Saturday, September 10, 2011

The “T” Factor: Trust v Toxic Cultures

The Bully-Proof Company is often contacted by senior executives because they feel frustrated about what they consider to be poor communication throughout their organization. Employees also complain about what they think that they are not getting information that they need about a number of issues.  Over the years. however, we have learned that communication is rarely the actual problem. Rather, the problem is about a lack of Trust.  If there is no trust throughout the organization, even the most benign message or comment can be misconstrued.  Someone says “Good morning.”  The person they say it to thinks, “I wonder what s/he meant by that.”

When there is Trust, both employers and employees believe they know what is happening in the organization that they want to know about.  They believe what their managers and supervisors tell them and they believe in each other. Everyone is at ease with what they see and hear and they are unlikely to misinterpret the messages they get.

When we meet with clients, we talk often about what we call “The T Factor,” referring to two extremes that describe many cultural realities.  One “T” refers to Toxic cultures, cultures that are based on the assumption that leaders and managers must behave authoritatively, almost militaristically, because they think that if they do not, subordinates will take advantage of them and the organization as well.  The Bully-Proof Company contends that Toxic cultures cannot begin to accurately estimate what exceptional productivity could be, what dedicated employees could produce, and what loyalty would mean to their bottom line, their reputation, and their ability to attract and retain top talent.

Trust cultures, on the other hand, not only achieve the bottom line they anticipate, but they enjoy the loyalty, productivity, and reputation they earn every day.  In a Trust culture, employees are treated as purposeful, enthusiastic, resourceful, and capable adults for whom going to work equates with being in a safe, secure, genial environment; these employees know that their contribution to their organization is acknowledged and appreciated.


Here are some characteristics of a Toxic Culture:
  • Bullies are untouchables, especially if they are senior officers/rainmakers
  • Victims of discrimination, harassment, and bullying fear lodging complaints
  • Employees regard Human Resource professionals as farcical characters
  • Managers are convinced that employees will not work well unless they’re driven to do so
  • Senior management believes that productivity is as good (or as good as it gets)
  • Managers with short fuses are rewarded/promoted as long as their output is adequate
  • Teams do not function effectively and this is accepted as “just the way it is”
  • Turnover is excessive even during a difficult economy; replacement is expensive
  • Employees are conditioned to expect similar behaviors from earlier experiences
  • Complaints (if Toxic organizations get them at all) are considered frivolous or self-serving
  • Some of the best and brightest leave, sometimes without warning
  • It’s not easy to get top talent to join the organization; their reputation precedes them
  • Senior management is seldom visible to most employees
  • Promotions/perks are given to special favorites and everyone knows it
  • Political/social consciousness is considered a joke
  • Obnoxious behavior is sometimes covert, sometimes it is blatantly overt
  • If EAP programs exist, employees do not trust the promised confidentiality
  • Performance appraisals use subjective language and no redress is tolerated
  • Training is reserved for high potential (HI-PO) employees
  • Workers’ compensation plans are in use frequently
  • Cyber bullying is considered normal; it’s just part of the workplace experience

Here are some characteristics of a Trust Culture:
  • Emotional intelligence (EQ) is valued as at least as much as IQ*
  • Senior managers are often visit departments and are highly approachable
  • Bullies are not tolerated regardless of their status
  • Victims know they can bring complaints forward without fear of retaliation
  • Opinions and ideas are encouraged and often rewarded
  • Civility is a prized and protected part of the culture
  • Performance appraisal results are never a surprise; feedback is encouraged
  • 360 assessments are the norm; results are valued and action is taken as appropriate
  • Employees at all levels are “caught” doing outstanding work
  • High quality education and training are employee rights, not privileges
  • Health is also a respected right—both physical and mental health
  • EAP programs function effectively and are very much respected and effective
  • Leadership of teams function on a rotational basis
  • Cyber bullying is seldom an issue and if it occurs, it is reported at once
  • An anti-bullying task force emphasizes the company’s zero-tolerance policy
  • Ombuds persons are readily accessible and used when needed
  • “Do unto others . . .” is a lived practice  
  • Un-common sense prevails, especially in multi-cultural environments**
  • Physiological blindness is a thing of the past; everyone recognizes when something is amiss***
  • Gap analyses are done regularly to measure expected behaviors and outcomes
  • The best and brightest are eager to work for the organization
  • The organization is frequently listed among the best places for which to work
  • Hiring is a team-led function; up, down, and across
  • Absenteeism is rare; managers always seek ways to learn about causal factors
  • Regularly scheduled attitude surveys keep senior management apprized of employee concerns
  • All stakeholders learn what is expected of them in terms of respectful business behavior
  • Should bullying ever become an issue, it is dealt with expediently, confidentially, and fairly
  • Ripple effects of bullying are taken seriously and a cadre of services is made available
  • Morale/quality/productivity and active participation are the norm
  • Increased self-other awareness is prized
  • Enhanced recruitment and retention of top talent is a “no brainer”
  • Lessened likelihood of legal entanglements of any kind
  • Support of new employees through extensive orientation programs is a given

*    Without denigrating IQ in his book, Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Golleman explains the importance of “emotional intelligence” which “includes self-control, zeal, persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself.”  The result is that “whatever intellectual potential the genetic lottery may have given them,” those with emotional intelligence tend to be successful in their personal and professional life.

**   Un-common sense refers to the fact that every culture considers those who “fit in” to have common sense.   Anyone whose behaviors indicate a different kind of sense are regarded as at best, strange and at worst, even dangerous.  In a global community it has become more imperative than ever to practice un-common sense; understanding rather than denigrating those whose common sense does not match ours.  Curiosity rather than denigration is required.

•••  Physiological blindness refers to cultural norms.  Whether it is functional or dysfunctional, those who occupy an organization’s space over time become “blind” to its characteristics. In a Toxic culture, employees regard negative behavior as normal.   In Trust cultures negative behavior is noticed at once and is taken seriously. Everyone is determined to retain the positive benefits they have enjoyed.

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