Can a business recover from workplace toxicity?

Written by Technically Media CEO Chris WinkTechnical.ly’s culture builder The newsletter contains tips on growing strong teams and vibrant workplaces. Below is the latest edition we have published. Sign up to get the next one.


Toxicity in the workplace Mazzoni Center been brewing for years. Now his case study for organizational leaders is emerging.

In 2017, allegations of sexual assault and accusations of racial discrimination at one of the nation’s oldest and largest LGBTQ health service nonprofits sparked a series of events that led to the departure of at least three C-level executives, staff walkouts and unionization. The weakened Philadelphia nonprofit has also been hit hard by the pandemic — a third of its staff have been laid off and there have been widespread pay cuts. The organization’s revenue in 2020 was less than $17 million, compared to nearly $19 million in 2019, according to his 990.

After a year-long search and torturous gossip about the decline of a once-great institution, Mazzoni says she’s charting a new course. In January, the board announced its new chair Sultan Chakira veteran of the much smaller DC-based LGBTQ youth advocacy nonprofit SMYAL – which had $2 million in revenue in 2019a tenth the size of Mazzoni.

Given Mazzoni’s dismal failures in many workplace priorities of the time — on communication, responsiveness and inclusiveness — one nuance of Shakir’s hiring is his identity. He is a queer black Muslim man who grew up in economically battered North Philadelphia. From Broad and Erie, teenager Shakir took the Broad Street subway line south to the city’s Gayborhood to find the first “proud gay black men” in his life. A Mazzoni insider said the search committee called Shakir a “unicorn.”

He’s well-regarded and he boasts real results from his time in DC – including establishment the first of several gay-oriented homeless youth facilities. Mazzoni’s job is a major promotion in many ways: the highest position in a large institution with complex and sensitive medical and health services.

“I’ve met the kind of person who will drive from Connecticut to New York to come to Philadelphia because the care here is so comprehensive and culturally competent,” Shakir said of Mazzoni’s clients. His job is to “match the great care and unmet expectations of the community.” Many stakeholders, including current and former staff, however, remain traumatised.

It confronts on a grand scale a problem that a growing number of leaders face: what does it take for an organization to recover from controversy?

Tiny errors swell when ignored over time. Corporations employ flawed humans who cause irreparable harm. Unchecked biases and changing landscapes can mean a valuable workplace can turn toxic.

Once toxic, it is difficult to repair the harm. The best most organizations can do is get rid of scandal-ridden staff, atone for sins (publicly, whenever possible), address core issues – and listen. What can Mazzoni teach the rest of us?

Shakir says he shares his email and phone number directly with stakeholders — and responds.

The first lessons predate Shakir’s hiring and are emblematic of the calculations of recent years. Diversity of opinion is paramount, and leaders ignore employee criticism at their peril. No leader should be defined solely by their identity, but given Mazzoni’s dismal record of representation, Shakir’s lived experience gives him a chance to rebuild trust.

It will only happen with real changes. Shakir promises a fuller report on what has changed at Mazzoni since his abuse. One of the first important examples cited by Shakir is a clearer and more verified method for staff and customers to report concerns. Shakir says he shares his email and phone number directly with stakeholders — and responds.

This month, Shakir is embarking on a “listening tour,” which includes a series of meetings with current and former staff and clients, among other stakeholders.

“The first step is to find out what people think about what happened and what remains resolved about what happened or what didn’t happen,” he said. declared. “From there you can trace the path.”

A big lesson Shakir has already learned is the difference between personal and organizational responsibility. Almost all of Mazzoni’s leadership recovered from its oppressive cycle of unrest. This allows him to remind his team of an important point: “We did not do this wrong, but it is our duty to ensure that the organization takes responsibility for it.

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