Detoxing Corporate America

Detoxing Corporate America 150 150 Sharon Smith

Organizations are not just names on the side of the building or a stock symbol. Organizations are made up of people, living organisms, and as such Organizations are also living. We have seen the birth of new organizations, their growth, and sometimes their death.

Because Organizations are made up of people and are indeed alive it makes sense that like people, organizations can become toxic. So what does it look like when an organization becomes toxic, why does it matter, and what can be done?

The signs of toxicity for individuals can be pretty apparent; weight gain, digestive issues, cognitive challenges, emotional distress, use of drug, alcohol abuse, and other coping mechanisms.

What about the signs of toxicity for an organization? These are not always obvious. For example I spent several years as a consultant in my previous life for a very large company. Actually this organization was a leader in its industry in terms of size. They spent years on the Fortune top 100 best places to work list so from the outside looking in it seemed like a really great place. Their mission is great and extremely important. Most of the people I worked with were really outstanding individuals. However when you pulled back the covers and became immersed in the culture you started to see toxicity everywhere.

The events that lead to the toxic environments included: inconsistent messages from management regarding expectations or priorities, resource constraints – leaderships goals being out of touch with what the team could support, redundant work effort because teams operated in isolation, management decisions that were made in a vacuum without input from team members that better understood the impact, tasks or assignments that were given to favored individuals, lack of feedback – employees learning about dissatisfaction from side channels and not from their management team, managers and executives who were bullies – yelling behind closed doors, Leadership appointing or hiring individuals into key roles who do not have the qualifications demanded for the role and then not removing them when it becomes obvious, projects that were always behind schedule, and obvious conflicts between departments that felt like they were at war. These were just some signs of corporate toxicity. Others include the fear to speak up, dysfunctional teams, political infighting, falling profits, high turnover, gossip, and low engagement.

It’s quite difficult to get good deliverables complete when management keeps changing their mind and even harder when they don’t remember what they asked for in the first place. When you work in an environment of CYA all the time it’s not a productive or engaging place to work.

When I looked around, one of the biggest problems was that the C-Suite was blinded by the fact that they kept making list after list of great places to work. I don’t believe they could see that there was actually an underlying toxic culture at work and that they were responsible for it. They only saw what they wanted to see, they never got out and asked questions or talked to the workforce, and it seemed that many of the issues plaguing the rank and file employees were systemic in the C-Suite as well.

Why does this matter? I mean for a global organization with over 13,000 employees, the biggest in their industry, and financially sound, why does it matter that under the covers things are toxic? It sounds like things are good enough doesn’t it?

I don’t think “good enough” is good enough. This organization could not only be creating more profits enabling them to do more for their customers, employees, and community, but they could also create an environment that lifts people up rather than tearing them down.

When employees are engaged, empowered, and inspired they do more, they go the extra mile, they provide more ideas, work together, see opportunities, create safer environments, solve problems faster, bring products and services to market faster while also creating more joy and ultimately more success for everyone. This is very powerful and not only is good for each employee, but creates an organization of unparalleled excellence that has a natural competitive advantage.

So how does an organization begin to detox and start to thrive?

When you hear someone say, “I’m doing a detox” most people don’t think much about it. We have all heard of a detox and some associate it with a cleanse around the food that goes into the body, some around removing drugs and alcohol from the body, and for others a detox can be one of emotional and mental cleansing.

A detox for an organization is not all that different except that it addresses more than one person and usually involves a close look at the company culture and the habits that make up the culture. It could be the entire organization that needs a detox or it could be a team of people, a specific department or location.

It starts with the acknowledgement from the top that something might need to change. While things appear okay, maybe a closer look is in order, especially if trends like failing projects, overrun budgets, high turnover, low engagement, or decreased worker safety have been seen. Sometimes the detox can be accomplished without external help, but often an expert is needed, at least for an initial consult.

A corporate detox will also take longer than an individual detox because more people are involved so this is not something that will be done in a week and it will take fortitude to complete. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it. Because when people love what they do, how they do it, who they do it with, and who they do it for, they will be the biggest advocates for the organization. They will do more, expect less in return, bring in more business, be more efficient, stick around longer, and be a catalyst for the organization. That means reduced turnover, better engagement, greater customer satisfaction, new customers, returning customers, more employee engagement, and higher profits.

While many companies say that employee satisfaction is their goal or even go as far as to say it is a non-negotiable component of their workplace, how many are really walking the talk?

How well are your employees engaged? Are you doing better than the 32% engagement that Gallup reports? How much is low employee engagement costing you? Are you retaining your top talent or losing them to organizations that offer the connection that your employees are missing?

I know I’ve posed a lot of questions and by giving them some real heartfelt thought you may just realize that your organization is due for a corporate detox.