Resolving workplace negativity

Positive gesture

“I dread asking them to do anything”

“No-one seems very happy”

“She is like a dark cloud in the office”

“He complains about everything”

If you’ve heard or said any of these phrases then you are probably all too familiar with workplace negativity.  As a consultant and coach I often work with businesses to improve employee morale and engagement and to help create a more positive environment.  Unfortunately there is rarely a simple solution; negativity has many causes and therefore many possible solutions. However, here are my top tips to create a more positive workplace;

1.  It starts with you!  The finger of blame for negativity is always pointed at someone else but the truth is that whether or not we are to blame for it, there are certainly actions we can take to make things better.

  • When was the last time you thanked a colleague?  Saying thank you is a simple but very effective way of building an environment of mutual respect.
  • Smile.  That’s it really.
  • Be nice. In “7 habits of highly effective people”, Steven Covey talks about the power of reciprocity.  The idea is that if you spend your time doing things to help other people, this creates a ‘bank of goodwill’ and they will be inclined to repay you.  Don’t under-estimate the power of nice!

2. In my experience, one of the main sources of employee negativity is the perception that poor performers are rewarded and good performers are punished.  Although it sounds crazy, it is common place. We reward poor performers by giving them less work and instead give it to someone who is more reliable. They are also often rewarded with promotion as managers are keen to move them on. Meanwhile the high performing team members become over-loaded and disillusioned. Managing poor performance effectively is a tough job but is essential in creating a positive culture.

3.  Do YOU know what motivates each of your team members? Motivation is different for each individual and taking the time to really understand how best engage and manage each member of your team will make a huge difference to how they feel at work.  The same applies to strengths and skills – an employee who is using their strongest strengths and skills at work will generally be happy!

4.  Keep talking.  When relationships are strained or when things are going wrong it is very tempting to avoid conversations or put off performance reviews.  This generally makes the situation worse and maintaining communication is a good way of reducing negativity.

5.  Listen.  If there is an individual or group who are displaying negative behaviour then make sure you hear their complaints.  Give them the opportunity to explain what they want, it may be something you can solve quite easily or may be out of your control.  Either way, being heard and understood will go a long way to improving the situation.

6.  Sometimes negativity has its roots in very practical, mundane details such as the system for booking holidays, car parking spaces, office temperature, rotas or the jobs no-one wants to do.  Ensuring that you have open and fair systems in place will go some way to resolving this.

7.  Occasionally negativity has a single source, sometimes called a drain. A drain is someone who;

  • Is downbeat, irritable and awkward
  • Regularly gossips or complains
  • Sucks the energy out of others, a ‘mood hoover’
  • Puts you down at every opportunity
  • Criticises your decisions and actions
  • Tells you that it will never work
  • Blames other people for their current circumstances

There are two main strategies for dealing with drains.  Firstly, don’t collude with them by getting drawn into their negative conversations.  Focus on solutions or walk away.  Secondly, there is very little you can do to change their behaviour therefore you should aim to minimise your time with this person, prevent them from influencing others and if their behaviour oversteps the rules then manage this through your disciplinary process.

8.  Sometimes negativity is deeply rooted in company culture, perhaps due to historic issues, overworked staff, risk and uncertainty, poorly managed change or poor leadership. The suggestions in this blog will help but the issues will persist until the underlying problem is resolved.

1% better everyday!


It’s a new year and the chances are that you have made and already broken your new year’s resolutions.  Resolutions to make radical change are admirable and well intentioned but generally speaking are doomed to failure as they are not reasonable or sustainable.  Gradual change is more realistic and can still deliver radical results over time.

We’ve probably all heard the phrase “The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time” yet we rarely apply this.  More often than not we link success to one giant goal and set ourselves up for failure instead.  Why not enjoy the bites along the way?

Mathematically speaking, a daily improvement of 1% means that you will be 37 times better at the end of the year! The effect of this compound interest creates a powerful, irresistible wave of positive change.

This approach is also a great way to tackle the challenges that appear insurmountable. Turning huge goals into bite sized daily chunks helps you to turn the seemingly impossible into reality.

This method of change requires effort, discipline, planning and attention to detail, it’s not sexy and comes with no fanfare but it’s most effective way I know of really making things better.

Whatever your goals; commitment to small, incremental targets which you can manage is a very effective way of making long term improvement. No matter how good we are, we always need to improve and even this method of change needs a plan.

My challenge to you to is to think about how you can become 1% better every day.  Here are some business improvement ideas to get you started…

  • Reduce a meeting duration (e.g. by sending out information ahead, simplifying the agenda or reducing the number of attendees) or remove a meeting altogether!
  • Do something important / urgent before doing something pleasurable
  • Call someone rather than emailing or calling a meeting
  • Learn a new piece of technology to improve your efficiency (e.g. Outlook tasks or Microsoft project)
  • Get rid of time drains such as updates no-one reads or reports no-one wants (just try stopping and see if anyone notices!)
  • Unsubscribe from the regular emails / newsletters you rarely read (you may be surprised at just how many there are!)

Imagine how much better you, your team, your organisation could be this time next year!

Time to let go!

letting go

So have you ever really wanted something?

Maybe you’ve attended an interview and been desperate to impress and secure your dream job?  Or perhaps you’ve set up your own business and really, really wanted to succeed?   Or been totally focused on winning a new contract or order?

Often our reaction to these desires is focused, driven activities to achieve our goals.  I for one am never happier than when I’m pursuing a dream or ambition.  And there’s nothing wrong with this, but I have come to realise that the relentless pursuit of what we most want may not always be the best way of achieving it.

It sounds paradoxical, but what I mean is that sometimes we become so intent on our desired outcome that our actions take on a frantic, grasping, desperate quality. This desperate quality is likely to be off putting to our potential employer or client and actually make our goal less achievable.

Our impetuousness can cause us to interfere, push too hard or take unnecessary actions. Our desire to succeed can in fact be the architect of our failure.

Our focus on a particular goal may also blind us to new opportunities or obvious cues. So intent are we on our desired outcome that we can fail to notice that things have changed, maybe this goal is no longer relevant or is unachievable, or maybe another should take priority.

If we become too attached to a particular outcome it can also be a source of stress, anxiety and frustration.  Generally we don’t show the best of ourselves or make good decisions under these circumstances.

So what I’ve noticed is that when we relax, just let go a little; our dreams and goals are more likely to become reality.  Although this is counterintuitive, there is actually a sound rationale.

When you let go;

  • You relax, you appear relaxed, this is an attractive quality and the impression you make is more likely to be positive
  • You make better decisions
  • A ‘hands off’ approach can allow things to take their natural course which may well lead to the achievement of your goal.
  • You remain open-minded and are more likely to hear, see and sense what is going on around you and spot opportunities, process new information and adjust your course accordingly.
  • And what’s more, you simply feel better and are more likely to enjoy your success when you achieve it!

The practice of yoga perfectly demonstrates  the paradox of letting go.  Anyone who has ever tried to achieve the lotus position will know that you can try to force, push and exercise all of the determination you have in achieving this goal; but it is not until you breathe, relax and stop pushing that the posture can be achieved.

Of course, I’m not the first to hit upon this fact! The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu put it very simply;

“By letting go, it all gets done”

And the German poet Hermann Hesse wrote;

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go”

My challenge to you is to try it (not the lotus posture unless you really want to!), the next time you desperately want something (or perhaps you already have something in mind), don’t push too hard and don’t let it become an obsession.  Relax, plan your actions calmly, listen and sometimes, just wait.  I’m not suggesting that your dreams will materialise before your eyes with no work at all, but a measured, less controlled approach can be very effective.

Why KPIs are bad for you


Great job on your Sales KPI, we hit target this month and did better than last month, keep up the good work.  We have a problem with the customer service KPI though, we need more focus here.  James, your area is doing well so whatever you’re doing; keep it up; everyone else needs to try harder. Thanks everyone… now let’s make today a great one.”

If that sounds like a team meeting or briefing you’ve ever been in then you may share my love / hate relationship with KPIs.

Most businesses use them and my view is that whilst businesses need goals and aspirations, KPIs tend to drive the wrong behaviours.

What I mean is that employees will do whatever is required to hit their KPIs, even if this has an overall negative impact on the business or unintended consequences.  It may sound far-fetched but is very common.

I did some work recently with a company to uncover why their KPIs showed 99% on time delivery but they received many customer complaints regarding late deliveries.  What I discovered was that the delivery team were targeted on ‘on time deliveries’, but the measure only applied to orders actually delivered (in other words it did not take account of cancelled orders).  Team leaders were routinely cancelling orders that they could not make on time thus hitting their KPI but leaving customers without their orders and the business with high levels of lost sales (that it did not or could not measure).

A telephone call to your GP will also generally highlight a similar problem.  GP surgeries are targeted on ensuring that same-day appointments are available.  Great, unless you want to book a next day appointment or object to waiting in a telephone queue at 8am.

Many sales reps are targeted on calls / visits per day – does this really deliver the best result for growing sales and improving customer service?

Managing people via KPIs leads to

  • fudged figures so an inaccurate or narrow view of true performance
  • colleagues competing rather than collaborating for fear of being the one to miss a  personal target
  • focus on doing tasks more productively even if the tasks serve no purpose
  • focus on easy to count widgets rather than measuring meaningful results

So if KPIs aren’t the answer, how can businesses improve performance?

Business cannot be condensed into a few graphs.  Business is holistic – in changing one variable you invariably affect others.  To make a business work you need staff who understand their role, think for themselves, make informed decisions and have the skills and training they need to do their jobs. It is behaviours not KPIs that drive performance. In order to discard the comfort blanket of KPIs, Business Leaders need to adopt an alternative model which;

  • Shows results across the business

Make sure that goals set are at the right level.  A narrow focus will probably deliver short-term results in that narrow focus, but may have unintended consequences and not lead to long term improvement.  Consider a balance of measures which truly indicate business success.  What are the behaviours that drive success in your business?

  • Provides knowledge of how to improve processes

For instance, going back to the team meeting at the beginning of this blog – the team members understand the KPIs but have no clue as to how to improve them.

How DO they improve customer service?

The only way to build sustained results is to improve the underlying behaviours. Don’t ask a team to improve customer service, ask them to return calls promptly, acknowledge orders, check order progress or whatever good customer service looks like in your business.

  • Motivates and involve people

Focus on behaviours, co-operation and creativity.  Ensure that the team have a key role in defining the right behaviours and the freedom to do a good job.

It takes confidence and a little thought to abandon KPIs as a performance management tool, but time invested in understanding the behaviours that drive success in your business and involving the team in the process will deliver rich rewards.

Managing Difficult People

I can’t tell you how many Managers have told me how frustrated they are with the attitude or behaviour of a member of staff.

Without exception, delegates on every workshop we run talk to us about how they are struggling to deal with difficult employees, colleagues, customers, suppliers or bosses! The perplexing thing is that it seems no matter what you do, he or she does not appear to improve , if anything the situation gets worse. As Managers we tend to focus on ‘poor’ employees, investing a disproportionate amount of time in trying to ‘fix’ them. The truth is, it is rarely as simple as ‘fixing’ someone. It is much easier to modify our own behaviour than to change someone else’s…

To fix a problem relationship there are four options…
• Change your attitude
• Change the attitude of others
• Change your behaviour
• Change the behaviour of others

Attitude is based on our core values and beliefs and so is very difficult to influence. Behaviour is easier to change, we can influence the behaviour of others and in theory, we have complete control over our own behaviour. Therefore the easiest place to start is with our own behaviour.

Although it sounds counterintuitive, quite often, changing the way we act can actually solve problems we have with our ‘difficult people’.

Taking a look in the mirror and understanding our own style and preferences (and how these may be perceived by others) is a good place to start when trying to improve relationships. This doesn’t mean we need to compromise our values or change how we feel, it’s about modifying our approach to get the results we want.

Here are my top tips for improving relationships and resolving conflict;
1. Be aware that what you see and hear is your perception and not everyone will see and hear the same things.
2. The best way to engage and connect with someone is to recognise what they want to be valued for.
3. Listen. That’s it really. Make sure you have heard and understood what is really being said. All may not be as it seems…

Learning about the style and preferences of others and developing techniques to adapt can be a very powerful way of building strong relationships and reducing conflict. If you’d like to learn more then please give me a call or email me. We work with clients through our open workshops, team development and one to one coaching.
07804 892951

Cash flow!


Cash is king when managing growing, new or indeed any business. The reality is that more small businesses fail as a result of cash flow problems than lack of profitability. Very often, rapidly growing businesses fail because their new customers do not pay them before payment is due to suppliers and staff.   Cash flow problems are often indicative of wider issues in the supply chain but the good news is that generally businesses do not need a complete overhaul to dramatically improve their position.  It is important to note though that rarely will one action alone solve the problem, the solution tends to lie in making small changes across the supply chain.

In simplest terms, cash flow management means delaying outlays of cash for as long as possible whilst encouraging anyone who owes you money to pay as quickly as possible. Here is my quick guide to improving your cash flow position;

1. Start to plan

Develop a simple cash flow model (if you don’t already have one) which shows what money you will receive and what you will need to pay out.  Sounds blindingly obvious but so often it is overlooked.  This will highlight any issues and allow you to plan for them.  You may be able to prevent the issue through negotiation with suppliers or customers or if you need credit, banks tend to be more receptive to planned future requirements than immediate crises. Creating a simple model like this helps you to really understand the finances of your business, particularly in assessing when you are likely to get paid, how you need to manage payments and the real impact of changes (turnover, staff etc).


2. Managing Supply

The quicker that you are able to supply goods, the quicker you will be paid and the less stock you will need (and therefore the less cash tied up in stock).  Take a look at your processes – How long does it take you to process and fulfil a customer order?  How could you reduce this?  Consider simplifying or standardising processes and removing any unnecessary steps.

Also look at your inventory (this is not just relevant for manufacturing businesses, we all carry stock of some kind…)  Do not carry more than you need and considering selling off redundant or slow moving stock.  Think about everything you stock – stationery, raw materials, work in progress, finished goods, equipment; they all tie up cash.  Once you have your stock position in order, make sure that you put processes in place that ensure that you stay in control.

Work with your suppliers, negotiate terms and try to make sure that your supply terms are at least as good as the terms you offer your customers.    Pay suppliers on time but not early and if you are struggling, talk you them.  Generally suppliers will be more understanding if you are honest with them and can commit to a payment date.

Consider using electronic funds transfer for payment, that way you can pay on the due date and the money does not leave your account before then.

If your business is complex, you may need to segment your suppliers rather than having one strategy for dealing with them all.

3. Managing Customers

The simple truth is that not all customers are good customers, we are better off without those who don’t pay us!  Ensure that you credit check all first time customers or take payment up front.

Make sure that you invoice promptly and follow up on any overdue accounts.

The ability to forecast sales will help you to plan and manage cash flow better.  How do you forecast sales?  Is it accurate?  If you have nothing in place then setting up a simple spreadsheet using historical sales and future prospects will give you a start.

Make it as easy as possible for customers to pay, such as accepting payment online or by credit card.

Consider offering term discounts for early payment (e.g. payment terms 30 days but 2% discount for payment within 10 days).

Also think of the mix of customers you have, if your business is based on a few large customers then your cash flow is very vulnerable in the event of one late payment.  Try to balance your customer portfolio with diversified activities which spread the risk across more, smaller customers.  This does not mean completely changing your business model, just adapting it to make it more able to withstand late payment.

4. Surviving short-falls

If you assume from the beginning that at some time you will need credit, you can arrange this at your bank.  This is not as easy as it once was, but it may be worth setting up an overdraft facility with your bank to help manage short-term gaps.

Keep talking to your bank and your accountant (if you have one).

Work with your closest suppliers, they may be able to afford you more time to pay.

Work with your best customers, they may be able to pay early.

Choose the bills you’ll pay carefully. Don’t just pay the smallest ones and ignore the rest. Prioritise payroll so that employees are paid first. Pay crucial suppliers next. Ask the rest if you can skip a payment or make a partial payment.

I hope that this guide has given you some useful ideas to improve your cash flow and I’d love to hear from anyone who has more tips and advice.  I work with all kinds of businesses across all of the areas above so do get in touch if you would like a chat!