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Losing employees? Toxic workplace? Create a turnaround game plan

By Lynne Curry

Productivity cratered many months ago. When you ask managers, “How’s it going?” you hear, “It’s going.” New resignation letters land on your desk every several weeks, with some employees leaving before finishing out their two weeks’ notice.

You can’t avoid the truth. You need a turnaround plan, fast, before you lose more employees.

Here’s what to know and do.

Don’t blame your employees. Sure, some of them may need to go because they’ve become problems or contributed to creating a toxic culture. The major responsibility, however, lies with you. Your own inaction and behaviors fanned toxic fumes. Leadership that wants to “right the ship” needs to get right themselves.

Ask yourself, when your employees voice concerns, do they fear you’ll shoot the messenger or believe you’ll act? Do you look the other way when supervisors or coworkers undermine or bully others? Do you ignore things you know aren’t right?

Accountability starts with leaders and managers. Leaders need to walk their talk and model the ethics and behaviors they want to see. Employees won’t work hard for managers who don’t. Managers that want employee to speak with honesty need to be open to hearing what employees say. Managers that want engaged employees need to actively engage with their teams.

Here’s where you start. Conduct a trouble assessment. Pull your management team together and ask:

  • How would we rate our employees’ morale on a scale of 0 to 10? What number value would employees give their morale if we asked them the same question?
  • What leads our employees to invest in our organization? What leads them to disengage or leave?
  • Do we model the behaviors we want others to follow?
  • Do we respect all employees, even those who don’t agree with us?
  • Are there supervisors and employees who bully or treat each other disrespectfully?
  • How do we make our employees feel valued?
  • Do we receive 100 percent value from our payroll dollars? If we had to establish a baseline for how fully utilized and productive our employees are, what number value would it be?
  • Are we solution-oriented or blame-focused? What would our employees say if asked?
  • What problems and flaws do we hesitate to talk about?
  • What do we have to change or improve, do more or less of, start or stop to be more effective and accountable in the future?

Then, pose similar questions to your employees. You may find your employees who won’t respond to a Survey Monkey or give feedback to your human resources team because they fear HR or IT will violate their confidentiality, resulting in retaliation and job loss. If so, you’ll need to use a trusted interviewer who promises confidentiality. If you do and the results you shock you, you’ll have learned what you need to address to turn your organization around.

Is this process painful and occasionally costly? Yes, but not if you compare it to cost of not fixing problems. When your organization is dysfunctional, combative, defeatist or otherwise toxic, morale and productivity tank. When leaders identify, admit, and fix problems their organization reaps the benefits in increased morale, retention rates, and productivity.

If you found this article useful, you’ll find additional strategies in Managing for Accountability: A Business Leader’s Toolbox,, a sneak preview of chapter 1, and the difference accountability makes,










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