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COMPANY CULTURE

Banish Negativity in Your Business--Before It Spreads

One of the most important ways to create the company culture you want is to root out what you don't want. And you really don't want negativity.
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It's easy to think that when it comes to company culture, you need to spend the bulk of your time considering what kind of cultural attributes you want. That's a worthwhile exercise, but it's just as important to consider what you don't want--and root those things out, fast.

That effort starts with identifying what I like to call the Party of No and realizing how destructive it can be to your company. Here's how you'll know it when you see it:

Membership can be appealing across roles and levels.

Induction into the Party of No requires being a committed naysayer. They're often one of the first to speak up in meetings to say why an idea won't work, dismantling it with surgical precision (and in the process, the feeling of openness and team building that inspires valuable discussion and brainstorming). Or they're the more insidious types--the ones that inwardly roll their eyes and smirk, content to have snarky one-on-ones later where they detail, with unholy glee, just how unworkable a concept is. Note that the Party of No does not discriminate--you can find these energy-desiccating Eeyores, these Negative Nellies, in vice president roles all the way down to new hires fresh out of college.

Going negative is the easy way out.

Why join the Party of No? First, it's 10 times easier than saying yes. When you say yes to an idea, you also implicitly commit to the tough work that follows as you attempt to bring that concept to life. It's often difficult, in terms of time, intensity, and expectation. Second, a yes vote is an act of generosity that some are just unwilling to give. Affirming another's idea says that, yes, this person has worth in the workplace, and that kind of affirmation can make Party of No members insecure. They've forgotten that a rising tide does indeed carry all boats. Instead, they're conditioned to a selfish kind of calculus: If someone else succeeds, I lose. There's also a slightly more benign possibility--perhaps no one ever coached a Party of No employee on how detrimental that behavior is and the power of the alternative response ("I like it; I wonder if you've thought about X"; "One way to manage that is..."; "We could also..."; "Perhaps another course to consider is..."). 

The Party of No is an infectious disease in your organization.

Realism is one thing (and a good thing); dedicated, omnipresent skepticism another. Talented employees are excited to bring forth new ideas. They are motivated to encourage others and explore possibilities. But what happens over time if their managers, let's say, are part of the Party of No? It's challenging to keep offering a bright, shiny balloon of an idea if, every time, a Party of No person pops it with the pin of doubt. The more that happens, the more uninterested and disengaged employees become and the less productive they want to be. There's no doubt that many have very reasonable and smart ideas--but what's the incentive when the reaction leaves employees feeling stupid? Nothing creates and spreads a "Why bother?" mentality faster than believing that their input will never be good enough.

Negativity affects leaders, too.

Leaders are not immune to the effects of sustained negativity. They may have a trusted counselor (or two) on the executive staff who is a non-obvious Party of No member. That's exceptionally bad, because leaders typically don't look for enemies within their own camps. When negative feedback flows from a trusted source, it can undermine a leader's confidence, ability to get buy-in on a big vision or new direction, and ultimate effectiveness. As that mentality spreads through the organization--because, again, the Party of No hallmark is talking to others--morale takes a swan dive and reinforces that leader's newfound insecurity. Welcome, self-perpetuating cycle.

As organizations evolve and mature, healthy skepticism and reasonable realism are essential components of thriving cultures. But perpetual pessimism never is.

Last updated: Mar 12, 2014




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