Is your company in a bad mood? The signs aren’t always overt. People aren’t biting each other’s heads off or glaring sullenly across the conference table. (That’s home, not work!) Instead, it feels like everyone is just…coasting. Rather than digging for solutions, they make a cursory effort and then lay the problem at your feet. They’re not cage-rattlers and idea-sharers; they’re “yes men” and passive compliers. And if you could be the proverbial fly on the wall (instead of the boss in the hall), you suspect you’d hear far more complaining and blaming than the faked enthusiasm you usually hear.
That’s bad mood in workplace parlance. And author Michael Houlihan says your apathetic clock-punchers are the creations of a culture that’s set up to squelch their inner entrepreneur.
“Jeff Hayzlett, who wrote the foreword of our new book, says bad mood comes from employees believing their best days are behind them, not ahead of them,” says Michael Houlihan, coauthor along with Bonnie Harvey of The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People (Footnotes Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-9907937-0-0, $9.95, www.TheBarefootSpirit.com) and the New York Times bestseller The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s No. 1 Wine Brand. “I think that’s a brilliant way to put it. And of course, it’s culture that creates that belief—and it’s leaders who create the culture.”
Sometimes a culture’s mood sours over time, before you even know it’s happening. A stifling rule here, an ignored idea there, and before long you’ve zapped the entrepreneurial spirit that enabled your employees to create great things at your company in the first place. The only cure is to make your employees realize they really do have a stake in their future and the ability to make it a great one.
Of course, before you can shift a bad mood, you need to know you have one. Here are 11 red flags to look for:
Everyone plays the blame game. As soon as a ball is dropped, the finger-pointing and blame-dodging begins. “It was her responsibility, not mine!” “Don’t look at me—I wasn’t told about that policy change!” “He was supposed to email me the update, but I never received it!” You know how this goes. And odds are, it isn’t happening because all of your employees are vengeful, spiteful jerks—it’s happening because employees are afraid of what the consequences will be for whoever is left holding the bag.
“When a technical error is made, realize that making an example of the culprit isn’t necessarily the best way to go,” Houlihan shares. “Instead of blaming, aim your focus on figuring out what went wrong, and how you can prevent that error from occurring again.
Employees are paid for attendance, not performance. In organizations that are overshadowed by bad moods, most employees come to work each day and perform the tasks within their job description, but no more. If they don’t consider a problem to be “their responsibility,” they pass it on to the next guy or they bring it to you expecting a solution.
Information is treated like a commodity instead of freely shared. Some companies use information as a type of currency—the right juicy piece of info can buy you lunch, help get you a promotion, bring kudos your way, or be traded for other valuable information. And then, some information is downright suppressed because it may threaten some supervisor’s concept of job security. Added up, that’s a recipe for disillusionment and mistrust amongst your workforce.
Customers are “dealt with,” not served. Most companies have anything ranging from one person to a whole department dedicated to so-called “customer service.” But let’s be honest: For most of these departments, a more accurate name would be “complaint resolution department.” Employees take calls or answer emails from unhappy customers and then try to resolve the problem as quickly as possible (often relying on a script or protocol), then move on to the next.
“You can begin to turn this particular manifestation of a bad mood around by giving your employees more freedom when they deal with customers,” Houlihan instructs. “Instead of tying their hands with a script that’s unsatisfying and phony, show your people that you trust them to use their best thinking by giving them room to do what they think is necessary to satisfy the customer. This might involve getting rid of phone call time limits and empowering them to offer free products and/or services, for example. Not only will your employees begin to really hone their entrepreneurial thinking skills, they’ll end each day with the satisfaction that comes from knowing that they transformed a disgruntled customer into a happy, loyal one.”
Everyone hides behind their screens. If you notice that your employees prefer to do business through a computer or smartphone screen, even when they don’t have to, it’s cause for concern. Very possibly, they feel that your company—and their positions in it—just aren’t worth the extra time and energy that a face-to-face meeting (or even a phone call!) would require.