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5 steps to keep you from falling victim to being a victim


Joel Dobbs.GIF

Joel H. Dobbs is the CEO and President of The Compass Talent Management Group LLC (CTMG), a consulting firm that assists organizations with the identification and development of key talent and with designing organizational strategies and structures to maximize their ability to compete in the business worlds of today and tomorrow. He is also an executive coach and serves as Executive in Residence at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business.  Joel is also a popular and frequent contributor to the Enterprise CIO Forum where a version of this article was first published.

“You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”
--- James Allen

In a business like IT, it is easy to go down the slippery slope to victimhood. After all, we have few secrets in this business. In many companies where literally everything is dependent in some way on IT, when something goes wrong everyone knows it.  It is also an unfortunate reality that in many organizations IT frequently gets blamed unjustly or used as a scapegoat for problems.


As a result, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of seeing yourself as a victim, which leads to cynicism, which leads to trouble and can poison an organization’s culture.  Sadly, this is far too prevalent in IT organizations today.


Follow the ‘No Victims Rule’

Those who have worked for me are familiar with my “No Victims Rule.”   It is very simple:  No whining, no excuses, no victims.  As Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “Believe you are defeated; believe it long enough, and it is likely to become a fact.” 


Several years ago I was recruited to turn around a large company’s dysfunctional IT organization. Their leader had become a beleaguered victim, largely as a result of his inability to adapt to the rapidly-changing pace of technological innovation. The result was an organization under siege. Completely paralyzed IT staff retreated to their offices, offered lame excuses for every problem, ignored opportunities, and constantly whined about how no one understood how difficult their job was. In short, they became victims. After a few weeks I described my observations to the company’s president: “It is like the whole organization is standing in a circle facing inward toward each other while the rest of the business is on the outside trying to get their attention. My job is to get them to, face outward, walk away from the circle and become part of the larger organization.” That journey took time but it was ultimately successful.


Preventing or dealing with a negative culture requires self-discipline and persistence.  My experience suggests that the following are important for success.


5 ways to prevent a negative culture

1. It all begins at the top.  The leader(s) must model the behaviors they want to see. Mahatma Gandhi correctly observed, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."  A positive, can-do attitude is essential for effective leadership in any situation but it is critical in preventing or correcting a negative culture. One must still acknowledge and address issues but leadership is about solving problems, not complaining about them.


2. Rid the organization of “toxins.”  There are some people who, by virtue of their negativism and cynicism, poison the organization. As the old saying goes, “One bad apple spoils the whole bushel.” I had to remove the “bad apples” from the organization to both make a point about acceptable behavior and remove their toxic influence. 


3. Recognize and reward the behaviors you want to encourage. This should be done both publically and privately. Publically it is important to show everyone what success looks like. There is no better way than to “catch people doing things right.” Private encouragement builds individual confidence and loyalty. For years I have made it a regular practice to write hand write notes to individual employees to personally thank them for jobs well done. The key word here is WRITE. The impact of a hand-written note is far greater than an impersonal e-mail.


4. Don’t let up. Continue to re-enforce the behaviors you want to see in public and in private. Incorporate the desired behaviors into organizational values and performance appraisals. Be consistent with your communications using every opportunity to restate your message. You will get tired of repeating yourself but remember for some people the tenth time you say it will be the first time they hear it.


5. Check your own attitude daily. Find a trusted friend or mentor to hold you accountable, if necessary, but make sure you continue to set the example.


This is a tough business. It can extract a heavy emotional toll on your staff and on you. Don’t let it. Don’t whine, don’t complain, and don’t become a victim.


Other guest posts by Joel Dobbs:

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