If you had a friend who:
- Frequently undermined your actions or words by gossiping about you
- Took your good actions and twisted them into something negative
- Tells you that YOU are the problem, while refusing to acknowledge their own role
- When you think you have moved on from a conflict, turns around with another conflict
How long would you put up with that friendship?
Does that sound like a friendship you want to be in? What if you tried to work with this person for a year plus and you still experienced these issues?
Unless this was a family member, many of us would decide it’s time to move on. After all, who has the energy to learn this intricate dance and then re-write it every three months? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
In too many organizations we tolerate behavior we would never tolerate in our personal life
- We tolerate the negative Nancy’s and Nick’s
- When negative Nick and Nancy tear apart every proposed solution or new idea, we go back to them and ask for more “ideas”
- When negative Nick and Nancy pine for the “old days” we entertain the 100th retelling of glory days that were probably pretty shitty but are now touched up with that vintage Nashville filter
Companies do this ALL.THE.TIME.
Allow me to clarify what I’m NOT talking about
I’m not talking about the team that is loudly and passionately debating the “how.” I.e “How do we enter this new market?” I’m talking about the people who cannot or will not see that new markets must be entered, new customers acquired, etc.;
I’m not talking about your employee who has lodged their third sexual harassment complaint against your company’s Harvey Weinstein. When it comes to ethics, safety, harassment, violence, bullying and all the other organizational scarlet letters, the problem is you, not your employees.
I’m talking about people who blatantly undermine and destroy anyone or anything that signifies a change, simply because it’s not their way.
This happens at all levels:
- It’s the VP who suddenly starts giving you the cold shoulder because you vocally supported the new guy/gal’s idea
- It’s the secretary with the keys to the kingdom who freezes you out literally & figuratively. Seriously, you could be standing outside trying to get in the building and he/she is “too busy” to notice your lips turning blue through the glass door.
- It’s your work buddy who gives you the cold shoulder because you were nice to the new guy/gal.
What you should do:
You know what you need to do. If you’re in HR, your managers need to start managing. If you are a manager it’s time to start managing:
- Do clearly communicate the importance of new direction/actions/initiatives/projects, don’t downplay them as the newest fad. They may be a fad and they may not. Let your people make that decision for themselves
- Don’t tolerate the backbiting and gossip
- Don’t tolerate endless negative comments – yes you want ideas and yes criticism is important – but we shouldn’t tolerate criticism for criticism’s sake
- Do work with the willing and make positive examples of them. Call out when people and projects are successful. Forward progress takes away the power of the negatives Nancy and Nick’s.
Back to my earlier example
You probably wouldn’t put up with that friend I mentioned earlier in this post, would you? Maybe if you didn’t want to cut them completely out of your life you would engage less, take their criticism less seriously, maybe stop making yourself as available as you used too, all good strategies to decrease the influence this person has on your life.
The reality is that our current business environment of rapid technology change and upended industries cannot and should not tolerate much of the behavior that we currently entertain. As leaders, we have to step up and make that clear.