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4 Steps to Leading a Negative Workplace Culture into a Positive Future


The job of leaders who inherit symptoms of a poor workplace culture such as difficult behaviour, rudeness, conflict, high negative emotion, blame, bullying and poor performance is of course to influence towards a positive culture. This however is easier said than done. Understandably many of us are uncomfortable with the difficult conversations that are often required to help people turn such behaviors around.

Successfully managing behaviours such as these, requires that leaders have a range of qualities and resources they can draw on. These include their integrity, determination and strength, collegial support and of course a range of strategies. These together become their foundation, their rock and gives them certainty in what can be an uncertain space.

If you are a leader who is new to a role or a situation and are experiencing the symptoms of a poor workplace culture, creating the following steps can help you to create this foundation.

  1. Your Leadership Standard

When I talk to leaders about their roles, their visions, goals and passions, it is often clear that a high set of standards underpins their leadership practices and aspirations. However many leaders find it difficult to articulate specifically what these standards are.

When helping people to change difficult behavior and calling people on unacceptable behavior, it is so important that you are clear about your own leadership standards. Once have clarity about what they are and can articulate them they will give you determination and strength. They will enable you to talk about your expectations and give you courage to challenge behaviours that do not match them.

Spend some time thinking about what is important to you about your own and other people’s behaviour in relation to leadership. It could include some or all of the following or indeed something completely different:

  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Professionalism (according to the definition for your context)
  • Adherence to code of conduct, policies, procedures
  • Fairness
  • Equity
  • Respect
  • Good manners

More info here on how to develop your leadership standard 8 Steps to defining your leadership standard

  1. Your Network

When you are in the middle of a negative culture and doing your best to lead a team towards a positive one, it can be and feel very isolating. Building relationships with other leaders in similar roles both inside and outside of your organization as well as with people who are good role models can lessen feelings of isolation and provide a sounding board. Remember that your network is not a collection of people, it is a wealth of relationships in which you can both give and receive value

  1. Understanding Workplace Culture

This is a very broad subject and much has been written about it. Whether you like blog posts, videos, reading or listening to books there will be something to suit you from theory to strategy.

Try these links to start with:

Top 25 must reads on culture – I haven’t read them all yet but they look interesting

Things that influence culture

A problem focused approach to culture as opposed to a team approach – some good ideas in here and Edgar Schein is so great on culture

How You can Measure your Workplace Culture

  1. Strategies for Managing Difficult Conversations

Everyone finds difficult conversations uncomfortable to some degree. The trick is to have:

  • An intention: how are you going to enter this conversation, what kind of conversation would you like it to be
  • An outcome: what do you want to have achieved by the end of the conversation
  • And a plan or for your conversation, which can include communication strategies as well as a conversation structure.

Once you can do this consistently, you may not look forward to them, but you will feel more comfortable about them.

Learning to manage and feel comfortable having difficult conversations, for most of us requires learning and practicing. Below are some ideas that might help you further build these skills and capabilities over time:

  • Create some learning goals around this skill
  • Find a leader whose style you like and ask them to be a mentor and / or observe them when they have difficult conversations
  • Read books like ‘Crucial Conversations’. Make notes about what resonates and that you think you can do
  • Enroll in a conflict management course
  • Get a leadership or executive coach
  • Remember that people are not their behavior.
  • Remember that you are not responsible for their behaviour, only yours.
  • Set an intention and an outcome before every significant conversation and notice how this impacts both the content and the outcome
  • Be aware of and wary of making assumptions

Eventually you will feel more and more confident doing this with increasingly more challenging conversations.

The Cornerstone for building confidence in challenging negative workplace culture is therefore made up of for elements:

  1. Knowing and being able to articulate what you stand for as a leader
  2. Being connected in a reciprocal way to a network of inspiring and supportive people
  3. Developing an understanding about workplace culture: what it is, how it works, how it influences and is influenced
  4. Developing the skills and capabilities you need to feel more confident to have those challenging conversations

Where is your weak link, where do you need to start? If coaching is something you think might help give me a shout at or call +61 421 775 924

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