Lin Grensing-Pophal, MA, SHRM-SCP is owner/CEO of Strategic Communications, LLC, and a marketing and communication strategist. Pophal is an accredited member of SHRM, IABC, and the American Marketing Association. She writes about topics like leadership, strategic HR skills, and strengths-based coaching for sites including Forbes and ADP.
Most of the time, organizations value employees who are passionate, enthusiastic, and who attempt to make their mark with the organization. Most of the time. This does not hold true, though, when the passion revolves around changing the culture in ways that are not aligned with the existing mission, vision, or values.
What steps should organizations take when an employee doesn’t fit the culture, especially if that employee is in a leadership position or has a lot of personal influence? Here, some leadership experts share their perspectives and advice on how to deal with employees who step outside the boundaries of your corporate culture.
Be proactive in laying a strong foundation.
When it comes to ensuring that employees will support your desired corporate culture, the best defense is a good offense!
“Organizations need to provide very solid onboarding that includes a statement and commitment to the company values, as well as provide multiple, solid examples of how those values pay out in the organization,” recommends Laura Handrick, workplace analyst with FitSmallBusiness.com. “Training new hires on the mission, vision, and values starts during onboarding so that everybody understands what’s expected from day one.”
Stories can help drive home what the corporate culture looks like in practice. “Without meaning to sound silly, it’s important for employers to share stories illustrating what the values look like, such as the time an employee stayed on the call with an upset customer until their issue was resolved or the time an employee took it upon themselves to learn a new technology so they could bring a solution to the organization,” Handrick says.
Handrick stresses the importance of making the culture, mission, vision, and values prominent in multiple ways. They need to be “visible everywhere,” she says, “from wall posters to business cards. In addition, she recommends: “Job postings, offer letters, your company handbook, and annual reviews all need to repeat and reinforce that brand.” Unless companies are explicit, employees—and managers—are likely to lose sight of what matters, says Handrick.
If they do, prompt course correction is required.
Nip it in the bud, appropriately.
“Perpetually toxic behaviors, such as gossiping, bullying, disrespect, and general negativity, are like a cancer to your culture and must be eradicated,” says Libby Mullen, a learning and development manager with BizLibrary. This, she says, may even mean terminating a high potential, high-performing employee. “Though it may seem counterintuitive, the damages from toxic behaviors spreading across the organization far outweigh the high performance of one employee,” she says.
However, even though organizations should not tolerate behaviors that are outside the scope of their missions, visions, or values, these situations need to be addressed appropriately.
“An employee must be given opportunity to explain their rogue behavior and an employee should try to understand the rationale for the behavior,” says David Reischer, Esq., attorney, and CEO of LegalAdvice.com. “It is important for an employer to initially try to remedy the situation in a way that is beneficial to all parties,” he says. However, he adds: “If the beliefs of the rogue employee are incompatible with the mission statement of the company, then there is no solution except termination.”
Mullen agrees and notes that it’s important to train and coach managers so they know how to address these issues while avoiding “the company costs associated with low morale, decreased productivity, employee turnover, and potential lawsuits.”
Get familiar with the two types of offenders.
Julie A. Foss, a consultant with 4goodconsulting.com, notes that there are two types of situations that employers should be aware of when dealing with employees who are bucking the culture—“those whose actions and words buck the culture out of ignorance and those who do so intentionally.” They require different responses, she notes.
For those acting out of ignorance, she suggests managers start by naming the behaviors are counter to the culture and engaging the professional in reflection. For example: “When you do X, you are telling me/our team/those you lead that Y. Is this the narrative you mean to tell?” Then, she says, “Create a plan together that includes eliminating corrosive behaviors and regular feedback on the professional’s ability to make changes.”
When dealing with people who are intentionally bucking the culture, naming the behaviors that are counterproductive is still important. In addition, companies should attempt to identify the underlying reason for the behaviors and evaluate what is causing them. She recommends separating the approach from the reason for the behavior:
- Evaluate the reason.
- Address the behavior.
- Problem solve around the reason.
Finally, she suggests, “Amplify the actions and behaviors that are adding value to company culture.”
But, says Joshua M. Evans, founder of an organizational culture consulting firm, if the hijacking of the culture is being done maliciously, the individual must be removed. “It sounds harsh, but if this person is intentionally undermining the existing culture, they need to go. Active aggression regarding organizational culture will only lead to toxicity.”
It’s important, of course, to have processes in place to ensure that such bad behaviors will be identified, reported, and responded to.
Encourage transparency and non-punitive reporting.
Too often, says Handrick, despite a company’s best efforts to build a strong culture and to communicate it broadly, pockets of discontent can exist within an organization with bad players whose behaviors go unchecked. “I’ve seen times when a mid-manager creates a horrible work environment for their staff, but those same staff are afraid to speak up,” she says. “Since the manager gets the job done, top leaders don’t see a problem.” Handrick recommends that companies have a way for employees to bring such issues to the attention of leadership.
“Companies with strong culture don’t tolerate managers who achieve their business objectives at the cost of others.”
In fact, companies that want to build and maintain strong cultures don’t tolerate anyone who works at cross-purposes to that desired culture. Hire, educate, train, and support through ongoing communication the culture and behaviors you expect.
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