"A Toxic Workplace: 'It Could Never Happen Here', Right?" originally appeared on Forbes.com.
No business owner or manager wants to look out over their organization and grimly say, “This is a troubled place.” Yet every work environment has the potential to turn toxic, and sometimes it happens so slowly or quietly that leadership doesn’t even realize things have gone wrong until there’s a dramatic incident or lawsuit.
As a specialist in organizational effectiveness and leadership development, I've seen that every employer needs to be on the lookout for the telltale signs of toxicity. Although it might be comforting to think, “It could never happen here,” the truth is, it could.
How do you know when a work environment is going bad?
In the broadest sense, the two main indicators are shouting and silence. Obviously, if you have employees angrily yelling at one another or, worse yet, having physical altercations, toxicity levels are dangerously high. Sometimes, competition among co-workers or business units can create “shouting” in the sense that complaints and disagreements become commonplace — and they start escalating.
Detecting “silence” can be more difficult. Sometimes a workplace is literally quiet because no one is speaking to one another. Everyone is tucked away in their own isolated workspaces, plugged into headphones and isolated from management and co-workers. This might not be a bad thing for some types of positions, but this atmosphere can be a breeding ground for misunderstandings, suspicions and flat-out wrongdoings to occur.
Silence can also take place in a work environment overcome by gossip and misinformation. No one speaks openly; instead, hushed conversations take place behind closed doors or in isolated areas. And these discussions sow the seeds of distrust and disgruntlement. Suddenly you’ve lost one or more good workers because of things they heard through the grapevine, rather than valid organizational communications.
Another sign of a toxic work environment isn’t necessarily shouting or silence. It’s cold, hard numbers — turnover numbers. If your turnover rate is steadily rising and you can’t keep positions filled, one reason might be that new hires can’t get comfortable in your workplace. This is a major problem for morale, and skyrocketing hiring and training costs can break the budget.
When looking for the causes of rising toxicity, sometimes the answers are obvious. If you have one employee whose name is always attached to drama, conflict and heated disputes, well, that individual probably bears some portion of the blame for the discord. Conversely, when an organization is struggling to succeed, an entire workforce might grow weary and unhappy. This can quickly turn the working environment toxic.
Ultimately, management is responsible for organizational performance, so that’s the best place to start looking for sources of toxicity. It might be one individual or more in a leadership position who’s largely contributing to a bad environment, and it’s particularly urgent to address it immediately.
The importance of addressing the problem was recently illuminated by the Society for Human Resource Management in its report that was released in September, “The High Cost of a Toxic Workplace Culture: How Culture Impacts the Workforce — and the Bottom Line.” The report found that 58% of employees who quit their jobs due to poor workplace culture did so primarily because of their managers. SHRM estimated that the cost of this turnover to employers was a whopping $223 billion in the past five years.
These results were echoed by survey results released in October 2019 by staffing services firm Robert Half. That poll found that 49% of 2,800 professionals surveyed had quit a job because of a bad boss. It also found that younger workers (ages 18 to 34) were more likely to quit over a bad manager than older ones. In other words, if someone in leadership is causing a toxic work environment, your organization could see its talent — particularly younger talent — fleeing for the door.
What's the solution?
To detoxify a workplace, first, identify the cause, and then tailor a solution to it. If you believe one or a few individuals are creating a toxic environment, the issue becomes one of performance management. Meet with the person or people in question. Carefully explain your reasons for concern, and lay out the steps toward resolving the situation.
Be careful: Someone who’s already behaving inappropriately at work might be unable or unwilling to react reasonably when challenged. The risk of an employment lawsuit is high. Document the discussions, as well as any disciplinary measures taken. Consider termination only after making a good-faith effort to help the employee change their behavior — ideally under a formal performance improvement plan.
When the cause of a toxic work environment appears to be more widespread, the solution must also cover a broader range of corrective strategies. Communication is always the best first move. Conduct an employee survey to gather data and get specific answers as to why employees are unhappy or anxious. Hold town hall-type meetings in which management can answer questions and hear opinions and suggestions. Establish an anonymous way for workers to report bullying, gossip and fraud.
When you start nailing down specific reasons for toxicity, the ways to resolve it should become clearer. You might need to adjust workloads or schedules if employees feel overworked. Or you might have to retrain managers who play favorites or simply lack the people skills to positively motivate the employees working under them.
Perhaps the most obvious solution to a toxic workplace is fun. If you can get people to relax and enjoy one another’s company, the bad vibes and negativity will quickly fall away. Of course, this is easier said than done. But look for ways to bring positivity to your workplace.
Among the easiest approaches is to openly recognize the accomplishments of individuals and teams and cheer for them. A little appreciation goes a long way. Don’t let your workplace teeter on the edge of toxicity.
POST WRITTEN BY
Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and Member of the Forbes Coaches Council
"Understanding The Middle Manager: Convert Their Plight to Power" originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Middle managers are essentially the “hub” of everything your organization seeks to accomplish. It is the middle manager who must take the broad strategic initiatives handed down from the C-suite and execute these plans in real life. It is also the job of the middle manager to inform, interact with and inspire the employees in the departments under them. In other words, they’re handed the mission-critical task of keeping your workforce engaged.
This is a tremendous amount of potential for any organization and can drive positive or negative results. Often unrecognized for yielding such potential, mid-level managers face several challenges:
We see it in just about every industry: a graphic designer becomes an art director, a land surveyor becomes a project manager, an architect becomes a partner. In their entry role, they do a standout job and are quickly promoted up the ranks, eventually finding themselves in management roles where they are expected to delegate work, communicate across teams, bring in business, and coach and mentor others. They act as a bridge between top-level management and first-line employees.
Yet, they have no training or support on how to manage and lead others. They have their own portfolio of work to do in addition to managing people, managing budgets, planning and preparing for organizational performance. And, they are tasked with the very big job of moving organizational strategies forward, often without the tools or authority to do it.
According to Deloitte, “56% of surveyed executives report their companies are not ready to meet leadership needs.”
Companies that recognize the potential of high-performing individuals will try to service the needs of this mid-level by investing in “leadership training." However, not all leadership training is created equal, nor do all leadership programs provide results. Too often, we see organizations and teams invest merely to check a box versus making an investment in an employee that will result in a significant difference — for the individual and the organization.
For example, many leadership training programs consist of three to five days of formal training (or a series of online webinars). In this scenario, participants face a fire hose of information, then return to work with the expectation that they will implement the tools, skills and concepts. The company or department has checked the box on development training, but is the manager suddenly a leader? Are they more effective? Generally, the individual returns to their day-to-day charged up and ready to make a change, but when faced with their ever-growing list of to-dos, they are quickly absorbed back into the status quo.
Real learning cannot be one-size-fits-all. It requires time for personal planning, 1:1 coaching, skill building, feedback, application and accountability. Otherwise, the application of what is learned doesn’t materialize in the real-world environment.
Leadership development must be undertaken in the form of a journey rather than a quick-fix training approach. Longer term, integrated learning solutions may seem like a bigger investment in time and resources, but more time spent up front will accelerate learning and drive results. Integrated leadership development includes:
And, just as CEOs and executives find benefit in belonging to peer cohorts and forums, managers who participate in cohort-based learning solutions benefit from trusted peer relationships, collaborative problem-solving and being held accountable for making progress. Additionally, this type of longer-term, integrated development can be measurable; not only showing participants how they are growing and changing but showing companies how their investment is making a difference.
My company has been developing leaders through an integrated methodology since 2002, and we track the changes in leadership confidence and competence across a spectrum of 20 key indicators at three points in time throughout the development journey. Participants self-report on these measures of confidence and competence, and we can measure change from the start to finish of the leadership journey. The results are significant and range from 15% to 70% positive change on key indicators.
High-quality leadership development programs are powerful, not only because they create better leaders, but they improve company culture and performance of individuals and teams. Employees have more clarity and feel empowered and confident. And the C-level executives sponsoring their people during the leadership journey report major increases in innovation, better problem-solving, more effective leadership and closed gaps in succession.
POST WRITTEN BY
Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and Member of the Forbes Coaches Council
In October, I had the opportunity to attend and speak at the 2019 NHRMA conference. The conference was well attended with 850+ attendees discussing how HR and business will need to adapt to the future. A future that is changing at a rapid pace!
My presentation, titled "Lost in the Middle: How Middle Managers Lead to Organizational Success", focused on how organizations achieve sustainable success when they build strong leadership bench strength. This requires selecting and preparing the best possible leaders for the future. If this is true, why are so few organizations investing in their middle managers?
We assume that after sending first-time managers to 'supervisor school' they have all the tools they need when they take the next step into middle-management. And there they languish, and so does your organization, because the leadership pipeline is blocked due to the lack of attention.
What does your organization's leadership bench strength look like? How will your organization focus on developing middle managers into leaders in 2020? Read my authored Forbes article titled "Understanding the Middle Manager: Convert Their Plight to Power" for more information on this topic or let's schedule a 30-minute conversation to discuss your 2020 plans!
Lynda Silsbee | Owner & Founder
The Alliance for Leadership Acceleration
Imagine the impact your mid-level managers could have if they could be more effective at leading change, executing strategy and motivating their team to be more productive. The LEAP®-Leadership Acceleration program combines world-class leadership and management development practices with highly skilled facilitators and coaches to transform your mid-level managers into leaders.
Interested in developing stronger and better leaders in your organization? We're happy to help you create a leadership plan specifically for your organization. Let's schedule a 30 minute 1:1 conversation to discuss your plans.
Depending on your goals and the size of your business there are multiple options with our comprehensive and all-inclusive LEAP program you can consider:
It's very rewarding to see our clients on their journey to developing strong, confident leaders in their communities! Want to learn more? Register for a live informational webinar on December 11 or January 22 at 9am (PST) and find out how and why LEAP works and which track is right for you or your business. Questions? Let's book a 1:1 conversation.
Lynda Silsbee | Owner & Founder
The Alliance for Leadership Acceleration
Growing Demand For LEAP® | We're Looking For Top-Notch Consultants, Coaches & Facilitators to Become LEAP® Certified
We are experiencing a growing demand for LEAP® in multiple markets throughout the U.S., including Denver, New York, Portland, OR, Phoenix, and others. Independent consultants (and boutique firms) can add LEAP to their business offering, to grow their business, while growing the next generation of leaders in their area.
Did you know that Affiliate Partners add a minimum of $32,000 in revenue to their coaching/consulting practice when LEAP is added to their offerings? A LEAP license not only adds to your revenue, but your license gives you exclusive rights to your territory.
Start developing strong, confident leaders in your community! We are looking for top notch consultants like our most recent LEAP certified Affiliate Partner in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, who just graduated their first Cohort in September 2019. Click here to learn more about the LEAP Certified Affiliate Program.
If you, or someone you know, are interested in learning more, let's schedule a 30 minute 1:1 conversation. Questions? Contact Lynda Silsbee.
LEAP® Masters Forum is the next big step in your LEAP-Leadership Acceleration. LEAP Masters Forum was created as an opportunity for LEAP Graduates to continue to accelerate their leadership performance. This is what our graduates have been asking for!
The LEAP Masters Forum brings the best practices from the monthly LEAP-Leadership Acceleration Program experience, combined with the best from monthly C-level forum groups like CEO Masters Forum and Vistage to offer an opportunity for exponential professional growth. Peer forums like CEO Masters Forum and Vistage have proven to be an invaluable tool for business leaders for over 60 years. The consistent benefits of peer forum participation are substantial in terms of professional effectiveness, personal growth and financial outcomes.
LEAP Masters is available to graduates of the LEAP (and LEAP University) program. The LEAP Masters Cohort is forming now. Click here to learn more or register for an upcoming live informational webinar.
Questions? Contact Lynda Silsbee or Tim Riley. If you are ready to apply for the LEAP Masters Forum, submit your application today!
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As a leader, how do you plan to lead, grow and inspire before the end of 2019? We have several opportunities this Fall to accelerate your leadership...
We look forward to meeting you at one of our Fall events!
Creator of LEAP | Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration
LEAP® is the Leadership Acceleration Program that develops mid-level managers into heroes of the workplace, helping them take ownership of their team, drive employee engagement and lead performance management initiatives. There are three LEAP pathways to transform managers into leaders. Which works for your business? Learn more here...
Register for a live informational webinar on September 12 or September 25 at 9am (PST) and find out how and why LEAP works and which track is right for you or your business. New LEAP groups are starting in September! If you're ready to reserve your spot in an upcoming cohort, apply here now.
'Everyday Leadership Acts of Courage' is a series of articles authored by Lynda Silsbee, Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and member of the Forbes Coaches Council. The article series, as seen on Forbes.com, reflects on Lynda's gratitude to those, past and present, who have chosen to be courageous leaders in the work-world and the lessons everyone can learn from them. In the final article in the series, titled 'Leaving a Legacy', Lynda shares a few examples of her Nordstrom experiences and explains how these hold important lessons for today's leaders. Read the article here...
Also on Forbes.com is Lynda's authored article 'Masterful Messaging: Five Ways To Improve Your Organizational Communications'. If you've paid little attention to your approach to organizational communications, now is a great time to take a step back, assess and implement needed improvements. Read more here on the five ways Lynda suggests organizations can communicate their message more clearly.
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.