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Your Toxic Work Environment is a Symbol of Misalignment and Bad Leadership

So, you have complaints of your organization having a toxic culture. You are faced with several complaints of a hostile work environment or sexual harrassment. You have higher than normal voluntary turnover. You know you have some bad people in leadership roles, but they produce results.

This culture presents you with many risks. Damage to your brand, as well as your finances, could be significant. More importantly, the medium and long-term viability of your organization is at significant risk.

Employees, especially good and talented ones, are now much less tolerant of such behavior in the workplace. You’re already likely seeing the impact of this culture in your organization’s performance. Your strategies and initiatives are not hitting on all cylinders. Cross-functional teamwork is weak.

Hostile and toxic cultures are a symptom on misalignment

This toxic environment is a symptom of a greater issue of organizational misalignment to your mission and vision. How’s that?

We’re not discounting the significant impact of employees with real issues who do bad things have on specific harrassment, especially sexual harrassment and illegal activities. However, decisions you, and other leadership make about how to handle such situations plays a significant role in destroying alignment and the energy employees choose to put into their work.

Many organizations have within their mission or vision – or within high-level documents – how they value and treat employees. Such statements set a standard of behavior. When leaders and organizations choose to not hold employees and each other accountable to that standard, alignment to the mission erodes. Trust is damaged. Employees hold back, fight back or leave.

Each one of the 9 Orgametrics® constructs are impacted. Performance lags and emotions rise, causing more toxicity. It’s a vicious cyccle.

How do you address it?

There are two keys to managing a toxic culture and building alignment:

  1. Hold the entire organization to the high standards you have stated and address indicators of toxic leadership and behavior before they get pervasive.
  2. Keep stressing what actions that meet and exceed standards looks like, telling stories and rewarding those that exhibit those behaviors.

Toxic cultures, where harrassment is widely evident, don’t sprout up overnight. They grow over time because leaders allowed such behavior to exist and grow. Humans will adjust to whatever level the expectation bar is set. Good leaders recognize when someone might be slipping and address the issue before it gets too big. They also set a culture where they don’t have to police such behavior. The team takes care of such instances themselves in a healthy manner, based on trust and open communication.

It will be easier to see if an employee is not meeting the standard when actions that meet expectations are reinforced. Their gap from the norm will be easily seen. If that person is too far away from the standard, they can be moved out. This serves to reinforce even further what is expected of all. Employees will know why that person is gone and applaud the organization for taking the proper action. They’ll believe the organization has their interests at heart and will put more energy towards supporting the mission.

As with most of the alignment work that gets done, practicing these items intentionally and consistently is key. Being diligent in pressing for positive and correcting missteps every day is critical to building, and maintaining an aligned and supportive work environment.


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