Bad Apples and Culture
At the start of a recent client session, as we were going around the table and checking in, the Head of Finance said this:
“Since Tim left, the mood in my department is much better. In fact, it’s not just my department. It seems like across the entire company, the mood is better, the energy level is higher, and people are getting more done.”
The rest of the team agreed.
Tim (not his real name) had been the Head of Operations. He wasn’t a bad guy. But he was a poor culture fit. He was great at some of the things the company needed him to do, but not so great at others. To the credit of the company’s Integrator (the title we give to the person who runs the business day-to-day), he made the tough call and gently but firmly helped Tim to the door.
Only when that happened did they realize that Tim had been casting a shadow that had a negative effect on everyone in this 100-person business. He’d been dragging the culture down.
Creating and maintaining a healthy, vibrant culture is one of the most important jobs of a Leadership Team. When the culture is less than healthy, the problem always begins at the top. Sometimes the issue is pervasive. For example, perhaps we haven’t done a good enough job of communicating our Core Values and expected behaviors, or of holding everyone in the business—starting with ourselves—accountable for them.
But sometimes, as was the case with Tim, a single person can drag a bunch of otherwise terrific people down. I’ve seen this happen before. Sometimes it’s really obvious. I once inherited a department leader whose team had an extraordinarily toxic culture. I suspected the department head was actually encouraging the bad behavior, but I was having a hard time pinning it down. Then he went on medical leave and the culture turned on dime. Freed from the overhang of this one person, 30 others started showing up as the best version of themselves rather than the worst.
I have other examples, and I’ll bet you do, too. Sometimes it’s really obvious, but often it’s much subtler, as was the case with Tim.
Whichever is the case, the important thing for you as a leader is to be on the lookout for signs that your culture is anything less than healthy, to find the root cause and to deal with it. If you’re struggling with that, let us know. One of the beauties of the TractionTM process is that it forces issues to the surface, where everyone can see them. Once you can see it, you can solve it.
Whatever reluctance you may feel to face up to and deal with one bad actor, or simply someone who doesn’t belong at your company, it just makes you normal. Just remember that you have many other people—perhaps dozens or even hundreds—who want to help you more and contribute more to the business than they are. They are depending on you, and they are waiting and watching to see what you will do.