Five Steps To Break A Toxic Workplace

shutterstock_137660324It’s not easy for me to tell people they are leading a toxic organization. It really isn’t. I would rather tell them their organization is flourishing. Yet, about 25% of the organizations that we survey are … how can I say it any other way, toxic.

We have come to admire the courage it takes for a leader to assess the health of their culture. Especially, when they know it isn’t healthy. Bill Hybels talks about the courage it took for him to do Willow’s staff engagement survey for the first time 6 years ago.   He admits, he knew in his heart, things weren’t going so well. But, remember, as Bill says, facts are our friends. Experts have identified that it’s the leaders’ job to name and communicate reality. This could be why Paul exhorts those with the spiritual gift of leadership to take our responsibility seriously (Romans 12:8).

When we communicate the four levels of health in Christian organizations, toxic, critical moment, healthy and flourishing; the following are the characteristics we use to describe toxic.

  • Highly political
  • Stifled
  • Closed
  • Unclear direction
  • No trust
  • Fear
  • Autocratic leadership
  • Low staff engagement
  • Dishonesty

Others have described toxic workplace characteristics to include workers who are motivated by personal gain (power, money, status) or are just plain mean-spirited.

So how do you break out of a toxic state?

  1. Discover the truth about your culture by measuring it.   We recommend a proven and tested engagement survey instrument that includes a spiritual dimension for Christian organizations.
  2. Identify Strengths and Opportunities for Improvement. This is not as simple as many make it out to be. For example, listing survey questions by their averages, high to low, is misleading. Guess what? When you do a simple high to low listing, compensation will always come out low. This does not mean compensation is a weakness. The key to identifying your strengths and weaknesses is looking at your results in the context of similar organizations.
  3. Prioritize Actions Based on Impact. Having focused on Christian organizations for over a dozen years, it is clear the areas that impact staff engagement are VERY different from secular organizations.   Identifying action items that significantly impact staff engagement is critical for greatest effect. Our research shows several items are much more important to re-establishing a healthy staff culture than others.
  4. Change Starts with the Top Leader. We could argue that this should be first. But sometimes we need to complete the previous steps to get the top leader on board. In reality, in Christian organizations, THE top leader has to be behind this initiative 100% and lead the change. The next reality is that in order for the culture to change, the top leader must be willing to embrace personal change first.
  5. Become a Culture Maniac (Because Change is Hard!) Organizations in the toxic zone are often stuck. At this stage they have often tried a couple of initiatives to improve things, but they didn’t work. This is not a part-time, do it when we have time issue. As the term maniac is defined, leaders must become overly zealous and enthusiastic about a comprehensive initiative to change their culture. It’s just plain hard work.

We have great compassion for leaders of toxic organizations and we are committed to helping them transform. These five steps are a good start to the journey, but they are only the beginning. Yet, regardless of where you think you are, let’s start that process today. Why? Because you won’t believe how much more effective your organization will perform, and how much more joy you (and everyone else) will experience in the process.


Five Attributes That Improve Your Hiring Batting Average

Five Attributes Hiring

As a leader, I realized selecting the best people to join our team was the most important part of my job. Ultimately, it’s the people on the team that make or break our ability to meet our mission and goals. BCWI’s research has proved that it is even more important and difficult in Christian organizations. Why?… Continue reading

Creating a Social Covenant Helps Build and Empower Relationships at Gateway Church

Gateway Church has developed a Social Covenant including 14 biblical commitments for staff.

Gateway Church has developed a Social Covenant including 14 biblical commitments for staff.

The mega-church that’s found a way to create and sustain high levels of trust among its staff of 600 over multiple locations!

Gateway Church in Dallas regularly receives 26,000 individuals… Continue reading

5 Ideas For Staff Development That Build Culture: “First Tuesdays” at Gateway Church

At Gateway Church the first Tuesday of each month is dedicated to worship, communication and staff development.

At Gateway Church the first Tuesday of each month is dedicated to worship, communication and staff development.

When the staff of Gateway Church in Dallas grew 25% in one year, there was good reason for excitement—and well-founded concern.

From its first… Continue reading

BCWI Announces 2014 Best Christian Workplaces

bcwiribbons2014_normalBest Christian Workplaces Institute announces 48 distinguished organizations have earned Certification as Best Christian Workplaces for 2014. Each year since 2003, BCWI recognizes exceptional organizations whose leadership understands that employee engagement results from a flourishing culture and drives positive ministry outcomes.
Certified Best Christian Workplaces span the globe and represent all facets of ministries from churches, schools to universities, parachurch missions… Continue reading

A Four Step Communication Strategy For Ministry Growth: A Mission India Case Study

Mission India's purpose is making disciples to transform India for Christ.

Mission India’s purpose is making disciples to transform India for Christ.

Imagine a three-fold increase in the operations and ministry outcomes of your organization in just eight years. Then imagine the enormous workplace stresses that come with such growth. Dave Stravers, president of Mission India, recalls when such… Continue reading