Think about your romantic relationship. Studies show that unless your positive interactions with your partner outnumber the negative interactions by a ratio of 5 to 1, the relationship is likely to fail. Yes, it takes 5 good interactions to make up for every 1 bad interaction.

The 5 to 1 Ratio has another application. Studies show that negative information, negative experiences, and negative interactions have a far deeper impact on employees in the workplace than positive ones. It could be an interaction with a manager, a coworker, or a grumpy customer, but the impact on an employee’s feelings of 1 negative interaction in the workplace has a 5 times stronger impact than that of a positive interaction.

Dial up the positive!

We have written previously that it is vital that we praise our people frequently in order to motivate our team and increase employee engagement.

Obviously, we want to maximize the number of good interactions we have in the workplace, but studies suggest that managers will get far more bang for their buck if they focus on eliminating the negative interactions in the workplace.

Get rid of the rotten apples.

The effect of “toxic” people in work groups is contagious. People who exhibit grumpiness, disrespect, selfishness, or laziness will drag the performance of your other team members down. These rotten apples infect everyone else. A team with just one person who exhibits any of these behaviors can suffer a performance disadvantage of 30% to 40% compared to teams that have no bad apples.

Warning! I see many team cultures try to eject people who are naturally cautious, analytical, and who tend to point out the downside of any decision. They are often labelled as being “negative” and shunned. This is a mistake.

Look closely. Are they “rotten” or are they just passionately arguing for what they believe is in the best interests of the organization, regardless of what others may think?

Encourage debate.

Disagreements and debates about what course of action to take should not be seen as negative interactions. If you only surround yourself with optimistic “yes men” and “yes women” because you like having a harmonious and positive work environment, you risk being blindsided. You want thoughtful people who are less likely to be swayed by the opinions of the group, and who will argue for what they passionately believe to be true vs. what is popular, or what appeases the leader.

As painful as it may be to listen to someone who disagrees with you, you need at least one person on your team who will argue for the worst case scenario, and challenge you to a good debate by pointing out all the flaws in your proposal.

“If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking” (General George Patton)

Having someone play devil’s advocate is an asset to strategic decision making, so if you don’t have such a person on your team, you need to appoint someone to play that role. “I want you to point out the flaws in my argument please, so I can consider this from all the angles”.

Managing your team for high performance.

High performing teams have a clear set of Core Values that they all subscribe to, and use as the basis for hiring, performance management, and decision making. The managers of high performing teams confront behavioral problems directly and quickly.

High performing teams have a clear set of Key Performance Indicators that provide clarity about the performance standards for people in every role. The managers of high performing teams use dashboards to make performance visible, and are good at holding people accountable for performance.

Interestingly, managers of high performing teams tend to be a little bit tougher. These hard driving managers inspire higher performance because they make it crystal clear that they will not tolerate poor performance or any behaviors not aligned to the Core Values.

Think about the best teacher or coach you have ever had in your life. Chances are they were a little bit tough on you weren’t they? High performing managers are fair and consistent however, and balance this no-nonsense approach with ample recognition and praise for good performance and good behaviors.

The key lesson for managers is if you want to be more effective at business execution, make sure you practice The 5 to 1 Ratio.

5 Parts Praise: Lavish your people with praise and gratitude for the good work they are doing.

1 Part Discipline: Don’t procrastinate when it comes to doing the unpleasant work. Confronting poor performance and negative behaviors is not fun, but it’s an essential part of being an effective manager.

How can you apply the 5 to 1 Ratio in your organization this week?


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