A very common question from managers is, “How do I build a positive, supportive, productive culture in my company?” This seems like a very abstract objective until you face up to some of the negative behaviors that can be found in many companies. When you identify these behaviors, and they are not hard to notice, you are then presented with an important opportunity to improve the culture and set a better standard of behavior. But, this requires you to be forthright and take action.
Here is an example. “What do I do with an employee who is disruptive, disrespectful, in short, a jerk?” Frequently this question concerns an employee who is perceived by the manager as very productive or a key player in the organization.
One of the first steps to take is to clearly evaluate the true costs of having this person in the organization. Jerks are like zones of repulsion that disrupt work all around. People avoid communicating, or worse, working directly with a jerk. Many people will have a hard time not reacting with their own negative behavior to fend off jerks. When you add all of this up, jerks are always a negative, no matter how individually productive they may seem to be.
(Before going on to the next steps, review your company personal policy carefully concerning disciplining employees and conditions for termination. You want to be sure to follow these procedures carefully. )
So, what to do? The first step is to confront the jerk. This is best done by direct observation and immediate feedback. Wait for the negative behavior to be demonstrated and immediately take the person aside to a private space and indicate to them that this kind of behavior will no longer be tolerated. Do not engage in a colloquy or argument. This is a policy statement, not an invitation to a discussion.
To be honest, you take this step, rather than just dismissing the person, because it is the right thing to do, not because there is much hope for reforming the bad behavior of an inveterate jerk. You are doing this because it is sound human resource management practice and because it is sound interpersonal behavior. Good management of people demands observing real behavior and taking corrective action immediately. And, surprise, surprise, sometimes better behavior breaks out!
Now, you must be ready to act. Sometimes, once a jerk is confronted about their behavior they will in fact make good faith efforts to change. If you see this, be supportive and provide immediate corrective direction when the person falls back toward the bad behavior. On the other hand, confronting a jerk may just as well cause them to flee, to quit. Be ready for this and have a replacement, or backup, in the wings. Finally, true jerks will revert to their natural behavior shortly and, without repentance, continue along. Follow your company’s procedures for terminating the employee closely. If you feel that the employee is unsalvageable, do the right thing for you, the company, and the employee, insist on termination not a transfer to another department or division.
You will be amazed at how others in your company will react to your handling this situation so well. They will know that you are not going to tolerate disruptive, disrespectful behavior and they will feel positively that you handled the situation with respect and care. So, you have taken a clear step towards a positive, supportive, productive culture in your company. There is much more to be done, nevertheless, you have taken a highly visible step.
There is a great article about this topic in The McKinsey Quarterly (May 2007), Building the civilized workplace: Nasty people don’t just make others feel miserable; they create economic problems for their companies. by Robert Sutton (opens in new window).