Good People Behaving Badly
Over the course of my career, I have been tasked with increasing the productivity of any number of offices. I have written policy manuals and job descriptions, defined yearly performance appraisal procedures, and generally attempted to find ways of properly ‘oiling the machine’ of the workplace. Along the way, I have tried to counsel/cajole/badger peers, superiors and subordinates alike.
Sadly, some people seem determined to throw sand in the gears of the office machinery. Admittedly, a small percentage may be beyond help; but that’s not the typical problem. Good people, with arguably good intentions, can behave badly, unaware of their impact.
What are the consequences of bad behavior?
The answer is usually obvious. However, the results are sometimes idiosyncratic and unexpected. You do it, I do it, we all do it. Behave badly, that is. The trick is to become more self-aware, and to reduce that behavior to a manageable level. Bad behavior rarely eludes unfortunate consequences.
So, here is my top ten list (plus one bonus) of things managers should NOT do to nurture an organization:
10 Lose control, curse and swear
OK, I’ll admit, these are three things; but they usually happen together. Do it for results or effect. Do it because it’s your nature. Do it because you like to. Or do it unconsciously. It doesn’t hurt anybody, right?
9 Show disrespect
Be suspicious of ______ people. Be intrusive. Ignore ethnic, cultural or religious traditions. After all, they’re not yours.
8 Do the job yourself
You can do it quicker. You know what you want. The results are predictable.
Sole proprietors and one person departments, of course, get a pass on this one. For the rest, growing a company often demands that you ‘leverage’ your skills. Teaching others how to do what you do is essential. Without this involvement and active participation, there is an emotional drain and productivity deficit which accrues to subordinates who feel mistrusted and misused by their superiors.
Counter-intuitively, those who always do things for themselves may well be insecure at their core, with a fear of being shown up, or reluctance to diminish their self-importance. Staff can see this, and consequences are inevitable.
7 Set a bad example.
Come in late. Leave early. Take care of personal business. Dress as you want. Dither. Procrastinate. You’re in charge; you can do as you please.
Just don’t be surprised when you find your staff doing the same.
6 Deride weaknesses
He’s too young. She’s not aware of the issues. The other guy is really better. They’re all too slow.
Admittedly, some people may be seriously outmatched, but even the very best will have room for improvement in aspects of their work. Long term carping over the issues serves little productive purpose.
With creative management, however, weaknesses will be seen as opportunities for development. There are choices: train for improvement, mentor for development, find reassignments better suited to strengths, or instill collaborations which involve positive synergies.
5 My way or the highway
Make it abundantly clear. You’re in charge, and you won’t tolerate disobedience or failure to conform.
4 Avoid compensation
These are difficult economic times. Stop paying overtime, and look the other way when people are doing it. Ask for ‘volunteers’ for ‘special’ projects. Have unpaid ‘internships’.
The legal landscape on this issue is not straightforward. The Department of Labor has thoroughly confused us all with arcane definitions of ‘Exempt’, ‘Non-Exempt’, ‘Employee’, and ‘Consultant’, along with complex rules about compensation.
What many Owners and Managers fail to grasp is the stifled resentment that can grow in an organization where the staff feels even slightly indentured.
3 Make a ‘Fast Track
Pick the person with great potential. Pay him/her a little more than the others. Give them opportunities no one else sees. Shorten the learning curve.
Apart from the obvious loss of professional development which accrues to the ‘fast tracker’, there are other pitfalls. If the trust is misplaced, staff can often sense the lack of managerial judgment, diminishing their respect and commitment to the organization.
Even if the favored treatment may have merit, the recipients often get targets pinned on their backs by others. Perhaps not the most mature behavior, but not unheard of.
2 Avoid Roadmaps
Career paths and job descriptions are for the simple-minded. Between you and your staff, you’ll know the necessary criteria for responsibility levels and compensation. Why get bogged down with definitions?
An undocumented career path is a surefire handicap to professional development and performance evaluation. The lack leaves everyone adrift, without objective criteria for goal setting and organizational improvement.
1 Stay aloof and reserved
Never go out for a drink after work. Never check out the softball team. Stay in your office. Have the work reviewed in the conference room. Always focus on the job. Never lighten up. And never, never get a laugh.
Bonus Delude yourself
You’re talented, you’re smart, you care about others, and you’re nurturing. You’ve gotten this far, what could be wrong?
Pride occasionally has a way of clouding judgment. Sometimes, unintentionally, we can be own worst enemy.
Are you a good person behaving badly?"
Symptoms usually appear. Indicators might include:
- Reduced productivity
- Staff turnover
- A lower level of enthusiasm and commitment
- Statements and/or actions of discontent
Causes are typically more obscure. Wise managers (especially those with better staff relations) may have an intuitive sense of underlying problems, and might self-identify some examples of my defined ‘bad’ behavior. More commonly, the roots of trouble are recorded with third party study and intervention. Companies and consultants offering this service are rife, and the approaches range from simple and intuitive to structured and elaborate. As an indication of business demand, the remaining Big 4 accounting firms each have major practice units devoted to business investigation and restructuring.
The more effective analyses have techniques for objectively garnering the reactions and impressions of staff members, the people feeling the brunt of whatever bad behavior may be endemic.
A key to a quality intervention is the ability of the analyst to forthrightly offer constructive criticism. In the abstract, this is obvious. In real life, this may not be easily accomplished. Analytical courage is sometimes called for in the face of unsympathetic, sometimes hostile, reactions from the named ‘misbehavers’.
What can you do about it?
Offices may bump along, perhaps even for years, surviving bad behavior. Is this the best way to run a business? Probably not.
Nothing proactive will happen without willing leadership. Managers must have a calm, centered attitude while seeking out, paying attention to, and heeding constructive criticism.
Implementation varies. Sometimes enhanced self-control is all that is required. Often, however, more assertive measures are required. Human Resource counseling, structural changes, personnel reassignment, and policy/procedure modifications are among the valid options.
Truly good people prefer not to behave badly.
Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:
May 2010 “LEED: LEADing or Dead Weight?”
March 2010 “Why does it cost so much?”
January 2010 “Design/Builders show us your softer side.”
November 2009 “What the Facilities?”
September 2009 “Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?”