Culture Matters: How Leadership Enables Toxicity And Makes Way for Mediocrity

We’ve all been there: We’ve either worked with, worked for or seen toxic employees in action. If you’ve ever found yourself looking for a hazmat suit to wear before meeting or interacting with toxic coworkers, you are not alone. Complaining about and avoiding these types of colleagues may seem like the easiest route, but let’s take a deeper look — and hold the mirror up to the leaders in any organization.

Do we really know what makes toxicity acceptable in the workplace? In my observation of several high- and low-performing teams and organizations, leaders have a lion’s share of responsibility in identifying and addressing toxic behavior that ultimately affects the organization’s bottom line.

The Cost Of Toxic Employees
Research conducted by Dylan Minor and Michael Housman from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that roughly one in 20 workers were ultimately fired for toxic behavior. The study also found that avoiding toxic hires can save companies about $12,800 in turnover costs. These are costs that can be reinvested into growing and cultivating other members of the organization who add tangible value creation.

How Leadership Enables Toxicity And Makes Way For Mediocrity
While toxic employees are one part of the equation, leadership plays a larger role in addressing the issue. When leaders refuse to do anything about the employee, it places a large tax on organizational morale, team engagement and productivity. In my own interviews with several people in various organizations (some of which self-identified as toxic, in fact), there are three big reasons why some leaders choose not to address the issue:

1. Empathy and belief: Leaders empathize with the employee and believe they are honoring the “unique” skills they bring to the table.

2. Performance: The employee is highly regarded for their intellectual skills and is a high performer or is regarded highly for their specific expertise (mainly seen in sales or engineering organizations).

3. The “what” matters more than the “how”: Leaders fail to recognize that clear mindsets and cultural behaviors are violated by toxic behavior in favor of short-term gain in performance.

The three variables of morale, engagement and productivity are essentials in a leader’s toolkit. Leaders unable to tap into these skills and address the toxic employees do a disservice to the organization — and produce mediocre results, at best.

Three Things Leaders Can Do Now
Toxic employees degrade and demotivate the best performers and overall morale more than any other contributing factor. Their impact can also degrade the intangible factors of trust and faith an employee has in their leadership. That’s why it is crucial for leaders to take action when toxic workers are present.

1. Get the pulse of your organization.

Do you know what feedback loops currently exist that connect you to actual versus perceived employee perspectives? What channels are available for you to access these varying points of view? And most importantly, what framework do you have to assess the validity of these perspectives in actionable themes?

Creating open channels that give you diverse perspectives will show you your hot spots and provide more insight on what other factors may be impeding success and high performance.

2. Define what behaviors you will reward and recognize.

Once you have your feedback, get curious and continue to reflect on behaviors that are rewarded and tolerated. Being clear and intentional about what your culture stands for and what it doesn’t will help weed out toxic employees and make it easier to address counterproductive behaviors head-on.

3. Have the courage to provide meaningful and actionable feedback.

I’ve encountered leaders who were not able to provide the meaningful feedback to a toxic employee because they believed that the risk of disrupting the employee’s momentum was not worth the reward of addressing the toxic behavior. The shift in mindset occurs when leaders recognize the balance of short- and long-term results. What leaders often find is that current behaviors will likely be in conflict with the actual results they are after. And oftentimes, toxic behavior can go unnoticed until it starts showing up in recurring themes that diminish morale and performance. Toxic employees tend also to be smart employees who will be able to grasp and take action on the feedback provided, and understand that it is based on how their behavior is affecting the overall goal they are also after.

Culture Matters
Symptoms of toxic behavior show up in declining team performance with no clear ownership of results. Leaders who are unaware or unskilled in addressing toxic employees should pay equal attention to what their teams aren’t saying.
So what’s the silver bullet? In my experience, culture. It all comes down to being authentic about what you will and will not tolerate, reward or recognize. Galvanizing leaders around this premise is a key first step to facing it head-on. Culture is a team sport, and the primary objective of the leadership is serving as its cultivators and role models.
So while it may be tempting to ignore toxic behavior because it gets results, a leader’s brand, trust and credibility are on the line. Several proof points show that tolerance of toxic employees results in declining performance, productivity and morale. However, the research rarely places accountability on what leaders can directly do to address the situation. More often, it is the job of the HR team to mitigate the risks once the decision is made to exit the toxic employee, but it could be more of a conscious effort for both leaders and HR teams to create the environment for high performance and team success. The best thing any leadership team can do is create conditions where it’s seamless for employees to distinguish what is and is not OK, and understand that it’s substantively reinforced by the behaviors at the top.


The Learning Myths That Plague Us

Myths, superstitions, and misconceptions are eating unnecessary time and money.

Organizations are all too frequently following approaches that are unjustified or even contrary to their best interests. Yet, we see continuing investments in these misguided exercises. That is contrary to our stance as practitioners.

As an industry, should we be concerned with myths about learning, superstitions about design, and misconceptions around common terms? We seem to be progressing, so is this a concern? Surely, they are just a relatively small problem, right?

The short answer is yes, such beliefs are problematic. What’s more challenging is dissuading such beliefs, yet it’s critical that we do. What are these beliefs, why do they persist, and what can we do? First, let’s look at the problem.

The problem
The evidence is strong that these beliefs are among us. Researchers exploring the prevalence of such beliefs find robust evidence of misconceptions permeating practice. One study in the United Kingdom found that 76 percent of teachers were using learning styles in their instruction. Another study in the United States found that 93 percent of the public believes in learning styles, as do 76 percent of teachers. More surprising, and worrying, is that 78 percent of those with some neuroscience education believe in learning styles.

Other myths that are extant include left-right brain (64 percent of the public, 49 percent of teachers, and fortunately only 32 percent of the neuroscience-educated), and that humans only use 10 percent of their brain (36 percent of the public, 33 percent of teachers, and 14 percent of those with neuroscience education). This is still too high.

There are several problems with this persistence of beliefs. For one, if we design learning to accommodate these beliefs, we likely are wasting money. To accommodate learning styles, for example, we’d generate differentiated content unnecessarily. For a second problem, leveraging our design principles in these ways may not just be wasteful; it potentially could be harmful. We could be prolonging learning and also hindering or preventing the very outcomes we intend. We need to get smarter.

Types of beliefs
As suggested, some of the beliefs we have are myths, some are superstitions, and some are misconceptions. These differ in their nature, but all can be problematic.

Myths, in this case, are beliefs that are proved wrong. For instance, research on learning styles indicates several problems. The first is that we can’t reliably identify learning styles, and the second is that there’s no evidence that accommodating learning styles in design makes a difference. Other such myths include that individuals differ by their generation, that men and women learn differently, and that there are digital natives. The list goes on.

A second category is that of design practices that are contrary to what we know about learning. They’re not specifically disproved so much as they’re just known to be contrary to empirical outcomes. These beliefs manifest in tools and work products. In this case, I am talking about practices such as considering clicking to be a sufficient driver of engagement and that knowledge presentation will lead to acquisition. While they’re not completely wrong, they’re simplistic. And we can do better.

The last category is misconceptions, the ideas that some people strongly support and others dismiss. One problem is that the ideas are not adequately laid out, so others can interpret them in various ways. In other cases, the ideas are useful in some situations but not in others. The problem here is that they can lead to practices that are contrary to good outcomes and valuable approaches. Examples include the term microlearning, the idea of problem-based learning, and the Kirkpatrick model of evaluation. Each of these has adherents and real results—and also misinterpretations and problematic interpretations.

What we need is to get to the bottom of why they’re infectious, find alternative approaches, and finally inoculate ourselves with learning science.

Beliefs and practices
The beliefs have distinct roots, but several commonalities guide their emergence. For one, they tap into our own experiences. Learning styles, for instance, reflect our experiences that learners differ. They do—but not systematically and not in any way that we can address. For another, there are imperfect inferences from data. For instance, the belief in different brain hemispheres came from early research on the separated brain, but our knowledge has expanded since then. Other reasons include heavy promotion and a lack of contrary data.

So, one source of problems is people misinterpreting the results of others. For example, the attention-span myth arose from research on webpage behavior, which is quite different from trying to learn something. Other times, folks will extend particular data beyond its applicability.

In short, we believe myths because they appeal to simplifications of the world that appear to make our lives easier or more comprehensible. Unfortunately, the unscrupulous will prey upon those beliefs, and the naïve will be victimized. The ultimate result is misguided investment. We should be wary.

A core problem is focus. It’s too infrequent that we see sufficient attention on learning design (or learning engineering). If we are further distracted by the latest shiny object or slogan that promises to meet all our needs, we may well layer unworthy hype on top of bad design. Gold-plated bad design is still bad design.

What can we do? We need to have a bit of a background in science methods in general and then learning science in particular. We need to be able to comprehend the methods and the theoretical background. Then we can evaluate claims and the associated causal stories.

A learning and science background
Properly, science is advanced through systematic methods. Sometimes we do purely experimental studies to see what we find. More commonly, we create explanations for what’s been observed and then conduct targeted experiments to validate or undermine our stories.

There are standards for what constitutes valid experimentation. Studies need to be designed to answer the questions posed. Statistics are used to assess the likelihood that the results came by random chance instead of from a reliable indication. The method must have sufficient power to determine the difference, either using a sufficient number of subjects (in the case of human studies) or a strong analytical method. The results need to be sufficiently qualified about how broadly they can be extended based on the study’s diversity. And, finally, the details need to be sufficiently detailed to be replicable. Results really aren’t considered completely validated until someone else has had similar results.

Research in learning science has established some robust results. At the neural level, meaning is distributed in patterns of activations across neurons, so different patterns of activation represent different ideas, events, actions, etc. Thus, learning is about activating patterns in conjunction and strengthening the associations between them. At a higher level, learning is a cycle of action and reflection. We do something, observe the outcomes, and reflect on what this means (and, importantly, what we should do differently).

Instruction, for the purposes of training and development, is designed action and guided reflection. Critically, learning doesn’t happen by information presentation. Instead, learners need repeated, spaced, and varied practice, applying the knowledge to solve problems like the ones they’ll need to be able to accomplish after the learning experience. It also needs to be the right practice, addressing current gaps with targeted feedback.

Instruction varies by the nature of what’s being learned. We can also adjust the learning experience based on how the learner is doing: We can simplify it if learners are struggling or increase the complexity if they’re systematically succeeding. What doesn’t matter are factors that distinguish between learners: gender, age, or learning preferences.

To put it another way, the basis upon which we’re designing learning is for the learning outcome, not the learner. Yes, we need to understand the audience but then develop the best design, not different designs for different learners. This specifically includes sufficient reactivation—reconceptualization, recontextualization, and reapplication (read: new models, examples, and most importantly practice)—to support retention until needed and all appropriate (and no inappropriate) transfer situations.

Becoming an aware consumer
Going forward, there are some steps you should take. In When Can You Trust the Experts? Daniel Willingham suggests four:

Strip and flip it (cut it down to the core and test by reversing the claim).
Trace it (check out the legitimacy of the claimant).
Analyze it (determine whether the research passes credible standards).
Ask, “Should I do it?” (determine whether to use it).
It’s useful to unpack these further.

For one, being clear on the claim is important. What should you be doing differently, and, if you do, what will occur? There should be clear implications of what’s being suggested. Are there examples to suggest the outcomes? I’d add: What’s the basis for the claim? Is there sound theory behind it? For instance, Jungian psychology isn’t a robust basis; it’s just one man’s intuition.

In addition, you should trace back and investigate the claim’s source. What are her qualifications? What sources is she citing, and is she citing them accurately? (The latter, in particular, is a common source of problems.) Several of these claims end up at an inappropriate inference or a vested interest.

It helps to look at the study itself. Is the methodology sufficiently rigorous? Did researchers use representative subjects, have sufficient quantities of representative subjects, and eliminate sources of bias and noise? Did they perform so many tests that they were bound to get one valid result regardless? Are there rival explanations for the results that are simpler? These are all questions to ask if you are going to drill down.

Of course, the easy path is to find and use the time-tested methods and experts. Some folks have established a reputation for quality. Similarly, there are well-regarded resources that provide valuable good guidance.

Rely on sound research and theories
As learning professionals, it is incumbent on our responsibility to the learners under our care to use only evidence-based methods. If we’re following pseudoscience, we have no right to complain when our budget is cut. If we’re not demonstrating that we can justify what we’re doing on sound theory, we deserve to be looked at askance by our executives.

There’s a time and a place to be experimental, but it’s not where we already have established principles. The people who look to your expertise deserve to have you on top of what’s known in your field and applying it. We can do it, and we should.


How To Tackle Offensive Remarks At Work

To foster a diverse, inclusive and equitable environment for every employee, sometimes we are required to have difficult conversations that we don’t really want to have. In order to improve our workplaces, it is essential to address employees or coworkers that make offensive, ignorant, or even inflammatory remarks based on their personal biases or ignorance toward another group of people. What can be done to counteract conversations where others are spewing vile and hateful remarks?

First off, whenever an offensive, discriminatory, or stereotypical remark is made, it is best not to be passive. A 2013 Columbia University study indicated that one main reason for inaction and passiveness when these kinds of statements are made is the inability to recognize that a discriminatory statement has been made. In addition, even when others can recognize that an inappropriate comment was made, some struggle with how to handle and address the perpetrator(s) in the situation. To prevent these inappropriate statements from being made in the future, it has to be addressed head-on.

When addressing offensive remarks and tackling discussions about bias and bigotry, it is effective for each individual to acknowledge their own biases. The study revealed that the admittance of one’s own prejudice allowed others to be more honest and vulnerable, thus fostering a more positive climate to engage in uncomfortable dialogue. It is so imperative that human resource professionals as well as organizational leaders are well-trained in conflict resolution, and understand how to properly diffuse a wide-range of situations. Witnessing the confrontation of someone who told a racist joke increased the likelihood of confronting someone in the future who tells a racist joke. This strategy is called behavior modeling training (BMT), which involves being put into hypothetical situations and modeling specific behaviors and skills that model real-life situations. Training and development tactics for employees and leaders should involve these BMT strategies for developing successful confrontation approaches.

How can organizations encourage employees to speak out when they observe incidents of discrimination? Employees may be more proactive with reporting witnessed discrimination when they understand how important their role is in fostering an inclusive workplace and stopping prejudice within their organization. In addition, an employee’s responsibility to confront bias should be incorporated into their work role and employees should receive repeated reminders that prejudiced statements and discrimination will be taken very seriously and will lead to severe consequences.

Lastly, organizational leaders should emphasize the importance of reporting such incidents when they occur. Offensive statements and discrimination may go unreported because employees are afraid of repercussions and backlash. Employees who report these incidents should have assurance from management that this will not occur, so they feel more comfortable disclosing. It is absolutely necessary that continuing dialogues take place (which emphasizes the importance of ongoing diversity training) in order to increase education, awareness, and understanding and foster more inclusive and equitable workplaces.


5 Ways Tech Companies Can Retain Their Diverse Talent

Last week, Facebook published its annual diversity report. To summarize some of the major findings of the report: there were slight increases in the amount of Black and Hispanic employees as well as women in technical roles, business and sales roles, and senior leadership. Black employees increased from 2% to 4% and Hispanic employees increased from 4% to 5%. Since 2014 the number of women employed globally at Facebook increased from 31% to 36%. Facebook’s numbers are very similar to that of other large tech firms. At Microsoft in 2017, 25.9% of their overall workforce was female. In that same year, 4% of Microsoft’s workforce was Black and 5.9% was Hispanic. According to Apple’s 2017 diversity report, the percentage of women within the company from 2016 to 2017 remained at 32%. There was, however, an increase in diverse new hires. The amount of Black new hires increased from 9% to 11% and the amount of Hispanic new hires increased from 13% to 15%. While any increase is a promising sign, some may argue that it’s not enough. In 2017, the Census reported that Blacks comprise 13.4% of the U.S. population, Hispanics make up 18.1% of the population, and 50.8% of the population is female. Why are these numbers not reflected in the tech industry? And why do tech companies continue to lag behind when it comes to their diverse representation?

Facebook admitted that they do encounter obstacles when it comes to recruiting Black and Hispanic employees to both technical roles as well as senior leadership roles within the company. While recruiting is a key aspect of diversity and inclusion, it is imperative that an equal amount of effort and attention is put on retention strategies. Here are some strategies that Facebook and other tech companies can adopt to foster a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for their employees:

The first strategy to implement into the diversity and inclusion goals is to check the temperature of the organization. At the surface level, does the company have diverse talent (women, Blacks, Hispanics, etc.)? How does the organization match up with others in the industry? If there is not surface level diversity, what factors are impeding the hiring and selection of diverse candidates? If the pipeline is not the problem but rather the inability to actually retain the diverse talent you hire, this is where the temperature check becomes vital. Frequently invite employees to voice their opinions via a meeting or a survey to analyze and understand diversity and inclusion challenges facing the organization. If the intention is to improve diversity and inclusion efforts within the organization, it is critical to first understand where the organization is, in order to assess how well any intervention tactics are working. How is diversity being quantified and measured within the organization? Temperature checks should be performed on a continuous and consistent basis.

Many companies credit pipeline issues for their inability to hire diverse talent. Examine and re-examine the talent pipeline. What are the hiring and selection procedures within the organization? Are the selection criteria clear and objective? Could the organization benefit from using a blind resume system? There must also be creative sourcing techniques that are being utilized. Examine Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and partner with organizations that support women and diverse groups. The first step towards building a diverse and inclusive workplace is representation. Diversity should be represented through the company website, among the employees, as well as in the organizational leadership.
Differences in interaction styles, as well as cultural background, may cause communication issues in the workplace. One strategy that can be implemented to foster stronger and more effective communication is the Round Robin technique. This technique allows each person during a meeting to give their feedback or input. One individual goes around during a meeting and asks each person for their feedback individually. Communication building strategies such as the Round Robin technique allow each employee to feel like their voice is being heard, fostering a more inclusive environment.


The gig-economy: Harnessing technology to engage top talent

The world of work is changing. The rise of the flexible workforce and the ‘gig-economy’ – facilitated by rapid technological advancements and an increasingly global outlook – means that employers are having to reconsider how they identify and engage top talent. And they’re using technology to make it happen.

According to Mercer’s 2018 Global Talent Trends Survey, more than half of executives believe that at least 20% of the full-time roles in their organisation will cease to exist by 2022, while new data from the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) has found that non-permanent workforces have grown enormously in the last decade – and the trend shows no signs of slowing. Much of this recent increase has been driven by the expansion of the highly skilled freelance sector: a group which has grown by 46% since 2008, and now accounts for almost half of all ‘solo self-employed’ individuals.

Meanwhile, according to PwC’s latest CEO Survey, nearly three-quarters (74%) of private-company heads are concerned about the availability of digital talent amongst their workforce. Against this backdrop, it is crucial that business leaders consider how they can best tap into the ‘platform economy’ to engage this increasingly independent talent pool.

In theory, today’s most effective strategic workforce plans enable both core and contingent workers to plug into an organisational structure that matches a business’ real-time needs. However, the reality is that many firms are unsure of how to reach – and manage – this valuable talent pool.

While organisations have long understood the benefits of promoting a strong and engaging employee value proposition, it is now widely accepted that a single, static employer brand is not the best way to engage disparate talent pools. Instead, employers must use talent analytics to segment audiences and deliver specific candidate value propositions. Individual messages should, of course, be aligned with, and delivered alongside, overall brand messaging. However by distilling personalised communications, employers stand the best chance of engaging in a way which resonates with target candidates.

An organisation which knows where to reach the gig-community – and demonstrate that it also has the infrastructure in place to quickly embed and effectively support contractors – can maximise its chance of securing top talent.

Beyond brand messaging, the rise of the ‘gig-economy’ is also encouraging a more ‘Uber-esque’ approach to recruitment from a technical perspective. In order to convert sophisticated web audiences into talent, business leaders must reconsider how the functionality of their interfaces affects their brand’s entire internet presence. Success lies in personalisation – the careers website of the future does not take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to engagement.

Big data, for example, can be made available for all websites through close integration of analytics, advertising and search preferences as well as feedback from hiring managers on the ground. This, in turn, brings about the possibility to use AI to customise the website’s look and performance for particular user personas, by directing them into different ‘lanes’: freelancers landing on your site can be offered separate content to those seeking long term positions.

Long-term, this same workforce and candidate data can also be used to inform complex strategic workforce planning strategies to ensure that organisations never have a shortage – or surplus – of vital skills. Today’s intelligent workforce plans also ensure that all talent is deployed most effectively within the business, regardless of whether it is bought or borrowed.

Today, ‘solo self-employed’ individuals account for 14% of the UK workforce, and recruitment strategies must respond to reflect this. Employers who embrace the rise of the contract workforce will benefit from being in a position to bring on board rare and specialist skills to help manage demand without the burden of permanent headcount costs. And as the talent ecosystem continues to advance, organisations which engage and leverage the gig-economy will flourish.


How Agencies Can Keep Their Millennial Talent By Setting Them Free

It’s no secret that great companies are built by great people. With the changes rolling through our industry today, it’s easy to be more focused on the bottom line than on talent. Yet, more than ever, agencies need to be committed to developing and retaining employees. In my experience, the best way to do this is to break down the silos between departments and muster the managerial courage to let your people move within the agency, across traditional boundaries.

If you love someone, set them free! I believe that this is the single most effective thing you can do to retain your most talented people in a hot job market.

Although my company dataxu is a software company, we work with hundreds of agencies that use our software to manage media programmatically. And so, we have front row seats to the staff turnover and talent retention issues challenging the marketing services business. Many of our agency customers struggle with staffing as they lose experienced team members and try to re-hire while also maintaining business-as-usual with client campaigns. We even created a special team within dataxu (“experts on demand”) to help our agency customers through the pain of staff churn.

So, what’s an agency to do about the talent crisis? There is much discussion about the need for agencies to replace outdated legacy processes with more agile, integrated, digital-first workflows. This is what clients want, and the agencies getting it right are thriving. But it’s also what your best young employees expect from a modern, competitive workplace.

Millennials get a lot of heat for jumping from position to position. But in a dynamic economy, we need talent that is cross-skilled, ambitious and equipped to learn and master completely new challenges. I would argue that moving positions is required to develop talent at a robust pace. Maybe it’s in the best interest of agencies to cater to the millennial lifestyle rather than curse it?

Encourage Your Employees To Follow Their Dreams

Agency executives need to assess employees’ potential beyond the confines of their current roles, teams or departments. Who has the capability and commitment, regardless of tenure, to become a star at the firm? Develop and retain your best talent by encouraging them and the managers at your firm to work across departments and into roles that best fit their skills, goals and desired career paths.

Creating a more holistic employee experience internally is a way to create a better customer experience externally. When your team is passionately committed to the work they are doing, they will do great work for the client.

At my company, some of the most talented twentysomething professionals are a product of this approach. Working across three departments in their first four years is not atypical for an up-and-coming star. And an “employee journey” that starts with client services, morphs to marketing and then flows into product management, as an example, helps us more intuitively create software that meets the market and user needs.

I encourage managers to let our most talented people work in the direction of their dreams, rather than orphan them in functions that prompt them to leave the company to pursue those dreams.

What often holds us back from taking this more empowering, humanistic approach to retaining talent? The unavoidable fact that personnel change creates more work for managers. This is no doubt true, and the effort involved in sourcing, training and norming new talent is real. But I believe that a proactive approach to talent will save time and effort in the long run, and more importantly, it will improve your business. Disrupt your own legacy logic or be disrupted by the market.

Culture is indeed the operating system of any company — whether it is an agency, an advertiser or a software company. Career development can help differentiate you from agencies big and small when it comes to retaining and cultivating talent. But to truly invest in your people first requires boldly breaking down your walls. The acceleration of your business comes later, but those rewards can be great.

Show your commitment to your employees, and it will grow commitment from your employees, which will, in turn, manifest itself in exceptional service for your clients. And that’s a win on everyone’s books.


Stopping The Downward Spiral Of Workplace Incivility

Rudeness. Sarcastic comments. Bickering. The withholding of compliments. Inappropriate joking.

And worse — public rebukes, demeaning language, taunting, yelling and insulting remarks.

These behaviors are examples of the downward spiral of workplace incivility. There is alarming evidence that incivility at work is pervasive and on the rise. Examples of business leaders who are described as “terrifying people to work for” abound. Scott Rudin was said to have gone through 250 assistants in five years. Barry Diller, founder of Fox Broadcasting Company, was known for outbursts like hurling a videotape at an employee. Former president and COO of Goldman Sachs Gary Cohn was said to use extreme behaviors such as yelling or the silent treatment for those who displeased him.

What exactly is incivility? Incivility represents a form of psychological harassment and emotional aggression that violates the social norm of mutual respect. Whether it is done with or without conscious intent, workplace incivility is costly to the bottom line and the emotional psyche. It is also entirely preventable.

Frequently, workplace incivility goes unaddressed until the negative consequences escalate to unacceptable levels. Some managers argue that the individualistic or “me-only” personality common in Western cultures, when combined with strong pressures to perform, hyper-competitive workplaces, or tensions between individual rights versus norms of mutual respect, contribute to rampant incivility in the workplace. Be that as it may, there is no denying that the rise of incivility is one of the most serious contemporary issues facing organizations. According to a study that was reported by Fortune magazine, U.S. firms spend 13 percent of their time addressing the incendiary fallout of workplace incivility.

Workplace incivility creates a wide range of negative effects including lower employee engagement, reduced work effort, increased worry or anxiety, withdrawal, lower individual satisfaction, and reduced organizational commitment. In extreme cases, affected employees leave the organization and customers who witness incivility take their business elsewhere. Each of these outcomes has negative repercussions on employees, customers and other valuable organizational stakeholders. The long-term impact of workplace incivility can create a toxic culture that is challenging to correct. It can also be financially costly in terms of time spent managing conflict at work and in accounting for increased employee turnover, expensive litigation and the negative impact on the customers’ experience and the overall company reputation.

Make no mistake, workplace incivility is not subjective. It is not merely a matter of differences in opinion over what is acceptable or appropriate behavior. Research shows that the misuse of power is often at the core of the harmful, negative interactions. The target of incivility is more likely to be of a lower status than the perpetrator. It should come as no surprise then that the employees who admit to committing workplace incivility report that they modeled their behavior after the leaders of their organization. The actions (or inactions) of company leaders can signal that rude and discourteous behavior is acceptable. In excessive cases, leaders who reward and promote the habitual perpetrators of workplace incivility create a culture of deviance that has long-term detrimental consequences for the work environment.

Because the dynamics of power and leadership are central to workplace incivility, ignoring bad behaviors does not make them disappear. Abusive supervisors, narcissistic leaders and passive aggressive managers create adverse conditions. The little acts of incivility that go unchecked by authority figures, which are known as micro-aggressions, can spiral into bullying and even workplace violence.

We must acknowledge that responsible, proactive leadership is essential for preventing the spiral of workplace incivility. Principled leadership is essential because unlike violations of sexual harassment or discrimination, there are no explicit laws against incivility. As such, incivility frequently goes unreported until the situation has blown up.

Leadership should establish norms of zero tolerance for incivility. Leaders must be positive role models for civility in their words and in their deeds. When incivility occurs, leaders must step forward to correct it and not ignore it, even if the behavior is exhibited by top-level or high-potential performers. This can be accomplished best when leaders reinforce cooperative behavior and model the ethical use of power among staff. For example, some workplaces have adopted explicit practices whereby leaders can acknowledge acts of cooperation among employees or have sponsored programs that allow coworkers to reward each another for positive and supportive actions.

Workplace incivility is not random but it is preventable. Research in this area is clear that the spiral of incivility can escalate into more severe forms of mistreatment, antisocial behavior and workplace aggression. To turn back the rising tide of hostile behavior, leaders must act. It is incumbent upon them to serve as responsible and proactive role models to both prevent and correct the disruptive and dangerous spiral of incivility.

Audrey J. Murrell is Associate Dean and Director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration.


11 Strategies To Prevent Problems From Resulting In Termination

Terminating an employee isn’t a fun process for anyone involved, and most would agree it is favorable to prevent ongoing issues from resulting in termination in the first place. By reevaluating how they address ongoing personnel challenges, leaders and employees may be able to avoid that dreaded meeting.

We asked members of the Forbes Human Resources Council for their best ideas on how to prevent a situation from reaching the “about to terminate” stage. Here are their best suggestions:

1. Assess Fit

A sign of an outdated operating model later in a business cycle is increased employee turnover, whether through resignation or termination. Employees aren’t happy or aren’t performing to the organization’s expectations, revealing a communication gap. Managers should hold periodic reviews, aligning the company’s evolving goals with employees’ expectations of their roles to increase retention. – Mark Lascola, ON THE MARK

2. Don’t Forget Human-Interaction

I believe in the power of human interaction. HR leaders should continue to foster an environment where they speak with employees often, position themselves in an office where they can interact with people, and continue to have touch bases throughout the organization. This will ensure they have the pulse of the organization, hear conversations and view behaviors. This coupled with surveys is powerful. – James Banares, ValiMail

3. Address Issues Early

Flagging sub-par behavior as soon as it happens can help an employee change sooner, and maintain your support. It can be easy to let things go as a one-off, but you need to show someone your non-negotiables, long before it is a real problem and your confidence in that employee has evaporated. Ultimately, this strength will earn you more respect, cause you less stress and improve retention. – Karla Reffold, BeecherMadden

4. Simply Check-In

If you stay in close contact with your hires as they progress in their career, you’ll save a lot of headaches. This doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time. Personally, I like to check in either in-person or via mobile with at least three employees a day for 10 to 15 minutes a piece. – Brett Comeaux, LG Fairmont

5. Mentor Struggling Employees

For employee issues involving individual performance, a mentoring program can be helpful. Pairing a struggling employee with a more experienced coworker who excels in a similar role can provide the necessary guidance needed in order to turn a performance around. Also, the direction and feedback may be better received when coming from a coworker as opposed to a manager. – John Feldmann, Insperity

6. Address Issues As They Come Up

It’s up to HR leaders and company executives to create a culture built around one-to-one feedback. This is particularly important for the manager-employee relationship. If managers are consistently giving (and receiving) candid feedback, issues can be addressed as they happen, allowing employees to work through challenges before they become bigger issues. – Santiago Jaramillo, Emplify

7. Give And Receive Feedback

HR leaders should coach and empower all employees to be an expert at the art of both giving and receiving feedback. So often, managers assume the employee is self-aware of their performance issues, and fail to give constructive and explicit feedback. Coaching managers to engage in these difficult conversations, and coaching all employees to effectively receive feedback as well, will spark more productive conversations that lead to behavioral change across teams. – Heather Doshay, Rainforest QA

8. Utilize “Stay” Interviews

Exit interviews are conducted when an employee leaves the organization, which is too late and many times brings to light issues that could have been easily corrected prior to the employee terminating. Conduct “stay” interviews instead to find out what is working, what isn’t, what would incentivize an employee to leave, and most importantly, what makes them stay and be productive, happy employees. – Charlene Collier, Mercedes-Benz Research & Development

9. Maintain Clear and Open Communication

HR should establish a culture that encourages clear and open communication around performance. Giving and receiving feedback should be ingrained in your organization’s values. When performance discussions happen regularly, employee issues are resolved quickly and with minimal pain, ensuring we don’t make mountains out of molehills. When they can’t be resolved, termination won’t come as a surprise. – Ben Peterson, BambooHR

10. Encourage Employee Engagement

Most HR employee relations issues are tied to lack of company engagement and communication. Without engagement and effective communication, people are more likely to create “sparks of excitement” in the workplace. Large or small, establishing company-wide communication that focuses on a shared vision while emphasizing the goals of the organization and confronting the challenges is key. Employees align when a company culture is present, defined and accountable, and fostering productive teams, through an internal culture of integrity, appreciation, attentiveness and honest communication. – Tasha Bell, Talbert House

11. Create A Culture of Accountability

Too often I see supervisors tiptoe around, sugarcoat or altogether avoid employee issues. HR should assist supervisors to ensure they are properly equipped to set clear expectations for employees, properly coach employees to set them up for success and teach supervisors to hold people accountable. Employee issues typically do not fester over time if there is a culture of accountability. – Kellie Graham SHRM-SCP, SPHR, Complete Children’s Health


6 Warning Signs of a Bad Corporate Culture and How to Fix It

Bad corporate culture reflects on every company’s workforce and the service consumers. In the midst of a bad corporate culture, the company’s past reputation or achievements, level of talents, location, size, and awards won does not matter; the rewards are the same. And among all the attributes of a bad corporate culture is the long-term effect. Aside from strangling productivity through its impact on the immediate workforce, a toxic workplace goes ahead to kill the company’s potentials. Many employees will flee in search of the right company, and the remaining staff would hang their efforts below the minimum corporate target.

However, it’s still possible to fix your corporate culture regardless of how bad it has gone. Only the right approach from a general perspective is required to make it happen. Yes, there’s no rulebook customized for your firm on how to fix company culture problems. But how do you even know there’s trouble in your corporate culture?

Here are six warning signs of a bad corporate culture and a mild guide on how to fix company culture problems relative to each of the warning signs.

1. Unmotivated employees
Frequently dealing with unmotivated employees is one of the clearest warning signs of a bad corporate culture. Are your employees present but don’t demonstrate presence? You will need to increase employee engagement by implementing a cultural shift that will include employee recognition. Another viable step to fix this bad corporate culture attribute is to enhance communication and collaboration.

2. Dissatisfaction and workforce anxiety
Are you getting dissatisfactory results? Unclear vision and poor employee development make this one of the attributes of a bad corporate culture. Are you sure your employees are getting all the support they need? You definitely have a toxic workplace dealing with this. Acknowledging this challenge and positively influencing your team is a promising way of fixing this problem.

3. High employee turnover
High turnover is another warning sign of a bad corporate culture. When a company is always hiring for the same position, the management has a BIG question mark. Identifying why the employees are always leaving is the first step in fixing the bad corporate culture. Knowing the problem means it’s half solved.

4. Being all things to all people
Serving all roles to everyone results can lead to a toxic workplace. It shows that your corporate culture does not recognize individual strengths for a robust task delegation. This will not only hurt performance but deter healthy employee engagement. General performance should be derived from collective efforts and fair delegation of tasks based on individual strengths.

5. Failure to meet deadlines and goals
The success of every project is its delivery in due time and this may point to the lack of collaborative efforts and communication. Failure is not always defined at the top level but the imbalance of responsibilities at the downstream and other levels.

6. Lack of empathy
Empathy is one of the missing attributes in a toxic workplace. Lack of empathic leadership deters employee motivation and makes engagement strategies inefficient. Fixing this involves engaging employees in a personal conversation in one-on-one meetings. The idea is to build trust and improve professional relationships.


HR Leaders: Your Future Is Whatever You Make It

A little over 100 years ago, in the wake of a bitter labor strike, it is believed that the National Cash Register Company created the first human resources department. Its focus was on compliance, wages, resolution of employee issues and, of particular importance at the time, workplace safety.

If we’re being honest, those focus areas for human resource management didn’t change all that much in the decades that followed. Here’s a quick recap of where we’ve been:

• Early 1900s: The focus for HR was on creating efficiencies to capitalize on the skills of each employee and to create a more profitable company.

• Late 1900s: Significant societal shifts were underway, including increased expectations of workplace safety and equality (the Equal Pay Act, the establishment of OSHA and the Americans with Disabilities Act).

• Recent years: Worker expectations have evolved — it’s about more than safety, protective regulation and compensation. Workers in particular expect genuine recognition and valued rewards in exchange for their loyalty to a company. While companies today fundamentally understand and support this shift, the rapid rate of change creates fear, decreased motivation and culture erosion.

While the human resource management (HRM) function didn’t change significantly, the working world sure did. And don’t expect it to get any simpler in the future. Top-performing organizations are rising to the top by facilitating exceptional HRM performance. But the spectrum of performance is wide. At this point, we see four distinct types of HR leaders emerging:

• Tactical: This is an operationally focused individual. Employees are evaluated as costs and decisions are made with a local mindset. Programs are often reactive or even disconnected from the needs of the business.

• Developing: This type of leader is beginning to take a broader view of talent with regard to the organization as a whole and sees employees as resources versus costs. They leverage a greater degree of insight to develop programs rather than sticking to the status quo.

• Strategic: This business-focused leader is capable of interpreting organizational performance and needs from a global perspective. He or she likely has a seat at the table with the C-suite and not only develops a strategy with organizational objectives in mind but also helps to drive those objectives.

• Evolved: Employees are valued by this forward-looking, innovative leader. He or she understands the critical shift under way in the workforce and looks to emerging trends to create differentiating employee value propositions.

As organizations struggle to keep pace with the war for talent, we’re seeing a chasm form between those organizations working up the spectrum toward evolved status and those attempting to recruit and retain talent using the tactical leadership style. Simply put, the evolved organizations are winning the war.

So, how do you accelerate your pace of evolution? Here are my predictions on where HR should focus in the coming years.

• Strong culture: Culture is more than a buzzword; it’s becoming an accepted fact that companies with stronger cultures enjoy benefits like increased employee retention and engagement, customer satisfaction, safety and profitability, just to name a few. As an HR leader, you’re the keeper of culture and the owner of communicating the organizational vision to each employee. Work to understand every touchpoint in the employee journey from recruitment through offboarding to ensure a positive, consistent experience.

• People analytics: Defined by a Harvard Business Review article as “the use of data about human behavior, relationships and traits to make business decisions,” data-driven decisions should be your new best friend. Don’t expect to be taken at your word when recommending significant business strategies for your organizations, leverage data to make your case for you.

• Digital transformation: According to the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends study, HR isn’t just a support system — they’re now being asked to help lead digital transformation within organizations worldwide. Specifically, organizations will invest more in modern communications tools and bring the same sense of experimentation and innovation that the tech-focused branches of their companies utilize. This includes embracing the looming opportunities related to automation and artificial intelligence.

• Talent development: According to Mercer’s 2018 Talent Trends report, employees today must continue to learn to remain relevant. This is a byproduct of the trend toward business agility and is not anticipated to slow up any time soon. But we all know reskilling and turnover is coming, too. To weather these challenges effectively, a concerted effort needs to be made to hire for broad ability and culture fit versus tactical skills to cultivate a workplace capable of evolving with time. The good news? Employees are generally excited about this — PwC research found that 74% of surveyed employees are ready to learn new skills to remain employable.

It’s an overwhelming time to be in HR, but in the 25 years I’ve been in the business, it’s never been a more exciting time. Trends are pushing organizations to be increasingly agile and more creative. Build buy-in and develop supportive cultures by staying on top of these emerging trends and challenging your entire organization to embrace the power of strategic HRM.