I often hear from leaders and staff, complaining about their toxic work environment. Examples such as people not embracing basic respect, constant negative language from staff and leadership, below the line behaviour especially blame, and all conversations starting with….. “the problem with that is”.
So what are some things that leaders can consider that could make small but dramatic improvements in “the way we do things around here”?
Consider that culture centres around three things: the individuals, the teams and the direction. So consider these opportunities to improve your organisation’s culture?
1) Individuals within an organisation have to know themselves. Organisations have an opportunity to assist staff to understand who they are. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. Few people know themselves. Few people understand their strengths and weaknesses. Once people understand themselves, they can begin to connect on a team level. They can play to their strengths, they can set their own rules and boundaries and they can create alignment.
2) When a team is allowed to define itself, it is able to play its best game. It has the ability to decide its own personality. Too often an organisation will try and control who we are and how we interact, instead of providing the right guidelines and boundaries so that the people and teams in business can achieve their best. A well formulated team is a strong team, and a strong team is able to deflect negativity and protect themselves from toxicity.
3) Direction is also essential. This includes the vision, values, mission, goals, KPIs, what the leaders say (and don’t say), what the leaders do (and don’t do). Leaders effectively role model the culture. The way the CEO communicates with the senior management team will ripple all the way down in an organisation to how the person in the call centre communicates with the customer.
4) Zero tolerance for poor behaviour. Introducing a culture of “Above the Line” thinking and behaviour. This means that behaviours “Below the Line” such as blame, “You” statements, deference, focus on problems and frustration are not accepted by leaders or members of the team and individuals are coached to consider how they can take responsibility, accountability, consider possibilities and options, use “I” statements and look at solutions. They are coached to be “Above the Line.”
5) A Coaching Culture is used by leaders. Coaching can be used to develop, inspire, motivate, take action, seek clarity and assist take things to the “next level” and perhaps clear blockages for the individual or the team. Most importantly in coaching, the individual is provided with the self-confidence to recognise that they have the solutions to problem solve their own issues and they stop looking for external sources to lay blame.
Often we grapple with some simple strategies that can start to have an immediate impact on the culture of an organisation. One basic strategy which has beauty in its simplicity is to encourage staff to ask better questions. Leaders can ask “What is a better question?”
When a staff member asks, “Why are we doing this?” consider the potential of asking “I need a better question!” Slowly but surely people start to ask their first question, but then say to their leader, “You want a better question, don’t you?” You then have the opportunity to just give a smile of satisfaction and nod to encourage them on.
Another great tool that can become a mantra is from Sir John Whitmore: What are your options? There may be constraints on what you do, but HOW you do it always comes down to a personal choice. Helping others discover their options allows for self-awareness and self-empowerment.
6) Assist individuals and teams to develop their Mental Toughness. Mental Toughness is a personality trait which determines how individuals perform when exposed to stressors, pressure and challenge irrespective of the prevailing situation. (Clough & Strycharczyk 2011) Mental Toughness goes beyond resilience. If resilience is our ability to survive, then Mental Toughness is our ability to thrive. And that’s exactly what we want in a “Can Do” work place culture. We can enhance Mental Toughness by encouraging positive and realistic thinking and problem solving, keeping attitudes in check, assisting individuals and teams to determine their goals and visualise the outcomes of their potential success and coach them to see change as an opportunity not something to fear.
So what could you start doing differently to impact the culture of your organisation?