Hi everybody, this is Mondays with Mike, a weekly video series where I answer questions from people just like you. Here’s this week’s question:

What would be your suggestion to a senior leader in an organization that has a rapidly worsening culture. The owner, who doesn’t really worry about the small stuff, is not seeing it. If the senior leader approaches the leader there is a possibility that they might get fired from a company they love and respect. If they don’t approach, the attrition of great people will continue. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Well, let me just have a minute with you. First of all, there are some contradictions in your question, I don’t mind telling you. So on the one hand you say it’s a rapidly eroding culture, and the owner doesn’t really worry about the small stuff. I think the first thing you have to keep in mind is that culture is never small stuff. Anytime you think that culture is small stuff, that’s the beginning of what the problem is because culture is what matters. You could have a great business that puts out great products or services or whatever you do, but you have a lousy culture and people aren’t going to want to work there.

So, the second thing is this. The question started out with the owner kind of being a nice person who didn’t sweat the small stuff, but then it finishes with well if you talk to them then you might get fired. That doesn’t sound very good. So, unless you have other performance issues that might get you fired, I would go, but not talk about what’s wrong with the company because they obviously don’t want to hear it. I would talk about what we can do to make the company better. Remember that the brain works better when it’s moving towards something, not moving away from something. So rather than talk about what’s going wrong, talk about what your aspirational target is – what would be better. For example “I think it would be better if we could help the culture move in this direction” and then identify what the positive side of the culture is so that we can have more success. Most of the time I find that owners of companies really don’t like to talk about the negative stuff.

Don’t call the baby ugly, whenever you call the baby ugly people tend to get defensive. Say “you know what, I think it would be better if we opened up communication, if we had a cocktail party, if we gave people focus groups…” or something like that. That way you’re looking to solve the problem, not just report the problem.

I hope that’s helpful, take care.

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