Keeping a Positive Culture

Jun 22, 1998

In my travels around the country working with A/E/P and environmental firms large and small I have come to the awareness of just how important it is to have a positive employee culture. It may be what makes or breaks you. What I have found is this—when the employee culture is positive, you can add new people to it and they are a net positive, even those who may not have been stellar attitude-wise up till now. But conversely, when the employee culture is negative, you can add good people to the firm and they become negative, “can’t-do” types. The employee culture can work for you or against you. The interesting thing is it’s almost black or white. All that’s required is a critical mass of one type of employee (good or bad), and the whole thing takes on the characteristics of those in the majority. It’s almost an “on-off” switch. If it’s good (the employee culture), the firm is a fun place to work at. It adapts readily to changes in the market. The firm grows. It makes a profit. It gets the impossible done when it has to. Clients are happy. In short, the organization is a success. But when it’s bad, new change initiatives fail. Everyone goes home early. It’s quiet and it’s depressing. The firm doesn’t grow. It doesn’t make a profit. It’s uninspired. The firm doesn’t adapt well. Deadlines get missed. Clients get mad. The organization is on a path to failure. So the question is, what can you do to get your employee culture into a positive state? Here are my suggestions: Weed out the purveyors of negativism. Most every time, when we deal with a firm that has a negative employee culture, it’s not hard to spot out the one or two people who are the primary distributors of this unhealthy thinking. Get rid of them! One bad one can pollute dozens of others. No matter how capable these negative people may be, they will do more harm than good. Invest some time in individuals you think you can turn around. If the “can’t-do” person used to be a “can-do” person, maybe they’re worth trying to salvage. Talk to them. Find out why they have their problem. Straighten ‘em out. Spend some time with them. Maybe you even need to relocate these people (either within the office or to another location) to get them away from whoever is influencing them. Or, maybe you want to move them closer to you so you can be a positive influence on them. Make sure the leaders are all in agreement about the direction of the firm. If they aren’t, then they’ll be saying bad things about each other. And you can’t afford to have that happen. It’s too damaging to the employee culture. Nothing is worse for employee morale than to hear the leaders openly disagreeing about strategy and direction. Because when this starts to happen, the next thing is character assassinations! Ramp up recruiting. You’ll be more likely to move out the problems if you have someone to replace them with. Plus, until you get your employee culture in a positive state, you’ll probably be losing more than your share of staff, so get ready! Figure out what your needs are now and what they are likely to be in the future, and start doing what it takes (spend money) to improve your talent supply lines. You will not confront anyone, no matter how negative, unless you are confident you can replace this person with someone who is every bit as good as they are, or better. Promote every single good thing that happens. Sometimes, if you just talk about something enough, it becomes so. Use every chance you can to sell the idea that the firm is on the right track, is being successful, and is doing the right thing. That means relentlessly getting the positives out to everyone, on new jobs, client accolades, employee accomplishments, internal processes and procedures that have changed for the better, and so on. You need to have an overwhelming tide of good news to snuff out any and all bad news. My last thought for you is to be impatient! This is one case where patience is not a virtue! Dealing with a negative employee culture takes swift, decisive, and powerful action to turn it around. There’s no time to waste. Little good will happen until you deal with this issue! originally published 6/22/1998

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.