I've just come back from a crazy week of travel which included a day in each of four cities: Lisbon, Milan, Vienna and Budapest. I was presenting a roadshow on the topic of change and organisational culture to groups of varying sizes and nationalities. Each conference was followed by an evening team dinner with the delegates, where stories and jokes distracted me from whatever food concoctions were put in front of me.
As with all these events in foreign lands, there was much curiosity about Ireland and the Irish, in our history and our heritage.
And the one common denominator throughout this week and indeed everywhere I go is the fondness and love that people have for us. It makes me extra proud to be Irish.
As soon as people discover that I am Irish, they smile and make some positive comment about us. Knowing that in advance, I let it be known very quickly where I'm from.
The all-too-often reference to alcohol does bother me to be honest, but I usually just laugh it off. Thankfully, we're also known for our hospitality, character, grit, resilience, lower corporation tax and our ability to have craic - regardless of what's going on around us (and as for Brexit, the average European neither knows nor cares about it, but that's another story for another time). So, in summary, it was a great week.
Then it all changed when I arrived home on Saturday evening. I scrambled through the news platforms to catch up on the week and was particularly peeved by the negativity around the RTÉ programme Dancing with the Stars.
Lottie Ryan 'is already a trained dancer' and Glenda Gilson is 'booted off the show' were just some of the negative headlines that bothered me.
While the competitive aspect of that show is a way to keep our interest each week, the public voting makes it more of a popularity contest. But let's keep some perspective here.
Dancing with the Stars is a variety show that is made up of villains, victims and victors. Baddie judge Brian Redmond is playing the part of the BBC's Craig Revel Horwood and flamboyant judge Julian Benson is our version of Bruno Tonioli.
But do we really have to take this so seriously and create stories that are hurtful? I'm a big fan of the show and the BBC original.
I never cease to be amazed at the courage that celebrities have, putting themselves out there on TV to be judged and criticised. Well, good for them, I say.
It also got me thinking about similar situations in the world of business. Too often, I have seen the difficulties that a newly appointed manager can experience when promoted within a peer group.
For whatever reason, they are often demeaned, ridiculed or both.
The new teams that they have to lead can be spiteful and resistant. And that's with people of all ages.
I have also seen it with entrepreneurs when starting a new business. Being an entrepreneur can be all-consuming and the risks they take with their money and reputation demand great boldness.
But that boldness can be seen by others with less drive as audacity and stupidity.
I also saw it recently when an individual put forward a damn good idea at a meeting, only to be shot down at first airing, without due consideration for the idea or the context.
What is it in our psyche that seems to entitle us to sit back in judgement like Statler and Waldorf, the two old cranks from The Muppet Show?
This is not just an Irish trait. This is an example of bad organisation culture that is evident around the world.
It impedes productivity and morale, and ultimately it stunts the company's growth.
1. Try to catch somebody doing something right
As humans, we are too often pre-disposed to find fault in others. When our people do something right, we simply take it for granted.
In almost every employee engagement survey that I have seen throughout the years, this question about 'recognition' almost always gets a poor score.
In Kenneth Blanchard's fantastic book The One-Minute Manager, he talks about the power of positivity in the workplace.
All the evidence shows that when we get recognised by our bosses for good performance, we want it again and again. It's like a drug that is free for leaders to give. So why hold it back?
2. Be pacey and positive
When I first started supporting the culture change in Selfridges some years ago, we inherited a culture of negativity from the previous regime. For any organisation, that trend can be toxic and it needs to be nipped in the bud.
When we refreshed the culture, being pacey and positive was agreed as one of the new values (guiding principles).
This simple phrase got quoted a lot. It became part of the new language and it gave permission to forward-thinking and positive colleagues to call out negativity in others.
3. Encourage risk-taking
If negativity is tolerated (and by default, that means it is supported), good people will avoid taking risks.
They may resist putting themselves forward for more responsibility or they might keep good and daring ideas to themselves.
In a world of change, where agility has to be a key driver for all of us, procrastination is our enemy. Dare your people to change the status quo and to take measured risks, by giving them the permission and the tools to mitigate failure.
The Last Word
Your organisation has a culture, whether it's defined or not. Everything in your organisation is rooted in your culture.
A good and positive culture enables great employee engagement and productivity. And organisation success often follows.
If there are elements of your culture that need to change, start now. It won't take generations to change it.
Culture change takes time. But it is eminently possible.
Alan O'Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie
Sunday Indo Business