3 ways to change a negative culture

ONE MINUTE BRIEFING: Adobe's northern Europe VP Gavin Mee reveals how to get out of a downward spiral.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 19 Nov 2018

You can have all the talent in the world, but it won’t help much if your business culture is rotten. And while leaders can’t just proclaim culture, they can at least influence it  - and they’d be failing if they didn’t try.  

Adobe’s new northern Europe VP Gavin Mee has firsthand experience of turning a negative culture around. Here’s what he’s learned. 


"In two of the organisations I previously worked for, I’ve had to change a lot because the culture was quite negative. There was a lack of intracompany collaboration, too much focus on results, and too much focus on too few people. The immediate thing people think of in such situations is an organisational redesign, but that was the last thing I wanted to do. Instead I worked on three goals.

The first task is overcommunicating the company’s culture, its history and DNA. That doesn’t belong on a PowerPoint, it comes from people. In my current role, I actually did 104 one-to-ones in my first three weeks. Once you have that, it’s about reminding people how the company got where it is and about all the great things they’ve done for their customers.

The second comes from Benjamin Zander, the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, whom I was lucky enough to meet once. He’s got this book with wife (therapist Rosamund Stone Zander) called The Art of Possibility, which is all about giving people positive belief. The basic message is when there’s been mismanagement and people feel terribly negative and lost, give them an ‘A’.

The final thing to do is get the customer to drive the changes you need. If your customer isn’t your yardstick, you’re probably going in the wrong direction."

Key takeaways

-- Focus on what people have already achieved. The chances are there is some corporate and job pride buried beneath the low mood. Remind them of better times.

-- Encourage them. Negativity spreads. Are you reacting to their negativity with more of your own? Praise and encouragement – giving them an "A" – could help to reverse the negative spiral.

-- Reconnect with the customer. There’s nothing like doing a good job to dispel negativity.

For more information

See how BMW, Charlie Bigham’s and Salesforce shape their cultures in this feature. Or explore the turnaround at Dreams, which CEO Mike Logue argues was primarily down to people.

Is there a particular challenge or business topic you'd like us to explore? Email me at adam.gale@haymarket.com

Image credit: Tookapic/Pexels

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