This is the third of four articles that I’m publishing this month on goal-setting. But instead of the traditional “revenue and sales numbers” types of goals, I have been focusing on goals to address culture-related topics like resilience and accountability. This week I’m writing about another topic of great concern, but one that is seldom brought up directly. It’s the idea of putting forth the effort to purge toxicity from your culture.

I say that it is seldom brought up directly. Why is that? I believe it’s because most business owners fail to recognize toxicity in their own organizations. And, more importantly, if they do, they know that they are likely the source of the problem (but won’t admit it). Secondly, they may recognize that dealing with toxicity means dealing with difficult people and/or difficult situations. And most of us would just assume to avoid those altogether.

What is Toxicity?

Toxicity is a word from the world of chemistry that has made its way into the business lexicon. It is defined as ” the quality of being toxic or poisonous”. But how does this apply to business? Another definition is ” The degree to which a substance (a toxin or poison) can harm humans or animals.”

When we are talking about toxicity, we are talking about your culture. And, when there are elements in your corporate culture that can harm your employees (I assume you don’t have any animals impacted by your culture, but I guess there are some situations where that would apply).

Here are some examples from my own personal experience as an employee in toxic cultures:

  • A culture that promoted competition to the point that it pitted managers and directors against each other.
  • The business owner that cussed out employees on a regular basis and constantly degraded them on a personal level.
  • A manager that micro-managed his employees to such a degree that he would call them on their cell phone if they were not at their desk (even if they were using the restroom). Yep, that happened to me.

Sadly, my list could go on and on. With 30 years working in businesses from small startups to Fortune 500 organizations, I have seen a lot of things.

Recognizing Toxicity in Your Business

As I mentioned, most business owners don’t recognize – or more likely, don’t want to recognize – toxicity in their environment. This is most likely because they are concerned that they may be the source.

Here are some clues that you may have a toxic environment:

  • Turnover – is it greater than your industry?
  • Arguments and fighting – this shouldn’t happen at work.
  • Conflicting information – Does one manager tell you one thing, and you get another story from someone else.
  • People don’t look happy – walk around, talk to them. You’ll know.

Ways to Deal With Toxicity

First I would suggest that you get a coach or consultant in right away. Many of us deal with toxicity with our clients. I’m part of a network of coaches around the world, and someone recently posted a question about dealing with toxicity on our mastermind group. There was a ton of reaction. That just demonstrates how pervasive it is.

Here are four steps that I might take a client through in our engagement:

  1. Conduct an Organizational Assessment – Through organizational 360s, interviews, and reviews, a good coach can identify some problematic areas.
  2. Conduct Personal Assessments – After recognizing organizational issues, now is the time to focus on the people. This is typically addressed first at a senior leadership level and then work its way through the organization.
  3. Conduct Training – Through the assessment process, we will see areas for improvement at an organizational and individual level. This may include leadership training, communication skills training, teamwork exercises, and much more.
  4. Conduct Ongoing Coaching – Training only goes so far. Once you have established where your key focus needs to be. Provide ongoing coaching to drive improvements over the long haul.

Examples From the Road

I am currently working through this with a client in the healthcare sector. The 360 assessments came back and identified some key issues in culture, leadership, and communication. I am now working with the Board of Directors and senior leadership to put together a strategy to address their pain points.

Last year I worked with a company where there was a lot of dysfunction at the senior leadership level. I discovered that the behavior styles of the leadership all slanted one direction. And the biggest culture problem was the one individual that didn’t fit the model. And he was critical to the organization’s success. I talk about it in this video.

Last week I wrote about accountability. I have several clients that are dealing with not having an accountability culture. One factor that comes into play in almost every one of them is some level of toxicity from the executive team. What I mean is that most of them have leaders that do not handle bad news well, or insert themselves into problem-solving whenever possible. These actions tend to put a damper on attempts to be accountable. Not always toxic, but certainly an impact on performance.

Be Intentional to Purge Toxicity From Your Culture Today

This year has already started with a few new clients looking to do just this. They may not use the term “toxicity”, but it is what they are wanting to do. Whether it’s a dysfunctional leadership team, a lack of accountability or poor sales results, being intentional about solving issues is the first step.

The second step is to talk to someone like me, and put together a strategy for improving your culture. If you want to take serious, intentional steps to purge toxicity from your culture, contact me today. You can call me at 502-724-0430 or email me at