Beware the “Culture of Nice”

Guest Post by Kathy McDonald, NLC trainer News, Stories

It was important to Melissa* that she create an inclusive culture where all voices were heard. Yet, as a chronic conflict avoider, she was unwittingly building a “culture of nice,” where getting along was valued over getting things done. (*Names have been changed to protect identities.)

Neither extreme is helpful.  But Melissa failed to see how her culture of nice was hurting the team. She avoided giving important partner input to a peer organization that meant more work for her team. She put off providing constructive feedback because she didn’t want to hurt the feelings of an underperforming employee, leaving others to pick up the slack. Resentment started to build among her dependable employees that left them feeling undervalued.

When “nice” trumps “no” at times when “no” is appropriate, you’ve got a problem.

What are some signs a manager is being too nice?

  • The manager avoids constructive feedback with an underperformer. There are times when all team members need feedback, especially when they’ve missed the mark. If a manager fails to provide constructive input to an underperformer causing others to have to pick up the slack, resentment is bound to grow. In the end, in sparing an employee’s feelings, the manager is robbing the employee of an opportunity to grow. The employee may not even know that they are coming up short. As author Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind.  Unclear is unkind. It can be hard (to say what you need to say) but people value it.”
  • The manager fails to enforce deadlines.No need to be unreasonable about it.  There are times when it’s appropriate to move deadlines. But when deadlines routinely slip it leaves team members feeling anxious, not knowing who and what they can count on. It also keeps those who miss deadlines from building the skills necessary to become more reliable.
  • The manager fails to hold a standard of quality. When a manager lets work go that should be improved just to avoid being perceived as difficult, it affects the brand of the entire organization and creates an environment where average work becomes accepted as good enough. Over time, standards slip and they are at risk of losing good employees. As the saying goes, “A” players want to work with “A” players.

All work requires occasionally asking the tough questions that help an organization grow in important ways. If leaders avoid conversations because of the conflict that may arise rather than building the skills to effectively deal with different points of view, they do so at the organization’s peril.

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For more management strategies that strengthen your team, join us in the training room for Management 301: Hiring, Managing, and Succession Planning. The third installment of this 3-part training series, on Feb. 22, 2019, will cover topics that include avoiding a culture of nice, how the 5 levels of listening offers more than just active listening, and succession planning so that you are prepared when key employees leave. If you’ve not yet attended Management 201: Productivity Hacks & Team Recognition Strategies, you can join us for this second session on Jan. 25th.


Kathy McDonald is the assistant director for network partnerships for the Florida College Access Network. Kathy has helped individuals, leaders and teams find and leverage their strengths for the last 18 years. She is an experience workshop leader and speaker, developing adult professional development programs for numerous organizations including Accenture, PwC, the City of Chicago, and the Hillsborough Education Foundation.

She is co-author of CREATING YOUR LIFE COLLAGE: STRATEGIES FOR SOLVING THE WORK/LIFE DILEMMA (Three Rivers Press). Kathy holds an MBA from Northwestern University and is a certified leadership coach from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching. Happily married for 25 years, Kathy is the proud mother of two teenagers and currently 3 dogs (small, medium and large) and is an avid gardener, though she admits gardening in Florida is a contact sport.

Kathy’s training approach is to ensure participants walk away with actionable tools and resources while creating a space that encourages learning and growing together.