If you saw green glowing ooze with a nasty vapor rising from it, how close would you get? You wouldn’t find me within a thousand feet of it, depending on the direction of the wind. I think most folks would feel the same way. The crazy thing is we don’t have the same reaction to toxic relationships or environments when we encounter them.

As leaders, we can sometimes even overlook this in our own organizations. There are things that are equivalent to the green ooze and mysterious vapor, yet we think that somehow it will work itself out in due time. If someone showed up to your back yard and decided to dump toxic waste in it, would you be so laissez-faire about it? Yeah, didn’t think so.

As citizens, we rely on the leadership of our governments (local, state and federal) to protect us from irresponsible parties polluting our environment. As employees, they rely on leadership to protect them from irresponsible parties polluting their environment with things that are toxic.

Allowing your culture to become polluted by toxicity is a death blow to your vision. Here are 5 signs of a toxic culture:

  1. Rampant gossip/rumors – When the rumor mill has more productivity than your organization, you are in trouble. The rumors could be about other employees, leadership or strategy. These things develop a life of their own all too quickly, so nipping them in the bud is essential. Make sure you have open 2-way communication so any rumors can be dispelled swiftly.
  2. Us/Them mentality – This can often come from weak leaders. If they don’t know how to communicate well to those they’re leading for fear of push back from their team, they can easily pin it on the organization. This is usually an attempt to show others that they are equally helpless and a victim to the whole affair. The unfortunate part is that they lose credibility and are viewed as weak and easily manipulated by “the establishment”. Continual training and an understanding of how initiatives align with the vision and values of an organization can help overcome this common challenge.
  3. Retaining poor talent – This isn’t just poor performers. You could have an absolute rock star, but their attitude absolutely sucks. Keeping them on board will frustrate the other good performers with a good attitude and they will leave. Likewise, if you don’t hold poor performers accountable to performance standards, your talent pool will automatically default to your lowest accepted level of performance. Clearly communicate what is expected of your talent and immediately address sub-standard performance.
  4. Double standards for leadership – If there are members of leadership who don’t hold themselves accountable to the same standards and expectations as others in the organization, your culture will be one of contempt. The number of incidents of, what amount to performance sabotage, will spike. It is a passive aggressive way to “even the score” in the face of this double standard. Publicly allow people to see leadership adhering to standards, even when it is difficult or unpleasant.
  5. Inconsistency – While being flexible and able to respond quickly to change is important, it is not a good excuse to allow inconsistency to rule the day. People aren’t stupid and when things are inconsistent, leadership is perceived as incompetent. Having a wide spread lack of respect for leadership will make for a very¬†lackadaisical attitude and culture. Make sure the message is consistent with the vision and values that is communicated throughout the organization.