Are You the Office Trick or Treat?


shutterstock_245877706Organizational leadership guru Adam Grant recently commented on what spoils a workplace culture. It’s surprisingly simple. It takes just one person to obliterate a collaborative, supportive and positive environment. It doesn’t have to be a person at the top. One mean-spirited, conniving, credit-hogging, work-shirking colleague will ruin your day, your week, or however long you can stand being employed in the same organization.

One rotten apple spoils the barrel.

But one good egg does not make a dozen.

It’s unfortunate to learn that one super-generous, caring and helpful colleague does not cancel out the dirty trickster.

In other words, an organization can’t neutralize a bad apple with a good egg.

That frustrates a lot of workers who enjoy their work and each other. No matter how large the group that gets along and happily produces great work, the impact of a negative, slacking, tattletale telling lout is an unstoppable, sickening virus.

In a client company that I consult with now, there is a really bad apple. In fact, he is a poison apple. He fakes illness. He doesn’t return emails. He verbally attacks junior staff. He demands help when he simply doesn’t want to do his own work.

This was an open secret before I arrived. Now it’s exploded – because he has finally lost the few allies who personally liked him despite his behavior at work.

There is only one answer. It’s a choice, really. He either gets fired or the company will devolve: making less profit, generating less revenue, getting less worker productivity and lots more errors because caring is wearing thin among the minions.

Company layoffs, financial belt-tightening and vulnerability to competitive threats are often laid at the feet of various departments. What went wrong? Did finance manage cash poorly or fail to secure the right financing? Did marketing make bad decisions about buyer behavior and preferences? Were sales reps not filling their prospecting funnels or selling upgrades and add-ons? Has R&D missed the category roadmap, or built when it should have acquired?

“WHAT went wrong?” is commonly asked; however, “what” is the beginning of the wrong question.

WHO went wrong? That’s the question few companies ask or address. Why?

It’s nearly impossible for top management to imagine that ONE person – something so granular in an organization – could be responsible for organizational dystopia or even its demise.

It’s difficult to imagine one person can infect an entire organization.

But, come off an airplane where one person coughed and sneezed throughout a five hour flight, and within the week you have a former planeload of passengers who are now just a bunch of sick people unable to work.

As Adam Grant advises: fire the taker, the faker, the bad seed and the trickster.

Like pruning my beloved rose trees so they can flourish again, I made that recommendation this week.

Watch this space. More will be revealed.

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“I don’t think this entire nation has figured out how to treat black children”: The Zero Tolerance Generation, Pt VI


Previously: Part Five

I talked with a number of teachers for this series. Most refused to go on the record for fear of potential consequences. Many didn’t like zero-tolerance policies, but also talked about the steady gutting of resources and the bizarre vicissitudes the frenzy for test scores has created in the educational process.

One, who works in an elementary school in a North Carolina city, agreed to be quoted on the condition that I use an alias.

Cybil Tanner was in high school in when Columbine happened, a “goody two-shoes” who managed to mostly escape the zero-tolerance crackdowns that followed (her sister wasn’t so lucky, she noted, and got a three-day suspension for a dubious charge). Just in her years in the classroom, she’s seen services cut and cut again, harming teachers’ ability to know their students or to deal with the particularly troubled ones before their issues get worse.

“I’ve been a teacher for eight years, and bit by bit I’ve seen the resources decrease,” she says. “Both from state and local levels, it’s gone down.”

“When you know your students you understand the situation and don’t blow it out of proportion,” Tanner says. “You know if they just had a pocketknife from a camping trip or if they have a history of violence.”

Her school’s policies call for automatic suspension for a weapon, for example, for a time at the discretion of the principal. Fortunately, she says, her principal has generally been reasonable—he’ll call a parent when a minor pocketknife-type incident comes up.

“But that’s because he knew the students, if the principal hadn’t, there weren’t connections with the community, things could have gone differently…”

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