Nasty people do more than make others miserable. They create economic problems for your business. And the problem is more widespread than most people think. Especially in some occupations driven by a “sales” or “technical” culture. So, that’s the bad news.
The good news is that your business culture doesn’t have to become a hostage to jerks and bullies. In a recent article (By Invitation: Building the civilized workplace) appearing in The McKinsey Quarterly, Robert Sutton defined a workplace jerk as someone who leaves others feeling “oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled.”
Jerks and bullies attack in any number of ways, whether in business or in family settings. Some of the more common include insulting and sarcastic humor; turf invasions; status slaps; two faced attacks; verbal and non-verbal threats and intimidation; and public shaming or time-honored hazing disguised at team building (remember the Miami Dolphins scandal?). Nasty interactions like these are more powerful than a locomotive, spread faster than a speeding bullet, and affect people five times more strongly than positive ones.
These kinds of behaviors, often condoned because the perp is a great “producer” who brings in a wonderful revenue stream, can destroy an organization or a family in several ways. Walls go up, morale goes down, customers and applicants stay away, and family members have as little to do with each other as possible. Steven Covey, author of Principle Centered Leadership, talked about behaviors like these as withdrawals from an emotional bank account.
So how do you prevent these behaviors from happening? Our experience suggests that a variety of covenants – family, management, and organizational – help set the tone for building a civilized culture. A couple of well known companies like Gold’s Gym, Southwest Airlines, Success Factors, and Netflix have a “we don’t hire or keep jerks” covenant or policy. It’s communicated in three ways: verbally, in writing, and – most importantly – in practice. If you’re not ready to part company with a jerk, don’t say you will when you know you won’t. Your failure to do so speaks volumes.