How to Deal with a Culture Killer

It usually comes as a surprise when an employee turns into a culture killer. After all, the candidate fit perfectly during the interview pro
May 23, 2012

It usually comes as a surprise when an employee turns into a culture killer. After all, the candidate fit perfectly during the interview process, but now that they’re in the trenches, you are seeing another side of them, possibly manifested in selfish attitudes, unprofessional behavior and tardiness.

Before you reach for the pink slip, consider the following tips and watch your 'Debbie Downer' transform into corporate culture cheerleader.

Train and demonstrate. Scott Crabtree, founder of Happy Brain Science, a human resources consultancy in Portland, Ore., recommends small business owners put together formal culture training sessions and require all employees to attend. The dedication of time and money will show workers the importance of cultural preservation.

If training sessions don’t do the trick, try physically demonstrating your culture and see how your employee reacts. Take risk affinity as an example. Crabtree recommends calling company meetings and publicly applauding a risk taker, even presenting them with a reward (think cash or a plaque for their cube).

“By showing your culture in action, the person having trouble may experience an a-ha moment,” he says.

Pair them with a culture champion. Back when Crabtree was running his own software company, a longtime employee (let's call him "Ron") suddenly began acting lackluster and negative around the office. Crabtree quickly moved Ron’s desk next to an employee ("Jon") that exhibited positive feelings toward the company. Jon ended up informally mentoring Ron and within a few weeks, Ron’s behavior improved.

“Happiness is contagious and therefore culture is contagious,” says Crabtree. “Pairing people can transform someone’s attitude for the better.”

Schedule a one-on-one meeting. Consider following this four-step feedback plan–but only go to the next step if the previous one fails to work.

1. Show concern. Whenever Andrew Schrage, co-founder of Money Crashers, a Chicago-based personal finance online community, sees one of his employees exhibiting a less-than-stellar attitude, he pulls them aside to show genuine worry for their well-being.

“Usually, just asking if an employee is OK is enough to get an employee back on track," he says.

2. Try reverse feedback. Instead of accusatory statements, Crabtree suggests asking questions like: How do you think things are going? How do you feel like you are fitting in? Chances are, the conversation will open the employee’s eyes to their own actions and positive changes will follow.

3. Give feedback with a cushion. According to Crabtree, the brain needs three positive statements for every negative one in order to feel safe. Try commending the employee on three things they are doing well for every item they need to improve on. The tactic can help get your point across while diffusing a potentially heated conversation.

4. Create a customized performance plan. Some employees improve fastest with quantifiable goals, says Justin Hong, founder of Highly Relevant Brands, an internet marketing company in Los Angeles. Consider putting together five or six points for them to work on and check progress regularly.

Enlist a coach. Before giving your culture killer the axe, consider hiring a coach. While they may cost you a little green up front, it can pay off in reducing employee turnover later on. According to Crabtree, an effective coach will lead the troubled employee to self discovery and awareness.

Don’t know a coach? Ask for a reference from a local networking group or contact the Society of Human Resource Management.

Show them the door. If after exhausting all the options above your employee is still zapping the office culture, it may be time to let them go. Just as happiness can spread, says Crabtree, so can unhappiness. Cut your losses and watch as your team breathes a collective sigh of relief and positive office morale returns.

How do you deal with culture killers in your organization?

Learn more in OPEN Forum's Company Culture 2012 series.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/ Thinkstock