This is part five, in a twelve part series on high performers and what it takes to develop a “done done” culture of personal responsibility and high performance. You can start with part one, part two,part three or part four, if you’re jumping in the middle.
They Have a Positive Attitude
Have you ever had an employee who completely ruins the vibe in the office? A few months ago I was reading “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as he described a toxic employee who, when finally gone, allowed the company to shift to a completely different level of productivity. I once worked, like many of you have, with someone like that. Every idea was wrong. Every plan wouldn’t work. Every project would fail. All the time. Do you know the kind of person I’m talking about?
Guess what? They’re not a high performer.
Common Sense Stuff
I know, I know. Tell you something you didn’t know, right? Well, this habit, our fifth that we’re looking at, is what you might call common sense. High performers have a positive attitude. But here’s the thing – if we all know it, if it’s truly common sense, why is it that we struggle to coach or fire toxic employees? We all just hope someone else will do it, or that they’ll decide on their own one day to quit. If we all know it, why do we allow them to impact the culture we’re developing, only to see some of our best and highest performers leave.
I hadn’t seen this as starkly as I did until I joined a company called Emphasys Software about six and a half years ago. As their new vice president of software engineering part of my job was to make sure the bus was going in the right direction. Another part of my job was to make sure we had the right folks on the bus. So I began interviewing everyone to hear about their experience – about what they liked and what they didn’t like. And I took notes – tons of notes.
One of the things that I ended up writing down over and over was the name of a former employee, Ryan Beaver, because just about every person I spoke with mentioned how bummed they were that he had left. About halfway into my interviews I started asking people about him. What about this former employee was so special that his name kept coming up? And why had he left? Was it money? Was it to be closer to home? Was it interesting work? In essence I was asking – if this guy is that incredible, why did you let him walk?
High Performers Walk
Do you know why Ryan had left? I bet you can guess. It was a toxic employee – who happened to be his supervisor – that made him get up and walk out. He knew he was a quality engineer and could find work elsewhere. So he walked.
His leaving was a positive statement. He was saying, “I’m good at what I do. I want to work with others who are good at what they do. I don’t want to work at a place that will ultimately make me worse at what I do because it’s such a bad environment. So I’m choosing what’s best for me. I’m leaving.”
Do you have high performers who could make the same positive statement? Do you have staffs that are constantly tired of having to deal with toxic environments? I ask because if you are allowing that toxic environment to exist, you’re also suggesting that your high performers should go elsewhere. And I know this is common sense again, but if you’re left with only toxic people and people who don’t mind toxic environments, you’re not left with a team that will understand what it takes to create a done done culture.
High Performing Marriages
I want to change gears for a second and step out of workplace. Let’s look at marriages. You know the stats as well as I do, so I won’t bore you – a lot of marriages end in divorce. That is tragic and a painful thing. But what if I told you I knew the cure to keeping marriages fulfilling and satisfying? What if I told you that the research was definitive and that I knew how to keep your marriage alive and well for years to come?
Imagine sitting down and having to fill out a survey about yourself. You’re answering tons of questions asking you to assess yourself honestly. How good are you at being on time? How well do you make time for your family? How good at follow-thru are you? Now imagine answering the same questions about your spouse. How good are they at all those things?
Now, if you’re like me, you’re thinking that the high performing marriages – those where the satisfaction index didn’t erode after three years – were probably the ones where both spouses had the most accurate picture of each other. Right? Because if I know I’m not good at something, and you know it too, and we’re both honest about it, then we can manage our expectations and stay pretty happy. Right?
The Research Findings
Well Sandra Murray from the University at Buffalo interviewed 200 couples every six months over a period of three years and discovered something different. She discovered that people who were a bit delusional were better off. People who scored their mates higher – higher than reality suggested they should rate them – ended up having a much more satisfying marriage. A positive attitude and perspective led to higher initial satisfaction scores and virtually no drop off. Couples that were more realistic started with lower satisfaction scores and they dropped year over year.
Think it’s a rare finding? Benjamin Karney did a similar study at the University of Florida and found the same thing. Couples who focused on the positive memories in their past together, who were selective in what they remembered, had more satisfying marriages. Garth Fletcher, a psychology professor at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand, says the same thing, “Positive biases and happiness seem to push each other along.”
Does it Work at Work?
That’s a lot of research that tells us the same thing self help books have been telling us for years. Thinking positively has serious benefits. But that’s in marriage. Does it work in the workplace? Jon Gordon, author of “The Positive Don: A Story about the Power of Positivity,” thinks so. It’s a great book that highlights eleven different benefits. Here is my favorite five:
You work better.
You make better decisions under pressure.
You sell more.
You see the bigger picture.
You have more friends.
You see that last point? It’s a big deal. While Gordon suggests that positivity will lead to greater friendships, Gallup tells us something even better. They’ve been asking twelve questions about the workplace for years and question ten is all about having a best friend at work. When high performers report having a best friend at work, do you know what happens?
- They feel more encouraged at work.
- They feel like coworker commitment to quality is higher.
- They feel like they can connect themselves to the mission at work.
- They feel like they can contribute their best at work.
Isn’t that what we want? Not just from our high performers but from everyone? And one single toxic person can affect that. Not just because of their own negativity, but because high performers will walk. They’ll take off, just like the Ryan Beavers of the world.
The Fifth Habit of a “Done Done” Culture
What happened to Ryan Beaver, some of you may wonder? Well, first I had to remove the toxic employee from the scene. But then I gave him a call and invited him to dinner to tell him what I’d done. I asked him to consider coming back. And then I brought out an igloo cooler (the kind you take to the beach) filled with frozen pizza rolls (his favorite food). It was something like 12 large bags of them. He decided, that night, to come back and has been with me ever since. I’d like to think it was the pizza rolls, but I think it was dealing with the toxic employee that spoke volumes.
High performers have a positive attitude. It’s their bias. And it impacts their own ability to feel like they can have impact. When they start feeling negative – which those toxic employees can make happen – they start losing the sense that they can deliver results. Some folks stop being high performers, while others just walk.
On the positive side, if you’re talking with each other about this habit, you can ask yourselves:
- How can we be more positive with each other?
- How can we encourage one another?
- How can we give input in a way that makes each idea better?
As a manager you may need to ask yourself a set of harder questions:
- Are there toxic employees I need to let go?
- Are there situations that have become toxic that I need to fix?
- Am I creating a context where high performers can be positive?