We live in a time when acrimony and resentment seem to be at an all-time high. These days, individuals feel comfortable hiding behind screens to voice their opinions without giving much thought to the repercussions or the feelings of others.
I freely acknowledge that there have always been mean-spirited people in our lives, workplaces, schools and communities. However lately, it seems as if there is carte blanche to act like a jerk. Maybe this is why kindness seems a bit harder to come by, and why I find myself mentoring young people on how to deal with difficult colleagues more than usual.
I am certainly not immune to jerks. We’ve all dealt with them — the mean-spirited colleague who thought they knew everything. The person who did not like to share their toys in the proverbial sandbox. The team member who jumped at every opportunity to claim credit for success, plow over others or immediately blame others for failure. Simply put, we’ve all worked with jerks.
While jerks can be highly effective at delivering results, don’t confuse value with productivity. By this, I mean that the toxicity jerks infuse into a team and their work environment can significantly outweigh their contributions. These folks tend to be mean-spirited, manipulative, and can often undermine both the organization’s work and their colleagues’ productivity. They cause strife and, in some cases, drive excellent colleagues away from an organization. At the end of the day, they do far more harm than good, and they make the work environment an unpleasant place to spend the day.
Throughout my career, I have managed a few so-called jerks. While it has not always been easy, and I have certainly made my share of mistakes, I’ve learned to effectively deal with these personalities along the way. Beyond that, I’ve developed some management techniques for how to handle them.
As far as I’m concerned, jerks need not apply to positions within my organization. I have adopted a strict “jerk-free” policy for every organization I lead. From the moment I walk in the door on the first day, I articulate that jerks are not welcome. Personally, I would much rather work with a less experienced person who is kind-hearted and receptive to training than an arrogant jerk, any day of the week.
So, how do you move from simply putting up a “jerks aren’t welcome sign” to creating a jerk-free culture? How can you cultivate anti-jerk behavior across your team and coach others to do the same?
1. Communicate. Talk it out from the outset. You need to communicate, communicate and communicate again. Let your teammates and colleagues know what you need and what you expect. You want to set expectations from the outset, so everyone is on the same page, and there is no room for confusion or deniability. You should also be open, transparent and honest. While there are times it is not the easiest thing to do, the payoff is huge and will keep things running smoothly.
2. Lead by example. Jerks gravitate to jerks. Do your best to be kind, helpful, open and honest. It will do more to inspire others and generate positivity than anything else.
3. Build trust. You build trust and inspire loyalty when you foster an environment where differences of opinion are welcomed and encouraged. Where there is trust and good feeling, it makes it harder for jerks to thrive.
4. Let them know. If someone is a jerk and you feel uncomfortable, let them know. Don’t let behavior that bothers you fester. You want to nip it in the bud. In a positive non-judgmental language explain to them how their behavior is not working for you and reflect on how things can change. I always say the first approach to any situation should be: acknowledge, reflect, move forward.
5. Value differences. It’s important to celebrate differences and the wide variety of skills team members bring to the table. If folks feel they have a unique niche to fill and special skills to contribute, they are less likely to be passive aggressive and will feel confident in their contributions.
6. Celebrate. Having a good time is essential. Work is hard, and it’s important to let off a little steam sometimes. I can’t encourage enough the opportunity to have fun and facilitate opportunities where colleagues can get together outside of the office.
7. Coach it out. I have found that all is not lost when it comes to jerks. There is hope. Some jerks can be rehabilitated. They just need effective coaching to turn their attitude around. Of course, there are rare cases when a jerk is, and always will be, a jerk. Unfortunately, there are times when you will have to make the tough call and leave them behind.
A jerk-free workplace certainly has numerous benefits. Not only is your space more enjoyable and pleasant, but a no-jerk policy also attracts and contributes to retaining the best possible team members — those who are incredibly productive, highly effective and extremely positive.
What team member wants to sign up to work with jerks? A positive environment drives productivity as time is not wasted battling destructive behavior or playing pointless games. It also enhances quality and helps delivers excellent customer service, because team members are happy in their work. The ripple effect of that is that they pass it along to anyone with whom they interact.
Think about it: Your team is like a family, and frankly, we often spend more time with them than anyone else in our lives. While we all enjoy a wacky cousin or a wisecracking uncle, no one likes to engage with the family member who is always complaining or rude to others. So, do you and your fellow team members a favor and say goodbye to the jerks. Make more room at the table for positive and enjoyable folks. Everyone will be glad that you did.
MOST LEADERS (the less than great ones) can become afraid of learning their employees’ true feelings towards the company and its overall structure. In turn, they shy away from even initiating such conversations and asking the important questions.
Strong leaders, on the other hand, happily ask these questions with an eye on making things better for their team. When everyone is heard and acknowledged, only then can a leader make the right decisions and give each employee what he or she needs. If you don’t ask, who will?
1. What is your overall satisfaction with your team?
This question is pretty straightforward, but perhaps the most powerful. As a manager, it allows you to gain access to the big picture—providing key understanding on what’s working and what isn’t, directly from your staff. It’s no secret that dissatisfaction with overall team performance is a primary reason for top talent to exit. Taking the initiative to ask your employees for feedback, and frequently, will not only provide you with valuable insight, but put you in a position to rectify concerns before the damage is done.
2. If the best place you’ve ever worked was a 10, please rate your current company.
You’ll either be the 10, or you won’t. If you are not, don’t become defensive or offended, ask what specifically was better at your employee’s previous company. Then compare it to your current team and ask yourself, as the leader, would it be possible to adopt some of those successful strategies?
3. How well does your leader do with supporting and developing you? (Consider time, tools and training.)
One of the top responses on employee satisfaction surveys, across the board, is how well we do with making our people a better version of themselves. If you are not actively investing in your employees, they will eventually move on to find someone who will. Do you give them enough of your time? Do you give them the right tools to compete and win? Do you train them in new skills and technologies that allow them to be more effective?
4. How well does your leader hold you accountable?
This is very important to a high-performance culture. Highly engaged and highly accountable teams outperform those who lack both. When you have the right people in the right seats, the best employees don’t mind being held accountable for their actions and their results. Those standards are what make them feel “elite.” After all, who wants to be part of a team that anyone can be a part of? If they are accountable, they know others are held accountable too, and that’s one of the main ingredients to employees giving their best day in and day out.
5. How well does your leader hold OTHERS accountable?
This question smokes out if your employees feel like there is any favoritism or double standards in play at your company. Obviously, you want to treat everyone on the team the same, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. Oftentimes you’ll discover that leadership and the “favorites” get a pass and the troops get the stick. When leaders are held to a higher standard and not a special one, you’ll find that it’s much easier to get buy-in and acceptance for so many things that seem tough to get. This is particularly relevant to family-owned businesses, where your last name matters more than it should.
6. How well does your leader communicate with you?
When discussing performance issues with their employees, I often find leaders have failed to communicate clear expectations and a clearly defined process of how they expect their employees to perform. The leaders are then bewildered that the task hasn’t been accomplished to their satisfaction. Leaders need to ensure that proper communication has been achieved before moving on to work on other things. An easy way to accomplish this is to simply ask, “OK, do you feel like you’ve got it?” (Almost always expect a “yes” answer, even when it’s really a “kind of” or a “no.”) Then say, “Great! Now echo that back to me, just to make sure I’ve explained this well to you?” By doing so, you’ll then have the opportunity to get crystal clear with them. Without this important step, prepare for some fuzziness in your employees’ results.
7. How likely are you to recommend your company to a friend that is looking for work?
This is like the Net Promoter Score for you as a leader, and for the company at large. If they were at a BBQ with their friends on a weekend and the topic came up, how do you think your team would respond? Would your employee say, “You’d be lucky to get hired. My company is world-class!” Or would the conversation be more like, “Well, if you can get past a ton of B.S., politics and red tape, you can grind out a living just like I do!”
8. Rate your team “health.”
To give you a gauge for their response, a 10 is when trust is very high, there is heathy conflict, nothing is personal, when something is called out for not being ideal, no one gets defensive or upset because everyone is there to make things as good as they can possibly be. A one is when people are not speaking the truth, everyone is walking around on eggshells, and it’s better for your career to not rock the boat and to go with the flow.
9. Do you feel adequately recognized for your contributions to the team?
This is another top response that I see on employee satisfaction surveys. Employees work hard, sometimes stay late, give their all and go above and beyond. If they aren’t recognized for these sacrifices, they will usually stop these activities because they don’t seem to matter. Sometimes others unjustly steal credit for their work, or leaders are simply oblivious to their contributions. What is your format to make sure this doesn’t happen at your company?
10. How likely are you to seek advancement at your company?
This is a great way to identify your next leaders. It also speaks to how your leaders are perceived by the staff. If they feel your managers are a bit of a joke, are clueless and cannot imagine themselves being one of those types, you might have a bigger issue on your hands. Not everyone wants to be a leader, and that is perfectly OK. If they say no, ask why, but don’t try to “sell” management to them. It’s better to understand what their reasons are and to respect them.
The sum of all of these questions together will give you valuable information on where you are doing well and where needs immediate attention. If you ask these 10 questions every 90 days, you can compare your team’s last quarter responses and spot any problem areas before things get too caustic to your beloved culture. Again, if you don’t ask, you are guessing, and that might not work out well for you, or for your team!