Creating Positive, High-Performance Cultures

Excerpt from “From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire” by Andrew Faas.

Throughout my career as a manager and executive, creating positive, high-performing cultures has been critical to my success and, by extension, the employees I was responsible for, and the organizations I represented.

During and since the release of my book, “The Bully’s Trap—Bullying in the Workplace,” I have received a lot of pushback from executives who discount the value of a positive culture and consider cultural initiatives as Human Resources gobbledygook. I do agree that when cultural initiatives are not tied to performance, it usually is gobbledygook.

Throughout the 2016 U.S. political election season, on prime time, we have witnessed a cultural revolution against political establishment, largely because the mood and emotions of the nation have been misread. Based on interviews with more than 600 people on bullying in the workplace, I can assert that board directors and senior leadership are similarly misreading the mood and emotions of their employees. Unfortunately, all too many don’t care.

Evidence of this is the release of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” in the March 28, 2016, issue of Fortune magazine. Fortune partnered with Korn Ferry and the Hay Group (both Human Resources experts), and asked thousands of insiders, directors, and analysts to pick the most respected names in global business. It is unlikely that non-executive employees were asked. If they were, rather than landing as No. 3 on the list, it is unlikely Amazon would have even made it.

Late last year, The New York Times published a scathing article on Amazon’s culture referenced elsewhere here. This February, in Seattle, I interviewed a number of current and former Amazon employees who validated the allegations made in the NYT article. What was described to me was a rats’ nest of toxicity where only “narcissistic, psychopathic bullies thrive and survive.” Amazon’s third place on the list challenges the credibility of the report because it misrepresents what customers, prospective employees, and investors should know about each company.

In February, the Faas Foundation and the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence announced a joint initiative—“Emotion Revolution in the Workplace”—to scientifically determine how employees feel about their work, why they feel the way they do, and the quantifiable effects these emotions have on individual and organizational performance, as well as health and well-being (

What we already know, according to Gallup polling, is that more than 70 percent of North American workers are not engaged. More significantly, a Stanford study concluded that more than 120,000 deaths may be attributable to workplace stress.

Understanding and accepting the indisputable evidence showing how emotions influence performance is the prerequisite step to creating positive, high-performance cultures.

Early in my career, a mentor suggested I meet on a regular basis with everyone I was responsible for to understand how they felt about their work, why they felt the way they did, whether they felt they were contributing to their full potential, and what prevented them from being able to do so. This helped me understand performance motivators and restrainers. With this information, I was able to respond to employees’ desires to be positively challenged; to not be distracted by, or involved in, non-value-added activities; and to reduce unnecessary stress factors.

Over the years, using this method, a cultural model evolved, which was anchored by a value exchange covenant based on the ethic of reciprocity. Any organization, team, or individual can apply this model. In summary, this is how it works:

First: Determine what the organization expects from the employee.

Second: Test the reasonableness of the expectations.

Third: Determine what the employee needs to be able to deliver on the organization’s expectations.

Fourth: Reach agreement on what each expects from the other—“The Covenant.”

Fifth: Initiate regular and ongoing discussions on the efficacy of The Covenant.

Developing this model requires a rigorous review of almost every factor involved in organizational dynamics. In most cases, it will challenge how organizations are governed and organized, how they make decisions, hire, fire, promote, motivate, communicate, measure, reward, recognize, align and distribute, assignments, identify and handle risk, and handle crisis.

From my research, and what we are likely to find in the “Emotion Revolution in the Workplace,” fear of being let go is one of the biggest concerns employees have. When I identify this in organizations I work with, the usual reaction is, “Surely, they don’t expect us to provide a guarantee of employment?” I respond to this by indicating that employees understand market dynamics, and are looking to their employers’ commitments to use job cuts as a last resort, rather than a knee-jerk reaction when short-term targets are not met.

They also expect fairness and humane treatment when cuts are made. To illustrate how not to respond, I now reference Melissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, and how, in trying to quell discontent, she called an all-hands meeting to declare, “the days of bloodletting are over.” Less than two weeks later, she demanded the firing of another thousand employees in a desperate attempt to save her own skin. Her future and her reputation could have been saved had she said something to the effect, “We have gone through a tough time. I know the toll it has taken on employees. I also have to be realistic that we will go through more difficult times. But let me assure you I will do everything I can to minimize the negative effect on employees, and if further cuts are required, we will do it in a consistently fair and humane manner.”

What I am proposing here may not be as sexy as the kind of perks being used by a number of organizations to attract and retain talent. However, it is a more effective and sustainable motivational method of responding to how employees want to feel: helping to create positive, high-performance cultures.

Excerpt from “From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire” by Andrew Faas (

Andrew Faas is an author, activist, revolutionist, philanthropist, and management advisor promoting psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces. Before becoming a philanthropist, he led some of Canada’s largest corporations for more than three decades as a senior executive. He founded the Faas Foundation, which supports nonprofit organizations concerned with workplace well-being and other personal health and research endeavors. Currently, he is partnering with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence on a groundbreaking initiative, Emotion Revolution in the Workplace, which will revolutionize the way organizations operate, leveraging the power of emotional intelligence; and Mental Health America, to help reduce unnecessary stress factors at work and eliminate stigma around a condition that affects one in five adults.


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