Negative energy and your brand

Mar 30, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 9.34.19 AMTroublemakers within a firm can do a lot of damage, especially if they are tolerated. Every firm has these people to some degree. The naysayers, the skeptics, and the gossips. These people are holding back firms, inhibiting performance, and are a toxin to the firms they work for just like a poison running through the veins of your body. The negative energy these people create can have a profound impact on any organization. No matter how big or how small their role is, they can be a very destructive force. Professional service organizations must be extra vigilant in the crusade against negative energy as it has a deeper impact on them than other industries. The reason is we are a people business. We sell people and client service. When we poison a team or an entire company, it dramatically affects the product we are selling – our people. A few defeatists on your staff can do more damage to your brand than the positive effect of all of your other staff combined. This is a big problem in the AEC industry. When you get behind the closed doors of firm leaders, you realize how much time is spent dealing with people problems. They take valuable time away from executing strategies to grow and develop the firm. I am continuously impressed with how many high-level strategy sessions get derailed by conversations about bad apples. All that valuable time that could be used to discuss growth and new ideas is instead used to talk about one or a few troublemakers. When you want to remediate a toxic environment, you need to understand that people have three basic psychosocial needs: the need for control, the need for security, and the need for recognition. The reality is that many employees do not feel like they have control in the workplace and that combines with the feeling of not receiving adequate attention, acknowledgment and recognition. As a leader, you have the ability to create an environment that fosters all of those needs. You must first recognize that the company on the outside reflects what’s on the inside. Get serious today about fixing your people problems with these critical actions:
  • Get rid of negative people. Assuming you have had the appropriate discussions with them and tried to remedy the situation, it is time to part ways if no improvements have been made. Too many firms tolerate those who ruin the team and its brand. You cannot sell a fun environment to new recruits or high quality services to clients if you retain people that exude negativity.
  • Give your people more control. If you have appropriately dealt with the people that are negative and cannot be trusted, you should have no problem eliminating some of your policies that create bureaucracy and slow down decision-making. Dependable people thrive on freedom, yet so many firms have too many processes that are designed to control people and results. This is especially a problem as firms grow larger. When you have the right people on the team, you should be able to trust them and therefore offer them more control.
  • Give people security. I don’t mean unconditional job security. I mean security in the sense of feeling good about the company, its direction and their role in that direction. Have a clear vision for growth with a strong commitment to opportunity everywhere. Share more information with all employees using an open book management philosophy. Demand that all leaders have an ongoing, open dialogue with their people about how they are doing as a team and as individuals. Try to break free from the “once-a-year career development discussion” that is often aided by forms and meetings that accomplish little. True security is gained by reasonable transparency and confidence in the future.
  • Recognize your people. Getting rid of negative people tells everyone else we like what you are doing and we do not like what they were doing. Taking that a step further is recognizing performance and excellence as it happens. Again, resist the standard approach of talking to employees once a year about performance and offering raises and promotions at that same time. Offer raises throughout the year when deserved. Positive reinforcement is more effective when offered in response to the desired actions as opposed to a schedule. At the end of the day, paying at the top of the market and offering promotions are the recognition that employees need. If you have built your company like a sports team and only have the right people on the team, this should be easy.
Negativity is one of the greatest enemies of your brand, both internally and externally. Tolerating it is a big problem in the AEC industry, especially right now as the market for talent is tight. You must decide if you are going to focus on building a company around needs or around ideals. A company built on needs grows and shrinks based on the market. They tolerate poor performance and negativity because they employ people to fulfill a need. They lose high performers to other companies that have strong ideals and better fulfill their basic needs of control, security and recognition. A company based on ideals and focused on positivity flourishes in all markets and does a great job of providing for the pyscho-social needs of staff. If this article resonates with you, you have some hard decisions to make. It’s these hard things, though, that create prosperity. Good luck! Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1142 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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.