. And so will a bad one. From massive portals to tell-all blogs, no workplace is invisible.
  2. Everyone’s in a bad mood. Down in the trenches, what’s the air like? If everyone’s in a bad mood, note to self: That’s your workplace culture. Along with a general pissiness, you’ll probably find that employees feel undervalued, forced to compete with one another, distant from the company mission (if indeed that mission is even on their radar), can barely wait until the end of the day or resent the long hours, and are probably also going to embark on a job search if they haven’t already. (Two signs: clusters of gossip at the water cooler — digital or real — and a company’s browser history that’s glutted with visits on sites like LinkedIn.)
  1. Change is resisted, no matter what it is.Fear is an instant mute button in a toxic workplace. It’s also a giant monkey wrench for any kind of process. It can impose a status quo that resists changes, whether they would be better for the organization or not. A dynamic workplace is one in which the employees are willing to embrace change: They trust their best interests are going to be protected. They also see the point of thoughtful change, and may well agree with it. If they don’t, they’re not afraid to say so.

What we’re finding is that we know even less about our own organizational cultures than we think, though there are numerous ways to get a bead on it.

But it’s not a good time to overlook the challenge. If you’re not willing to do the work, you’re going to lose. It’s impossible to hide in this global, hyper-networked social economy. And there’s an added factor for leaders: To not fix a known problem could dump you into the churn, too.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes.

5 Steps To Unleash The Power Of Your People

Let’s be honest. A lot of people are unhappy at their jobs. They feel unfulfilled, unappreciated, stifled and just plain bored. And their performance reflects it.

Many of us have been there at some point in our work lives: crummy boss, lame culture (think logo mugs and posters riddled with “upbeat” clichés), and defeated colleagues who could pass for zombies in a pinch. Everybody loses in a situation like this: the organization limps along, and incredible amounts of employee potential are wasted.

But there are ways to banish zombieland and turn your company into a hive of happy employees bringing their best self to work everyday. The key is to unleash people’s inner intrapreneurship. This is the part of us that bubbles with ideas to improve (or create new) products, services, processes, and policies within the company we work for. Entrepreneurs, of course, create their own companies. The successful ones burn with passion, drive, and vision. Intrapreneurs bring that same energy to their current workplaces. With amazing results.

Here are 5 steps to creating a Workplace that buzzes with energy, creativity, passion, and happy intrapreneurs:

1) Get The Message Out. Leaders must start by stating it, plainly and simply: “We honor, welcome, even crave, your ideas, your creativity, your talents, your passions. Look around the company. If you have any ideas for improvement, or even whole new products or processes, let us know. The door is always open.” Find a thousand ways large and small to reinforce their intrapreneurial mindset. Solicit ideas – from everyone in the organization (sometimes amazing innovations come from unexpected places) – using social media, contests, recognition, etc.

2) Put Tools In Place To Turn Ideas Into Action. It’s no good to get lots of maybe-great ideas, and then just have them sit there. It’s all about action. You must have a mechanism in place (and this means allocating resources) that allows your intrapreneurs to model, prototype and test their ideas. Otherwise, your credibility is damaged and, more importantly, you’ll never know if the idea is good, great, or not viable. Never ever belittle or dismiss an idea out of hand. Give it a respectful hearing even if you feel it’s not viable.

3) Be Honest About The Challenges. Let everyone know where you need help, or where there is room for improvement. When that part-time assistant hears that there’s a bottleneck in inter-organizational communication (and that you welcome ideas for solving it), she may well go home, brew up a pot of coffee, and, using her front-line experience, come up with a brilliant idea for breaking the bottleneck. So stoke the fires of intrapreneurship by asking for help, framing your challenges as fascinating puzzles that ignite the imagination.

4) Offer Education And Career Enrichment. The more engaged in work and in life your people are, the more their intrapreneurial impulses will be encouraged and nurtured. When we engage in activities and learning that feed our passions, we bring that passion to work with us. So pay for courses, classes, and activities that spark curiosity, build confidence, and may well lead to ideas and innovations that will boost performance and profits.

5) Think Happy. I know, that sounds like one of the clichés I mocked earlier, but hear me out. I’m not talking about mindless happiness, smiley emoticons (it’s really time for those things to go the way of the Edsel), and forced cheer. I’m talking about the bone-deep sense of satisfaction that we all get when we’re working on projects that engage our talents, heart and soul. I’m talking about earned happiness. If you want to see what it looks like, check out any successful entrepreneur. Every single person in your organization should know that kind of happiness is within reach. When you see people who can’t wait to get to work in the morning, you’ll know you’ve created intrapreneurs who will radiate a highly contagious fulfillment and happiness. It’s a beautiful thing.

Talent is a terrible thing to waste. Most companies are using only a fraction of their employees’ potential. Intrapreneurship is all about unlocking and unleashing those vast reservoirs of talent in service of your organization. It won’t happen overnight, but if you get started today you’ll see an almost immediate boost in morale and energy. And before too long, one of your intrapreneurs may come up with an innovation that will transform your company. This is exciting stuff. Let’s get going.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes 08/25/2013


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