Rising Above Negativity - Coming Back Up the Downward Spiral
by Paula Gamonal

The Opportunity

Your company has been through a tough time. A merger, an acquisition, a spate of layoffs, a cut in the training budget, or anything that has caused less-than positive attitudes to prevail. Youíre hearing grumblings around the water cooler. People are surfing the Web classifieds for job openings. Needless to say, youíre not getting 8 hours of creative, inspired, top-quality work out of every one of your people.

There is a cost to negativity. Itís not just the turnover and the chiseling at the productive time. It also saps the amount of energy people put into making sure their jobs are done right, and the amount of effort spent making sure decisions are made in the best interests of the company.

The Solution

It is hard for an individual person to break out of a negative pattern, even with years of therapy. It is even harder for a corporate culture to turn from cynical and negative to forward-thinking and positive. There is significantly more inertia involved.

Freight trains donít turn on dimes. It takes time, energy and persistence to change direction. Energy applied at the beginning of a turn matters exponentially more than energy applied later. Here are some concrete things you can do:

Find the "idea leaders." These are people of no particular formal position in the company, but the ones that others listen to. An idea leader might be a receptionist that everyone goes to for the lowdown on whatís "really going on," or a senior person who has mentor relationships with a number of junior folks. The "idea leaders" are the ones you need to convince of need and reason for change. When their attitudes change, they will carry a lot of weight with them.

Air differences publicly. You can do this with frequent and regular "town hall" type meetings or a "Just ask the Boss" column in a regular newsletter or e-mail. Print the tough questions (especially the tough questions) with as good an answer as you can come up with, even if itís a "we donít know the answer, but expect to in 30 days, depending on x and y." When people see their grievances getting attention and know youíre working on it, they feel better even if they donít get immediate satisfaction.

Enforce rules and policies uniformly. Donít allow a VP to park in the wrong place unless a part-time clerk can also get away with it. Even small things can rub folks the wrong way at delicate times.

Ensure all management figures treat EVERYONE with impeccable courtesy (see Business Etiquette.) Any small kindness or courtesy you can offer, as long as itís consistent and genuine, will count in your favor.

Change the physical environment. Moving furniture around, changing color schemes, even hanging a few posters can be a visual cue that "things are different." Many behavioral scientists working with dysfunctional families recommend that the family paint or redecorate when they are breaking an unproductive pattern. Companies can realize the same benefits.

Make it known that you will listen to grievances, but are especially interested in listening to people who have an idea for a solution. Whining is necessary, but only useful to a point. People who can suggest a change, and see some action come out of it, will feel much more positive about the company and their position within it.


There are no magic formulas for turning around a corporate culture thatís gone South, but consistently positive actions and time are the best remedy.

Paula Gamonal is the co-host of Ravenwerks, an online community serving managers and executives addressing topics of leadership, teamwork, best practices, customer service, marketing and technology. Paula is also the author of Taming the Dragons- 50 Essays from the Business World. Contact Paula by e-mail: paula@ravenwerks.com and visit ravenwerks.com for more information.

Many more articles in Motivation & Retention in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2002 by Paula Gamonal. All rights reserved.

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