The Importance of Eliminating Bad Behavior That Damages Your Culture

Ron, you know someone needs to talk to XXX because he does not know how to talk to people. He is so rude.”

The other gentleman in my office said, “you have to realize that he has worked here for seven years in HR under XXX.” That statement changed the conversation immediately.

Everyone knew that the person he mentioned was beyond difficult to work for. It was like he had a vendetta against anyone that walked through the door. So as the saying goes, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

We have all run into these type bosses in our career. If you have not, my father has a favorite saying for you — “Just keep on living.”

Learning from a bad boss

I had a boss in a prior job that took pride in that approach. She was proud of the fact that when she visited one of the other offices, no one would look her in the eye because when she did show up, layoffs always followed. She simply loved the dynamic of that perception.

I have always felt that the greatest learning environment is working for a terrible boss. You get a front row VIP seat to hypocrisy, favoritism and fear mongering.

These type of activities undermine honesty and integrity at work. As a matter of fact, they are the trifecta of the biggest ethical problems in the workplace.

Employees feel comprised by the day-to-day hypocrisy and broken promises they frequently see. I was involved in a situation years back where I was told by senior leadership that I would be a candidate for a top role. Very excitedly, I prepared — and prepared some more.

A little later, I got a call from a friend who is an executive head hunter who told me that my company was going to focus on looking outside and would not be considering internal candidates. When I requested a meeting with senior leadership to get some clarification, all of a sudden everybody was too busy to talk and I could not get the appointment. With that, I made my decision and I was gone within two weeks.

A manager’s word is your bond. Once you lose that and you are perceived as wishy-washy, no one believes in you anymore. In my situation. the trust was broken and that could not be repaired. In hindsight, it was the best career move I ever made.

Hypocrisy, favoritism lurking around

Hypocrisy and favoritism are detrimental factors that will ignite a troubled workplace. But, they are not the sole province of leadership because they can also come from employees and departments within the organization.

This was a finding that caught my eye when I was reviewing turnover metrics, because the numbers were creeping up and there was considerable churn within the company.

Once I started digging down into the turnover metrics, it became apparent that the driving force for our company turnover was in one department. That department was run by a manager who would not step up and manage. His departmental No. 2 was full of hypocrisy and favoritism and wore them like a badge.

He was completely out of control  — and he was just a first-level manager.

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Once we addressed that situation, the turnover numbers stabilized. The point is, we always pair leadership with bad behavior, but in the right atmosphere, this can permeate an entire organization.

Setting the wrong tone in your workplace

Like a cancer if not treated, bad behavior will spread rapidly through the organization. When employers play favorites or look the other way on some questionable behavior, they are doing more harm than they realize in what is an already ethically challenged society.

Yes, they are setting a clear tone of unethical leadership within an organization.

Like actors, some will emulate that ethically challenged profile and play it to Oscar-worthy performances. In grade school it was called being the “teacher’s pet.” Once someone felt that, they plowed through everyone else with the force of an out-of-control car.

These type of situations are the root causes of dysfunction in the workplace. The main focus of a business will always be the bottom line, however creating a fertile work environment should also take center stage because there is a direct connection between the bottom line and the organization’s work environment.

Listen closely to your troops

I’m not talking about the perks that we read about from the Google’s or the Facebook’s of the world. I’m talking about an incubator that creates a workforce environment that is stress free, collaborative, and most of all, free from all the self-serving foolishness that goes on in all-too-many organizations.

As you take a culture audit of your workplace, listen closely to the voices of your troops. They are on the front line and can help target the miscreants that make everybody’s work life miserable.

This will take more than a mission/value/culture statement because words on a document mean nothing unless everybody buys in. Let the miscreants know that you will not tolerate their bad behavior for a second, regardless of their rank.

After a few of these are met head-on, the word will trickle down and your workforce will love you for it.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


2 Comments on “The Importance of Eliminating Bad Behavior That Damages Your Culture

  1. Our CEO, who happens to be my husband (talk about an interesting work / life dynamic!) uses the pit in the stomach feeling as a trigger to go talk to someone. He taught us that conversations, no matter how difficult, can help get to the truth. We practice courage and candor in our communication and are rebuilding our culture based on ‘just say it’ — not in a mean spirited way, but knowing that we are expected to talk TO each other and not ABOUT each other. I’ve lived through the reverse and am happy to not revisit the past any time soon, if ever. We also put an official ban on negative speak and it’s fun to watch the team self-regulate. Speaks back to your ‘wrong tone’ tip. Thanks for the great post Ron!

  2. The other thing managers sometimes forget–there’s a huge productivity drain when people “detox” from the bad behavior they are encountering. I worked with someone once who was often very unpleasant. He’d issue a verbal jab, and the people he’d “jabbed” would spend a half-hour fuming, venting, ranting, etc., as they tried to counter the effects of that attack.
    It cost us time–time that I could have measured with a clock. Every verbal jab, every rude behavior, lost 20 minutes *minimum* (times two, because the person who’d been dealt with rudely generally sought someone else’s help in venting).

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