When Life gives you lemons: A guide to dealing with negativity in the workplace

Negativity in the workplace can often be difficult to deal with. When it comes to building a positive workplace, negativity can be the antithesis of all the hard work you put in to influence a positive culture.

A negative attitude can lead to toxicity, and once toxicity sets in, the amount of work it takes to get a toxic environment back to a positive one is enormous. If the downward spiral takes hold, performance drops, and if performance drops due to negativity, it can hurt the bottom line significantly. The only way to stop negativity from setting in and become “the rot”, is to build a “positive counter mindset”.

What is a positive counter mindset?

A positive counter mindset is what happens when your organisation develops a series of statements to counter a negative situation. The most common example is the statement “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”. This type of positive spin lets people remove or mediate that initial reaction of frustration that occurs when something negative or unpleasant happens.  A positive counter mindset is what happens when an organisation builds into its culture the idea that nothing is ever as bad as it seems.

“As it turns out”

One of the most famous examples occurs at Apple.

Apple, like any company goes through some rough times. Though problems may arise left, right and centre, Apple has found a way to deliver negative information with a positive mindset. The way it controls the “positive counter” is by delivering information with the phrase “as it turns out”. Though issues may arise in the day-to-day running of the business, by delivering the information with a slightly positive spin, Apple is able to reframe problems to find a solution.

The phrase might not seem like much, but with enough repetition it can curb the slippage into a negative mindset, which saves the culture in the long run.

How do you reframe problems? Make lemonade!

A positive countering statement such as “as it turns out” is a great way to be able to build into your internal vocabulary with a positive spin. The positive countering to “life gives you lemons” is the term “make lemonade”.

For your internal communications to be able to reframe problems with a positive spin, start by making a list of things you may say to each other to reframe information that is presented in a negative light. “As it turns out…” is a great example of a statement that can soften the blow of any specific problem.

A good way to find one of those statements is to start by understanding what sorts of problems you may encounter in your day-to-day working environment. For sales focused departments this may be a lack of deals flowing through for the month, or for technology focused companies this may be the presences of technological bugs.

The next step is to find an all encompassing statement that lets you both reinforce your company culture and internal brand, and reframes the problem statement to suggest a positive spin.

The rest is up to you!

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

Make decisions, not suggestions

Decision making is one of the most sought after traits in modern era of business. For instance, there are new techniques in hiring that are aimed to form bias around decision makers.

One such method is for recruiters to ask their candidates what they want to order over coffee. The recruiter will then make a suggestion, and observe how the candidate reacts in the situation. The speed at which the candidate and decisiveness at which the candidate makes the decision forms the basis for the science known as “decisioneering”.

What is decisioneering?

Decisioneering is the psychological processes that a person goes through to reach a given decision. If you’re in a management role, at a certain point you’ll start to make decisions that involve greater inputs and more uncertainty the higher up you go, which consequently means your process of reaching a decision within yourself will need to be refined.

How an organisation makes its decisions can drastically change the outcomes of the decisions that it makes. By firstly understanding, and then refining the decision making process within your company, you can ensure that your organisation can not only make better decisions, but you can personally make better decisions.

Make decisions, not suggestions

The first way to make a decision is to recognise that you have reached a decision point. A decision point is a moment in time, when all suggestions end. For a decision point to be reached, you may have gone through the following phases:

  1. Idea/Problem recognition 
  2. Research
  3. Suggestions 
  4. Decision

Ideas are easy to come up with. For most companies, people are coming up with new ideas all the time, and it’s easy to recognise if there’s a problem within an organisation just by speaking to a few people.

Research is more difficult, as it takes both time and money to conduct a feasibility study to ensure an idea is in fact possible to implement. For a company to do this well it would need to find a way to effectively understand the breadth and depth of the problem it is trying to solve.

Next comes the suggestions, which is the purgatory of all projects. Suggestions come from either of the following: A company doesn’t understand the true nature of the problem that it is trying to solve, it doesn’t believe it can feasibly go through what is required to create a solution.

Find the real problem

More often than not, the decision relies on a decision maker. The decision maker will usually have external influences that weigh in on the decision, and in turn create a decision paradox, whereby the person must do what is right by consensus but also what is right the data, which will often be different.

To make better decisions, make sure you understand who you are making the decision for.  By understanding your audience, and the depth of the problem you are trying to solve, you may be able to make better decisions, and remove yourself from the glut of suggestions that come your way.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

The Rising Tide that floats all boats: How to recognise employees effectively

The saying “a rising tide floats all boats” is thrown around a lot. When it comes to employee engagement, a company that encourages and recognises its employees will almost certainly find itself able to do good work.

There is of course a fine balance between positive forces such as encouragement and recognition and political statements. It can be easy to get caught up in the politics of actively calling out employees for their good work. For these reasons, we will outline how to actively “float all boats”, instead of giving select recognition to employees for political favour.

A rising tide

Building a company culture that allows for encouragement is very difficult. As a manager, it’s very easy to view your role as merely about resource allocation. With this view of management, most roles can seem like having a blanket that doesn’t quite fit over your body; if you move the blanket over, you end up getting a lack of coverage elsewhere.
Of course, this type of feeling as a manager is frustrating. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you stretch your resources, it always feels like you can’t quite win. The blanket doesn’t fit, and you’re always a little bit dissatisfied.

So what can you as a manager do to help this?
The hardest part in all this is being able to step outside of the management “square” to see what is actually taking place. If you as a manager feel that you aren’t able to stretch your employees to cover everything, then maybe you have a “capacity problem”. A capacity problem occurs when employees aren’t able to work to their full potential, or more broadly speaking, your resources cannot perform their complete workload. Adopting a “rising tide” approach to resource management can help you get the most out of your existing resources.

A rising tide approach simply says that you treat your employees equally, and to focus on the performance of the lowest performing employee. Doing this will enable you to see that you’re not in a position of resource management, but rather in the position of “capacity management”. Reframing this attitude will let you see your people as a collection of persons, and a complete team that can only move if even the lowest performing employee is only fractionally worse than the top performer.

Floating all boats

The way you can create a rising tide culture is to simply “float all boats”. The saying “whatever floats your boat” may be loosely adopted in this regard. Finding a way to cater to the individual persons needs and encourage them in the way that best suits their personality type is far better than using generic terms such as “love your work” and so on.

Being able to cater your management style to all the personality types within your team will allow you to create a rising tide by floating all boats. It can be difficult to do at first, but by actively recognising your employees for their good work, you set yourself up for success in the future.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

Busywork: A guide to making work more fun, and avoiding work for work’s sake

Welcome to our series on classical novels, and relating them to the employee engagement. We hope you enjoy understanding a little bit more about how to engage employees, and build a company culture, and can use them to take away

In Oscar Wilde’s famous comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, the main characters are constantly concerned with maintaining their fictitious personas in order to keep up appearances and escape the social obligations upon which they are burdened. In many companies, employees will engage in this exact type of comedic behaviour to escape, which for the sake of this exercise we shall refer to as “busywork”.


“Busywork” is what happens when we take work too seriously

Busywork is defined as making work for work’s sake. The great author Franz Kafka became obsessed with this type of work in his writings. One of the most classical examples in his novel “Metamorphosis” involves a man who has been transformed into a bug, and yet his only concern for his day is how he goes about getting to work on time. Kafka’s novels were littered with references to Busywork, stemming from his belief that many of the processes that we as humans undergo in our day to day lives are only there to provide someone else a job. For instance, he believed that most bureaucracy was fundamentally meaningless, and simply moving a series of forms from one place to another, and then back again.

Franz Kafka himself worked within the insurance industry, and spent many of his days moving pieces of paper around his office. Kafka was able to distill the feeling that he felt working in insurance into his novels, eventually being donned the term “Kafka-esque”. Of course, we know that insurance itself is a very important part of society, but working in insurance, it can be hard to see that your work matters.

Busywork is what happens when everyone within a company takes their work too seriously. If a company culture does not allow for fun, employees will find things to do that may or may not assist existing company processes. Often this comes in the form of pretending to do work, but actually doing nothing. Not only is this type of work detrimental to the bottom line, but it is detrimental to the company culture.

How do you prevent busywork? Make work fun!

The best way to prevent busywork is to ensure that no matter what, under all costs, employees have a way to make their work fun. Facebook famously holds their own internal hackathons (as do Google). Twitter used to hold it’s own parties (until recently), and there are many, many other examples of companies that ensure that they have “fun” activities that are a stone throw away.

To prevent busywork, you first need to try to redefine what productivity is. Being productive doesn’t necessarily mean staying at the office until late, as getting a good night’s sleep can be just as effective. It takes a mature management team to be able to look at it, and if done right you just might find your overall productivity increasing!

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.



Love your work: Having small company culture as a big company

There is a famous story once spoken about NASA. Upon his visit to the Houston Mission Control, then President John F. Kennedy saw a man scrubbing the floors vigorously. Upon being questioned of his motives, the man simply replied “I’m putting a man on the moon”.
It goes without saying that often small companies have much better culture than a big one. To do this you need to understand your work matters, have a mission focus and build big.

The difficulty in building a company for growth while maintaining its culture can be something akin to trying to run along a tightrope. For those of you who have done slack-lining, you may understand how difficult this is!

So the question remains, how do you maintain your small company ethos at a big company?

Your work matters

The hardest part about working at a big company is understanding that no matter how large the company, your work matters. It’s easy to feel like you are a cog in a machine when sitting in a confined cubicle, and by extension, it’s even easier to feel like neither you nor your work matters.

The truth is, as the great entrepreneur Richard Branson once said “a company is just a group of people, so you need to treat them like one”. The Virgin ethos applies all the way down to the furthest employees from the core. Put simply, treating people like both they and their work matter is a sure fire way to make sure your company grows while still being positioned for maintaining your culture.

Mission focus

It goes without saying that having a mission focus for your organisation is incredibly important if you want to keep your small company ethos.

Big companies can often get caught up in one thing and one thing alone, money. More sales, bigger deals, better metrics, operational efficiency become the norm, and the core mission goes out the window.
Smaller companies usually do this type of thing really well. They’ll start by proposing a mission statement that goes above and beyond the usual idea of focusing on money. Money is not the goal at a smaller company, money is the outcome. For smaller companies, performance become the goal.
Having a focus on the mission statement at heart can help keep your company culture balanced, ensuring that people don’t get over-excited when things are going well, and don’t get too down when things are going poorly.

Build Big

The hardest part about being in a large company is being so focused on increasing optimal efficiency of an existing product. This is where “the rot” sets in. Company culture goes down the drain when a company loses its ambition.
To stop this, it’s important to recognise that often the only thing that separates a small company from a big one is its ambition. By having this ambition and drive to constantly be reinventing and redefining new or existing products, you can be assured that the company in totality will be clearly positioned for the future.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

The best way to manage company culture? Avoid blame

In business, the difference between succeeding and failing resides almost solely in the company culture. Having a toxic blame culture can be detrimental, and in the totality of a company that is solely focused on short term gains for long term pain, will ultimately sacrifice culture for marginal profit gain.

In most organisations, finger pointing is a way to hold people accountable. If someone thinks that someone else has done a bad job, they can give a piece of feedback to ensure that the same error is not made again. Pointing the finger can be positive in some ways, if there is implicit trust in the person receiving the feedback that there are altruistic intentions.

If done poorly, pointing the finger at someone can lead to blame culture.

What is blame culture?

Blame culture is the manifestation of a group of toxic individuals who choose to blame rather than assist. Instead of saying “what did I do to contribute?”, people will say “who can I blame for this?”.
Quite often, blame culture will manifest in people saying things like “you should have done this” or “I think this is your fault because of this”. This type of toxic culture only manifests when people lack the confidence in their own ability, and in lacking confidence, choose to instead blame others for their predicament.

Blaming stems from the psychology of misattribution. Deep down inside, people have their own beliefs in who they are and what their ability is. For some, blaming is an escape route, because it’s much easier to blame someone than to look at your own performance to see where you went wrong.

How do you avoid blame?

Well, for a start, for a company to be involved in blame culture, there needs to be something inherently wrong at the very top. If those at the top do not have ability, what they will inevitably do is shift the blame and responsibility for company performance, to hide their own incompetence. This trickle down effect can flow all the way down to the middle management, and eventually infest the entirety of the company itself.

At its absolute worst, companies will look at hiring people, just so they can blame them for the company failure. To avoid this, if something is toxic, cut it off. If a company is built on toxicity, it won’t survive. Firing people for bad culture fit is far better than firing people for poor skills. Skills can be learned, culture cannot be.

What is the opposite of blame?

The opposite of blame is recognition. It doesn’t have to be something major, but simply saying that someone did a good job is enough to shift blame culture. If you can make a difference by showing gratitude, loving your job and loving yourself, you can shift blame culture. Of course, you’d need a medium to record all your messages of thank you and support.

What better way to say thank you than to use an employee recognition platform?

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.


What’s in a name? The importance of naming

Classically, Shakespeare questioned the relevance of names by declaring: “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Yet, the research is very clear, names matter. This is because names signify a lot of information, gleaned instantly upon first utterance; they convey gender, social class, ethnicity and may even connote personality characteristics such as kindness or morality. In yesteryears, a surname even described one’s occupation. But ultimately, the simple fact of one name being easier to pronounce over another can land an applicant a job, an employee a promotion, and even just mean you are more likely to befriend one person over another. When looking at new recruits, or workplace relations, it appears we are subjectively skewed to favour people with easily pronounced names, both first and last names. This effect goes beyond race, with surnames like “Smith” rating more favourably than “Urquhart”. How then does this impact the workplace, and by extension, how should you name your company?

Individual careers

A classic article in the New Yorker in 2013 described a famous study where researchers sent fake resumes to various employers where the only difference was a “white- or black-sounding” name, such as Emily Walsh and Greg Baker versus Latisha Washington and Jamal Jones. They found that one-in-ten “white-sounding” names receive a call-back, whereas only one-in-fifteen “black-sounding” names also received a call-back. This effect has also been seen in the classroom, where names associated with low socioeconomic-status or certain cultures, influence the expectations of the teacher for different pupils. As a result, the opportunities available vary considerably, and tell us that names really concretely signify certain attributes which affect interpersonal relationships. This is hard to avoid, as it is mostly the result of subconscious bias, but one approach could be to de-identify resumes prior to assessment. Furthermore, being aware of these subconscious biases and make an effort to correct them. After all, it may lead to recruitment of the most talented and effective workers.

Naming a company

Not only do these differences matter in terms of an individual’s career, but how you name your company can have a significant impact on your brand. While creativity is important for ensuring that people remember your company name, it is also important to have an easily pronounced name. Furthermore, you can associate your company name with certain feelings to influence your brand, such as use of the word “apple” to signify fresh new ideas, “google” to make you think of oggling pages as you search, or even simply “bing” the onomatopeoia that signifies the exchange of information and receiving of information. The name used has a powerful impact on the brand clients associate with your company, and may even have something to do with the favourability of “Chrome” and “Firefox” over “Internet Explorer” (speed of downloads aside).

Shakespeare had it right.

Ultimately, think carefully about names. Juliet might not have thought they mattered in Elizabethan times, but we are certainly not disillusioned about their relevance in modern society. Ensure you take care not to bias your selection of new recruits based on their names, and think long and hard about the name of your company in terms of catchy, easy to pronounce and associated with the right context.