A Culture of One Bad Apple!

As the Osmond's told us back in the 70s “One Bad Apple Doesn't Spoil the Whole Bunch” - when it comes to love, but what about when it comes to organizational culture? We’re bound to have one or two bad apples in the bunch and sometimes we learn to live with them or give them the boot. But there is something to it when the rotten apple is in a management or leadership role of an organization.

One bad manager can have a huge effect on morale, productivity and ultimately a company’s bottom line especially if that person is over human resources, recruitment or in some form of leadership role.

Let’s say said rotten apple is looking for potential employees to bring into their dysfunctional environment (culture) and they pretend to be a very happy-go-lucky soul with not a care in the world.  They appear to believe in their organization, and the fabulous culture they portray, as they brainwash fantastic potential candidates into persuading them to join their “employee-friendly” culture.

The high potential employee decides to jump ship from his current job -- which he hates -- to join a team-friendly environment that he has always longed to be a part of.  Instead of finding the bliss that was sold to him in the hiring process, he instead yells a loud “HOLY S$#%! What have I gotten myself into?”

What he’s experienced is a broken hiring process that looks for the best candidates and then promises something that is contrary to the culture of the organization in hopes of finding those who will come in and make the organization a better place. But is it really up to the employee or potential employee to do so?

Our organizational culture starts at the top and trickles down from the CEO and C-Suite to the management team and so on.  If we are dysfunctional from the top, what makes us think that this will not affect our team?  If mom and dad are loonies, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the possibility of creating a little Looney Jr. is around 99% due to our behavior and family traits?

The same is true within our organizational structure. If you’re trying to get everyone to be a team player, and yet you aren’t a team player yourself, or you’re dysfunctional and creating fear and havoc around you, you may just need to stop and think “Is it me that stinks?”

Our dysfunction and hatred of our own jobs can most assuredly end up infesting our employees like the black plague. This can cause folks to start to resent their working environment, make them feel afraid that they have to "walk on egg shells" and even cause them to start looking to jump ship.

Perhaps it’s time for YOU as part of the leadership team to get on your meds, go to therapy, or maybe even realize that you’re not cut out for the particular role you signed up for. It could also be that you’re in burn-out mode and should consider turning in your resignation.

One of the most influential leadership books in recent years, Tribal Leadership, shows just how important culture is over nearly anything else. According to the authors, there are five stages of leadership and culture, with the fifth leading to a "no fear" environment that inspires innovation and maximum productivity:

"Tribal leaders focus their efforts on building the tribe — or more precisely, upgrading the tribal culture. If they are successful, the tribe recognizes them as the leaders, giving them top effort, cult like loyalty, and a track record of success. Divisions and companies run by Tribal Leaders set the standard of performance in their industries, from productivity and profitability to employee retention. They are talent magnets, with people so eager to work for the leader that they will take a pay cut if necessary."

Here’s what happens in your organization when you have a healthy management team and culture:

  • Fear and stress decrease as the "interpersonal friction" of working together decreases
  • People seek employment in the company and stay, taking the company a long way toward winning the war for talent
  • Organizational learning becomes effortless, with the tribe actively teaching its members the latest thinking and practices
  • People's overall health statistics improve. Injury rates and sick days go down
  • Most exciting is that people report feeling more alive and having more fun (they look forward to going to work)

In my opinion and from what I’ve studied, the culture of an organization is huge and is like a river that runs throughout. If you or your management team is adversely affecting morale, chances are you are also adversely affecting your company’s bottom line. You are -- in fact -- that bad apple!

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.
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