When office relations go south, the boss is often the last one to know. Gossips and bullies act from the shadows. Employees might hold back their gripes for fear of losing favor. And trouble with customers may be shielded so it doesn’t reflect poorly on those serving them. Once these things take hold, the mess can be difficult to clean up.
What’s a boss to do? Heading off toxic behavior beats having it take over the company culture and public image. Look for these signs that point to larger issues of how your business runs:
- Morale has tanked.
- One clique rules the roost.
- Performance has hit a wall.
- Good people are fleeing like rats.
- Customer complaints are through the roof.
These are just symptoms; you want to cure the disease. Now you can tackle the big matters, without having to sweat the small stuff. When you address the underlying cultural foundation, the little things will take care of themselves.
Deal with morale
Employees whose needs are not satisfied or who are working against the company’s mission bring everyone down. Can everyone recite your core values? If not, get the whole staff moving toward the same goals with the same general philosophy about how to get there.
Next, look at how each job is designed. Does every role have some measure of choice built in? Does each employee have the chance to improve their skills or learn new ones? Do they know how their efforts contribute to the larger purpose of the company, and how that mission serves the greater good? (Answer: they should!)
Level the playing field
If unequal power dynamics are making some people take advantage while others suffer, work on building a team mindset. Hold casual gatherings or trivia contests. These let people get to know each other on a personal level.
Some folks get more credit than they deserve. Use a project management system based on collaboration. Institute a peer recognition approach that gives everyone a chance to shine.
Rejuvenate your people
Budget cuts, mandatory overtime, and shorter deadlines add up to employee burn-out. If performance plateaus, you may have hit the ceiling on what you can ask of people. Survey them and ask what you can do to help them do great work.
They may suggest efficiencies that lighten everyone’s load or increase performance so that you can decrease demands on them. All work and no play is a killer too. Buy lunch, have a party, or send folks home an hour early so they can beat traffic on holiday weekends.
Revisit hiring and unhiring practices
People leave for many reasons and rarely get the chance to be candid about why. Hold exit interviews after providing letters of reference. Act on problems that workers identify. Poor fit for the team or role is often “resolved” by people quitting. Review your acquisition policies. Make sure they are based on your company’s core values.
Provide the tools to serve customers well
Employees need two things to satisfy customers’ needs: the right information, and the right expectations. A lack of transparency hampers the ability to do right by customers. Do your people know where to get information and who to turn to for answers? Centralize frequently used data and make access easy. List what staff members do and how to contact them quickly.
Make accountability part of the job. Write into your values statement or employee handbook how you expect each customer need or complaint to be handled. When your people have the information at their fingertips and the directive to stick with a problem until it is solved, satisfaction will be the result for everyone.
Chris Dyer is a recognized performance expert, speaker and consultant. He is Founder and CEO of PeopleG2, a background check company, and author of The Power of Company Culture (Kogan Page, 2018).