What if you showed up for work to find a new sign posted by the owners: “Keep the best, churn the rest”—and you knew the best, and the rest meant you and your colleagues at all levels?
Chances are, it’d get your attention. And that’s exactly what business owners Dick and Harry (made up names for a true illustration) had in mind when they posted that sign at their medium-sized company.
Dick and Harry had allowed their company to drift into unprofitability. Though they brought in more business, profits never increased. And the more jobs they took on, the crazier their lives became. They were so exhausted trying to stay afloat, they didn’t have time to plan how to get out of the mess—until a stress-induced fight finally forced them to stop and think. It was change or lose the business.
To let their staff know that there would be a new culture of high performance and accountability, they started an internal campaign: “Keep the best, churn the rest.” To show that wasn’t a punitive exercise or mass downsizing, the slogan meant four things:
They began at the top. If they didn’t perform, they’d leave because they weren’t worthy of leading the company.
Fixing managerial problems was urgent because problems at the top cost more. One problem manager caused more damage than one problem employee.
“Keep” meant increasing rewards because each quality worker is worth more than two jerks.
“The best” meant competent, productive employees, not just shooting stars.
Good leaders need a “cabinet,” which is a senior team responsible for carrying out decisions and implementing plans.
But what about your “kitchen cabinet” – a smaller group of trusted associates; an inner circle that helps you confidentially speculate about possible directions, make difficult decisions or deal with sensitive issues in the workplace? Do you know who to bring into your kitchen cabinet? And who to exclude?
Most senior teams, or cabinets, have five to 15 people. You might call these teams your “strategic team,” but they usually become more tactical because members tend to focus on day-to-day operations and functions, and jockey for turf and power.
They trust you enough that when you don’t tell them everything, they assume you have good reasons.
They don’t gossip but, instead, maintain confidentiality; especially when they disagree with the value of plans you’re contemplating or have decided on.
If you’ve inherited a senior leadership team and a kitchen cabinet, you’ll still have to form your own. That’ll cause some hurt feelings and you may have turnover. But that’s much better than opening up to the wrong people or trying to operate without an effective kitchen cabinet.
It’s easy to dislike stalkers and snitches with personal vendettas. But you can’t fire them just because they’re relentless, stir up conflict and waste your time and energy, can you?
Most of us dislike snitches. And there are rules and laws against stalking someone in the workplace.
But if you’re a manager, someone who tells you about things your other employees are doing wrong can seem helpful. A snitch doesn’t always look like a snitch if you’re the beneficiary, not the target or victim, of their tattling. And they can provide useful information about serious problems you may not be aware of.
To read the rest of this article from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, see:
Snitches, vendettas hurt productivity
There are toxic people in every environment – toxic family, toxic friends, toxic lovers and toxic coworkers. If you don’t recognize and respond effectively to toxic, bullying coworkers they can make your life miserable, harass you, turn the rest of your team against you, scapegoat you and even get you fired.
Jane is known to be difficult, obnoxious and an out of control retaliator. But she’s very bright and hard working so management tends to minimize the problems she causes, overlook the tension, hostility and chaos she creates, and explain away her behavior by saying, “That’s just Jane. She must have a good heart.” She specializes in vendettas. Most people are afraid of her; they usually walk on egg shells around her and try to avoid setting off one of her tirades.
The bosses make you the leader of an important project that requires tact and people skills because they don’t trust Jane. Jane is enraged. Sometimes she blames and threatens you – you stole her job, she’ll report everything you do wrong, she’ll ruin your reputation and she’ll get you fired. Sometimes she acts sweet – as if she wants to be your best friend. Sometimes she tries to make you feel guilty so you’ll refuse to lead the project she thinks should be hers – that’s the only way you can prove to her that you’re a good person and her friend.
Is Jane right? Are you sneaky and manipulative and have you wronged her? Or is this a misunderstanding you can overcome so she’ll still be your friend?
How can you distinguish a friendly coworker who’s justifiably upset from one of these toxic bullies? Simple. You look for patterns in how Jane acts and how you and others feel when you’re around her.
Are sneaky, manipulative, back-stabbing stealth bullies.
Are over-reactive, control freaks – their interpretations give them permission to search and destroy, no matter how slight or unintentional the insult. They throw fits and attack or embarrass people they’re upset at.
Are you afraid of what Jane might do or that Jane won’t be friends with you?
Does she threaten you?
Have you seen Jane attack, manipulate or lie about other targets before you?
Does Jane apologize but not change or even strike back later?
Does Jane tell you that you’re special and she’d never go after you?
Does Jane make efforts to be reasonable and to overcome misunderstandings, to say that the problem is partly her fault and then does she make amends and change?
Of course, you want to be careful that you’re not overreacting. You want to know if you’re seeing their actions clearly. But if you answer the first five questions with “yes,” and the last one with “no,” you should beware.
When you identify Jane as someone who is relentless, implacable and has no conscience in pursuing her targets, you know what you’re dealing with. She’s out to destroy you just like she went after other coworkers in the past.
Your first thought may be, “How can I win her friendship?” or it may be, “She’s suffered so much in her own life, how can I not forgive her?” If you follow these thoughts with feelings of kindness, compassion and compromise, if you don’t mobilize to protect you life, limb and job you will be sacrificing yourself on an altar of silly sentimentality.
I take a strong approach: Recognize evil and recognize crazy or out of control people who won’t negotiate or compromise. The Jane’s and John’s of this world are bullies, abusers and predators that do tremendous damage. They’re why well-meaning people have to consult with experts. Remember, you would have already resolved situations with coworkers who are reasonable, willing to examine their own actions honestly, and to negotiate and compromise. You need help with the terminators that you face.
Will – determination, perseverance, resilience, endurance, grit.
Skill – overall strategy, tactics and the ability to maintain your poise and carry out your plan.
Convert doubt and hesitation into permission to act and then into an inner command to act effectively. Until you have the will, no tactics will help – you’ll give in, back off, bounce from one strategy to another and you'll fail, even with the best plan.
Don’t let your good heart blind you to the damage she’ll do to you. You’ve already given her second and third chances. That’s enough. She’s not merely misunderstanding you in any way you can clear up; logic, reason and common sense aren’t effective with the Jane’s of this world.
See Jane as a terminator – she’s relentless, implacable and has no conscience. Under her human-looking skin she’s out to destroy you. Your good heart and attempts to reason politely won’t stop her.
Assume that you can’t rehabilitate or convert Jane in your life time. That’s not what they pay you for at work anyway. You’re merely Jane’s coworker with an important personal life, a personal island that needs protecting. Let Jane’s therapist change her in professional space and on professional time that she pays for.
You don’t owe her anything because she got you the job or rescued you from drowning. She’s out to get you and you must protect yourself. Let Jane struggle to change on someone else’s professional time. Don’t put your reputation, your job or your family’s livelihood in harm’s way. Don’t minimize or excuse. Deal only with Jane’s behavior.
All plans must be adjusted to your specific situation – you, Jane, the company, your personal life. Added complications would be if Jane is your boss or the manager of your team likes her or is afraid of her and will collude with her against you.
Don’t believe Jane’s promises; don’t be fooled if she acts nice and sweet one time. Pay attention to the pattern of actions. If she’s sweet, she’s probably seeking to get information that she can use against you.
Don’t expect her to tell the truth. She’ll say one thing to you and report exactly the opposite to everyone else. She’ll lie when she reports bad things you have supposedly done. She knows that repetition is convincing; eventually some of her dirt might stick to you. Have witnesses who’ll stand up for you in public.
Don’t argue the details of an interaction to try to convince her of your side. State your side in a way that will convince bystanders. Always remind bystanders of your honesty, integrity and good character, which they should know.
Document everything; use a small digital recorder. Find allies as high up in the company as you can. When you report Jane, be professional; concentrate on her behavior, not your hurt feelings. Make a business case to encourage company leaders to act. It’s about the money, coworkers and clients that the company will save when they terminate Jane.
When you listen to voice mails from Jane or talk with her in person, tighten the muscles of your stomach just below your belly button, while you keep breathing. That’ll remind you to prepare for a verbal gut-punch.
Each situation is different – you, the toxic coworker and the rest of the company. The need to protect yourself and your career remains the same, while the tactics vary with the situation. All tactics are situational tactics.
Recent articles in the “New York Times” by Shayla McKnight, in the “Harvard Business Blogs” by Cheryl Dolan and Faith Oliver, and in “Stumble Upon” have focused on the harm done by workplace “gossip girls,” “mean girls” and on the difficulty in stopping these bullies. However, some academics have even made a case for the benefits of gossip at work.
Although men also engage in gossip at work, the typical image of harassment and bullying with gossip involves grown up mean girls using the same tactics they perfected in middle and high school.
Gossip is part of a pattern of negativity, verbal abuse, sabotage, rumor mongering, exclusion, back-stabbing, public ridicule, “catfights,” arguments, vendettas, disrespect, cutting out and forming warring cliques, crowds or mobs that wreaks havoc on previously productive teams. Conflict and stress, and turnover and sick leave increase, while morale and productivity are destroyed. These tactics lead to hostile workplace and discrimination suits against companies that don’t actively recognize and remove stealthy gossip girls, their supporters and managers who tolerate the bullying.
Although gossip, harassment and bullying by mean girls are scourges at work, they can be stopped.
Of course there are people for whom gossip is a way of life. They can’t imagine living without talking about other people. But if you want to maximize productivity of your team or company, you’ll have to stop these people, as well as the hardened climbers who use gossip to gain power and turf, or who simply like inflicting pain on their victims.
Sometimes the voices of an outside expert and company lawyers are necessary to guide the process. But ultimately, leaders and employees must take charge of creating an environment where they can thrive without having to look over their shoulders with the same kind of anxiety and fear they had in middle of high school.