There’s a book bluntly titled The No A**hole Rule that was flying off the book shelves and topping the business best seller lists for a while. This tells me one of two things. Either people love the word “a**hole” or there are a lot of “a**holes” in our businesses and companies and everyone wants to know how to deal with them. Based on my work with businesses and Gallup’s research estimating that negativity costs companies $300 billion a year, medical I’d pick the latter reason.

When I speak to leaders and managers not surprisingly everyone can identify those who are negative. What is surprising, however, is that many leaders and managers don’t know what to do with them—often allowing them to breed and fester within the organization. And even worse they have no idea how much these negative people, I call Energy Vampires instead of the “A-word”, are costing their company by sabotaging morale, performance, productivity, customer service and sucking the positive energy and life out of the organization.

To build a thriving, high performing company it is essential then to address the issue of negativity at work and eliminate the Energy Vampires from your organization. Not with stakes, silver bullets or garlic but with a positive approach I surprisingly garnered, not from other business experts or professors, but from a gardener and a college football coach. While talking to my new organic yard guy one day I asked him how he was going to get rid of my weeds and make my lawn look great without using pesticides and chemicals. He said, “Well, I just create an environment that nurtures the soil and allows the good grass to grow healthy and strong to the point where the good grass crowds out the weeds and makes it impossible for the weeds to grow.” My other conversation took place with Pete Carroll, head football coach of USC. When I asked Pete his secrets for winning two national championships and recruiting the best players in the country he told me that positive energy is ingrained in their systems, processes and everything they do. Practices, meetings, gatherings in the locker room are all infused with positive energy. It’s ingrained in their culture and habits.

Applying these lessons to the business world, it is very apparent why negativity sabotages so many companies despite the overwhelming evidence and recent literature demonstrating the benefits of positive work environments. Most companies deal with negativity by either ignoring it or firing negative people but like a lawn if you don’t address the environment new weeds will always pop up. While pink slips will always be necessary, the best way to reduce negativity is to create a positive environment and culture where your processes, systems and people are infused with positive energy making it impossible for energy vampires to grow and multiply.

Encouraging managers and employees to read positive books won’t accomplish this alone. Holding conferences on becoming a positive company won’t work by itself. Meetings where you encourage everyone to be positive won’t do it. To truly create a positively charged culture you will want to conduct an energy audit of your company and identify the people and the gaps in your processes that are contributing to negativity. You will want to address these gaps and incorporate positive strategies and best practices that are proven to hire, develop and fuel positive, engaged people and teams.

For example most companies have every intention of hiring skilled, hardworking, positive people. However, what a majority of them lack is a screening and hiring process that screens for optimism and a positive attitude and screens against negativity. PPR, a health care recruiting recently voted one of the best places to work, for example, has implemented an intensive hiring process filled with surveys, interviews and tests that weed out negativity. They know that building a positive high performing company begins with getting the right people on the bus and so they spend time, energy and resources to create a hiring system that accomplishes this.

With the right people on your bus you want to make sure you communicate consistently and effectively with them so they always know where the bus is going. Peter Druecker says that 60% of management problems are the result of faulty communication. This is because when there is a void or gap in communication, negative energy will always fill it. When people feel fearful or uncertain or unheard they start thinking the worse and act accordingly. Companies such as PPR address these gaps by hosting company wide weekly Monday morning 8:31am meetings; Google creates wide open work spaces and meeting rooms that foster better communication and idea collaboration; and Southwest airlines communicates in many ways to their employees via daily intranet updates, newsletter, conference calls, and town hall meetings. Employees not only want to be seen and heard but also desire to hear and see—and this makes all the difference.

Utilizing an effective communication system you will want to make sure you pump positive energy instead of negative energy through the energy pipes of the organization and fuel the tanks of your employees. When you are constantly fueling your employee’s tanks with positive energy instead of negative energy, they perform at a higher level. PPR for example has instituted a “no complaining” rule. If an employee has a complaint or challenge they can bring their complaint to their manager or superior but it is against company policy to mindlessly complain, without considering solutions, and make repeated negative comments that sabotage morale, performance and success.

First Transit fuels their company with more than just gas by creating a system of positive touch points that reward their drivers for doing things right. For example, every time a supervisor notices a bus driver doing something positive they praise the driver and also write their observation on a specially designed sheet of paper that is submitted to the general manager. The next day the general manager personally hands the sheet of paper to each driver and again praises them. Thus the bus driver receives two positive interactions for every one positive action. Not surprisingly since instituting this system performance has soared, moral has improved, absenteeism has decreased and profits have grown.

The fact is, every company will have to deal with issues of negativity to define themselves and create their success and when it comes to building a positive culture one solution does not fit all. While a few best practices have been shared here, I advise leaders to meet with their leadership teams and discuss the results of their energy audit and create a road map and vision for the road ahead. With vision and an action plan you can begin to cultivate positive energy within your people and engrain it into your process, systems and culture—neutralizing the energy vampires, lowering the cost of negativity and fueling your business and profits.

Jon Gordon