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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The civilised workplace

I received from McKinsey recently an article by Robert Sutton whose blog I subscribe to and which had prompted me to revisit the article I wrote on the Likable fool and I mentioned the Competent jerk. If as a reader you want to read the report in full, then click on the title bar of this blog

Suttons article which I have posted in full highlights the danger and effects of employing people who are basically nasty to people around them and the damaging effect that it can have to the people but also to the future well being of the organisation.

Our organisation of course doesn’t condone people who would behave in this way but the article is useful as an aide memoire as to why we would not and should not tolerate people who would behave in such a disrespectful way to fellow employees and to the behaviours that we need to be aware of.

People who practice these behaviours do real and lasting damage not only to people but to the organisation:

Word of mouth or worse on a site like stating that your organisation is peopled by nasty people can potentially undo your own hard work on potential recruitment—but also on the retention of people especially among your best and brightest, who can walk out to work in a more congenial setting. New recruits especially those from Generation Y are especially savvy in working out what firms they want to work for and the working environment.
Damage your firm’s reputation among potential laterals and even clients
Nip collaboration and openness in the bud and;
Stifle innovation and creativity.
So as a knowledge manager, these issues strike a chord as they are restrictors on the sharing of knowledge and also bringing new knowledge into your organisation to refresh the knowledge pool.

However, Sutton goes on to highlight the cost of or as Sutton calls it the Total Cost of Jerks to your organisation.

Damage to victims and witnesses
  • distraction from real work; time and energy devoted to coping or avoiding
  • honesty becomes not the best policy; a climate of fear, psychological safety undermined
  • motivation and energy levels reduced
  • absenteeism, usually due to stress related illness
  • and worst of all, a prolonged exposure to bullying can turn people into bullies as it becomes a part of the firms culture.
Black hole for management

  • time spent appeasing, calming, counselling jerks
  • time spent chilling out, reinforcing, nurturing victims
  • time spent reorganising to get people out of the jerk’s line of fire
Litigation and HR costs
  • I think that we can imagine these.
Overall impact of condoning jerks
  • stifles creativity and innovation
  • dysfunctional internal competition
  • difficulty in attracting new people of the right calibre and having to pay over the odds to get them to come to work in your firm
  • People don’t go and put those little unpaid extras in.
Sutton highlights the steps that can be taken but he also highlights in the article as to the 12 most common abuses (or as he calls them his dirty dozen) that make people/employees feel worse about themselves.

These are:

  1. Personal Insults.
  2. Invading co-workers personal territory
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, verbal and non verbal
  5. Sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems
  6. Withering e-mails
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate victims
  8. Public shaming or status degradation rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they were invisible.
So what steps does he recommend.

Make the rule public by what you say and, especially do

As the head of Barclays Capital puts it, “Hotshots who alienate colleagues are told to change or leave.” Only when people feel safe highlighting to someone on their bad behaviour will you know that your efforts have been successful.

Weave the rule into your recruitment and dismissal procedures.

Perkins Coie a law firm based in Seattle, a Fortune “100 Best Places to Work” in 2007, for the 4th year in a row, reject rainmakers for just this “no jerk” reason. As senior partners Bob Giles and Mike Reynvaan report, “We looked at each other and said, ‘What a jerk.’ Only we didn’t use that word.” As my grandfather instilled in to me from an early age - treat people the way you would like to be treated yourself.

Apply this to a client

Don’t let your people be abused from the outside or from the inside. Even consider this: Fire clients who are abusive. Joe Gold, founder of Gold’s Gym (550 locations in 43 countries) did this from the very start, in his first gym on Muscle Beach in Venice, California, where Arnold Schwarzenegger was an early customer.

Is being a jerk contagious

According to Sutton - Yes.

Which is why a jerk-free workplace begins with us as an individual. This is common sense in my view. If I’m attacked, my first, human but not very nice basic instinct is to counter-attack. Most people if they don’t have the status within the organisation to counter-attack directly, tend to do it through oblique means. This can manifest itself by the person becoming disillusioned, losing faith in the firm, giving less than their best effort (or certainly not going the extra mile on nights and weekends).

A quote that Sutton utilises is an Arab proverb that “A wise man associating with the vicious becomes an idiot.” and this is borne out by a number of anthropological studies into human behaviour.

Don’t let this happen to you or the firm that you work for the effects can be devastating not only to people but also to the future of your organisation.

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