Harness Blog

How to Avoid a Toxic Culture

A Healthy Company Culture is Essential to A Thriving Company
How to Avoid a Toxic Culture
Jon Lowrance
VP, Operations at Harness

The most elusive trait of a company is an outstanding culture. We hear about culture all the time from books, podcast, and speakers. Everybody knows how important it is but very few companies actually attain it. Culture is essentially the personality of the company which is comprised of the personalities of the employees.

For an example, say that five friends were having dinner one night. There would be 6 personalities at the table - the personalities of the five friends and the sixth being the personality of the table. The table personality would change drastically if you removed or added just one person. Say the funniest person had to leave early to pick up his kids, the table would instantly feel less joyful. Even worse, that one friend shows up late and complains the whole time about how much he hates his boss... most people will be looking for the check as soon as possible. The reality is that company cultures are significantly harder to manage than a table full of best friends. I am still learning lessons about culture, most of which have been learned the hard way.

Here are 5 lessons I have learned to combat toxicity in the workplace:

  1. Do not hire people with negative attitudes- Sounds simple but it is not. I usually try to flush negativity out during the interview process with questions like “Tell me why you left the last company”. If their answer smells like a complaint, then it is only a matter of time until they are complaining about my company.
  2. Fire negative people immediately – It is inevitable that negative people slip through the interview process. It is also possible you are fully aware of how negative they are, but you ignore it or hope they will get better. The only solution I have found is to let them go quickly before they leave a trail of bodies behind them or even worse, they pollute the company culture. This is especially difficult if they are talented with great production results, but in my experience, their talent is never a net gain.
  3. Pay attention to who reports bad news – this is not always the case, but true winners do not like to play the “victim” or the “witness”. They handle things themselves. If someone is telling you bad news, they want you to solve the problem instead taking ownership. Additionally, if they are sharing negativity with you, they are likely sharing it with their co-workers. This becomes difficult to address if the bad news is actually true and needs to be handled. However, you must handle the news and the reporter’s attitude as two separate issues. 
  4. Pay attention to turn-over trends – if you are not tracking who is leaving your company, you aren’t paying attention. Track turnover trends by manager, department, shifts, or crew. The reality is that thoroughbreds do not like to be around donkeys and vice versa.  So, if there is a donkey among you, they will run off all the thoroughbreds. The real question to ask is “Am I hiring bad people who don’t fit into a good culture?” or “Am I hiring good people who don’t fit into a bad culture?”.
  5. Pay attention to who gathers with whom – do you think “Bob” is a toxic person, but you know “Sally” is positive? Schedule a company breakfast and watch the gathering trends like you would a high school lunchroom. Birds of a feather flock together and so do attitudes. 

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