If you’ve ever worked with our company, you are probably familiar with this tenet of ours. We don’t like to work with jerks, and if we happen to find one in our midst we do our best to reform or replace them. I am convinced that this policy, along with our team’s brilliance (maybe I’m biased) and culture of support for one another has been instrumental in our small company’s nearly 9 year track record of growth and profitability.
Everyone experiences lame co-workers at some point in their lives, and you know these people. You don’t understand the hidden talent they have that allows them to keep their jobs. Maybe you had the cranky mustache lady in accounting who took solace in chain smoking and sarcasm. Maybe you worked with the hipster whose job was too pedestrian for them to actually DO. Or the blind rage “hair on fire” type who perfected the dramatic meeting exit. From slackery to office gossip that goes too far, we’ve all worked with people that brought the workplace down.
I’m not suggesting that at Mobile Deluxe we’re all sunshine and unicorns, because we’re not. We’ve had attitudes and cattiness, slackers and deceivers. And everyone has bad days when they aren’t their perfect selves. Maybe I called the new girl “Valerie” for a long time before I realized that wasn’t her name. Someone in our office may have taken a “revenge shot” or two at the office ping- pong tournament, or left an especially terse note about yogurt on the office fridge. We duke it out and dig in our heels during a meeting from time to time, but there’s mutual respect, and the discussion ends up making the organization better. Temporary issues are to be expected.
With some of the more toxic people however, we held on too long, and we suffered for it. In small companies like ours, each person’s contribution is significant and apparent. Our space is intimate and open, the need for everyone to work together well is critical. For the most part, when toxic behavior first becomes a problem, we will try and work with that person to correct the problem. Did we cause the problem? Can we solve it? Sometimes, unfortunately, the problem doesn’t resolve and people simply have to be let go. When we have acted on this, the results have been revealing. The energy is better, the gossip disappears and productivity goes up. John Shields, Chairman Emeritus of CEO of Trader Joes, said it well when he said that if you think someone’s the wrong fit and should be replaced, you probably should have done so 6 months prior. Lesson Learned.
Here are the main reasons to keep the jerks away:
Reason #1: Feedback sessions and idea creation need to be free flowing
This is a basic rule. If you have someone in the midst of a feedback session that gets personal and sarcastic, or pouts when disagreed with, you will suddenly find yourself in a mostly mute room. Challenging ideas and testing assumptions all provide healthy balance in discussion. But bitterness and a lack of tact can inhibit the free flowing of ideas and stifle creativity. Trusting one another, giving value to each other’s opinion is critical to an open and productive exchange.
Reason #2: Happiness is key to success
According to the Harvard Business Review Article, “The Power of Happiness”, by Roger Martin, employee satisfaction has an extremely positive impact on company performance. Says Martin, “Employees are the backbone of any organization, and as you might expect, studies show that happy employees are more motivated, productive and committed…considerable research has explored the link between an organization’s long-term financial success and motivated employees.” The below diagram is taken from the article, and illustrates the paradigm.
Reason #3: Difficult people can hamper productivity
Think Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Have you ever been on a project that stopped inexplicably every time it was a particularly difficult person’s turn to contribute? Some people let emotional angst get in the way of problem solving, and productivity slows. Or there’s the malcontent that no one wants to work with, making it difficult to get teams together. When you need an employee to step up and organize on a project, you have one less option available. Who wants to be on THAT guy’s team?
Reason #4: Contributions are expensive and less efficient when the source is lame
It’s rare you find cohorts that can look past a personality problem and see the good stuff. When presenting an idea, the offender is going to have a harder time convincing people, a harder time being credible, and so will have to work harder and do more to be useful. Unless they have some ace-in-the-hole relationship or uber useful skill of some sort (“Jim’s a jackass, but have you seen his ice sculptures?”) their work will be more expensive and less effective than if they were just cool and easy to work with.
Reason #5: Trust in the workplace makes a huge difference
Some people are known for trying to steal someone else’s thunder, job, or clearly labeled Mountain Dew. Some will take credit for the work of others. This contributes to a corporate culture of mistrust and can dampen spirits and slow progress. In Steven Covey’s book, “The Speed of Trust”, he talks about how truly collaborative teams with a high level of trust tend to produce more effective results, more efficiently.
Assholery, is it your culture or the individual?
The Harvard Business review recently devoted an entire issue of their magazine to, “The Value of Happiness” (Jan-Feb 2012). Throughout the issue various sources offer the myriad of reasons why focusing on employee happiness and satisfaction is not only the right thing to do, but it has a significant and measurable effect on your bottom line. The article “Positive Intelligence” by Shawn Achor, suggests that “life satisfaction” scales are, “…widely accepted to be one of the greatest predictors of productivity.”
If your company culture is lacking, check out some of the HBR suggestions for improvement. Things as simple as having every employee make a habit of writing down three things they were grateful for daily, two minutes of meditation, or simply writing someone else a positive note have been shown to increase satisfaction by 16%. Happy employees were also shown to have 37% higher sales, be 10x more engaged in their jobs, and are 40% more likely to receive a promotion.
Sometimes it’s a matter of learning how to engage with a group, individuals or how to work through conflict. Books Crucial Confrontations, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People are all staples in the workplace harmony library. Even excerpted assigned reading can have an impact and send a strong message about the company values.
If you decide it’s the individual, even after working with him or her on all of the above, it’s time to part ways. You aren’t the boss and can’t make that call? Feel free to anonymously pass this article around the office.
This quiz will help you ensure you’re not the problem:
“The No Asshole Rule” by Robert I. Sutton
“The Speed of Trust” by Stephen Covey
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
“The Value of Happiness”, Harvard Business Review, January – February 2012 issue