Disarming the Dangerous
Companies in transition typically must deal with a considerable amount of upheaval. Often, it is the employees themselves who find transition the most difficult. As my colleague Graham Edwards pointed out in his recent post, Business Transition by Revolution, emotions tend to run very high during transition. This is typically when a company’s most toxic people become highly influential. Their comments and negative energy will undermine all of your efforts to create positive changes for your business. The only way to combat this, is to make sure they are the first people to be fired. Below is a post that I wrote several years ago when I was working with companies to help raise their employee engagement levels. It is a nice complement to Graham’s post about transition and my previous post, Going with the Flow: How to avoid setbacks during business transition. I hope you enjoy it.
Malcontents…every company has them and they are costly to have around. In spite of this, many companies are reluctant to get rid of their troublesome employees. Some malcontents manage to create the perception of having value because they are long time employees and know many important things. Some companies may even fear that losing these disruptive people will have a negative impact on their business. The truth is that these employees have little or no value to any business and according to statistics, have a negative impact on customer loyalty. Yes, if they are long-time employees they may be expensive to get rid of, but believe me, they are much more costly to your business if you decide to keep them!
Gallup Management Journal conducts annual employee engagement surveys on a variety of US businesses and the results are consistent year after year. According to the most recent Gallup Management Journal survey, these malcontents make up roughly 17% of the workforce in an average company. They are the “actively disengaged”. What’s more, 56% of disengaged employees would fire their boss if they could and two thirds of these people would never recommend your product or service to others. Malcontents will not only drive away your prospects, but they will also drive away your existing customers. One can assume from these statistics that their presence is a tremendous drain on their bosses and co-workers! All of these factors cost businesses a lot of money!
So how do you keep these people from ruining your organization? How can you progress with these disengaged employees sabotaging your business? The solution is simple. You have to fire them. Unfortunately, they are like a bottomless box of Kleenex. There will be others popping up to take their place if you don’t know how to create an environment that gives them no power. In other words, you need to create an environment that is conducive to employee engagement. Like weeds, your disengaged/toxic employees can only thrive in poor conditions.Your efforts to engage employees are like water and fertilizer to your front lawn.
Here are some secrets to creating an environment that will disarm those dreaded malcontents:
Determine your team values: Companies often have a set of values posted around the work place which may or may not mean anything to the employees of the company. This is usually because most companies post the values and forget to live by them in their daily interactions with their employees. It is as though they were posted for everyone but the Leadership Team to adhere to. Never mind. Each workplace team should have its own set of values to work within and these values should be agreed upon by each member of the group. If these values happen to correspond to the values of the company, then that’s a bonus. If you happen to work for a company where people do live by the values, then your own team values will add to your efficiency.
Have a team meeting where everyone brainstorms the values they would like to incorporate into their work life. You may get answers like “respect for time”, “positive attitude”, “accuracy”, etc. Write all of these answers out on a flip chart or white board and have the group narrow down 5 or 6 of the most important values you wish to adopt.
Next, get everyone to contribute examples of how each value will play out in the work day. An example for positive attitude would be, “not putting up road blocks every time a new assignment comes up” or “not permitting negative comments about the company or other co-workers”.
Once you have established your team’s values and have a clear idea of how they can be applied to a day’s work, you have something to refer to whenever your malcontent is not performing according to the values.
Use the company vision as leverage: All employees need to understand how their role is important to the company vision. They also need to understand how the vision benefits society. If it is not clear in the way the vision is written, then you need to draw a picture for your team. People are more eager to make a contribution to society than they are to make a contribution to the CEO’s bonus. Speak of the benefit your product or service has for your customers and remind them that the work they do is meaningful to society. Employees who are tied to the vision and believe in the goals of the company will take pride in their work and the products you sell.
Motivate your people: Figuring out what motivates people is always a challenge. The simplest thing any manager could so is just ask. Usually money is not what it takes to get people rolling in the direction you want to take them, so if you’re worried that engaging employees will cost you too much money, you can relax. Sometimes a little flexibility in scheduling, allowing people to work from home on occasion, or setting up a recognition board for all to see, is all you really need to do. Sales people often ring bells when they close a sale. Keep the environment light. Motivate with positive outcomes, not negative. Avoid threatening with poor performance reviews, firing, suspensions, etc. Those tools should be last on your list of tricks to gain compliance.
Among the most useful things any manager could do when it comes to motivating employees is to align with the most engaged employees (Gallup’s top 29%). Use those employees to influence your middle group (54%). The bottom 17% will likely never become your friend, so don’t waste your time trying to make them love you. They never will. The middle group can go either way, and it is extremely important for you engage them before the malcontents corrupt them. Use the top 29% to give you information regarding what is happening in on the ground, so that you can circumvent problems before they actually come up. Communication is the key to your success.
Place the right people in the right roles: One important factor that leads to disengagement at work is people feeling they are ill suited for the role they are in. Often people get promoted into positions that are not maximizing their strengths, and so they under perform. Have conversations with your team regarding where they feel they can be most valuable. It may be in a whole other department, or it may be in a former role, but you will never know if you don’t ask. Getting people into the right position may take some jockeying around, but once you get it right, you’ll be glad you took the time.
Of course, part of getting people into the right roles may also mean having to let people go. If your team players are not exhibiting the attitude required to get the business moving forward, then you must get rid of them. Offer support to help them improve and if you see no positive change in behaviour, then let them go. You can’t teach pleasant, happy or co-operative, but you can teach technical stuff. Don’t fire people because their proficiency in Excel is mediocre. You can teach that. At work, attitude is gold. Hire and retain pleasant and cooperative people.
Set a shining example: Nobody respects leaders who lack integrity. Double standards, playing favourites, egocentricity, manipulative behaviour… You know the drill. It’s all bad. Your character as a leader will define your success. All of your decisions are a reflection of the character that guides you. Be a shining example of humbleness, integrity, honesty and trustworthiness in both your personal and professional life. All things good should spring from you if you want to be able to give no voice to the malcontents. They cannot criticize you, complain about your character or condemn you if you give them no reason. Live as faultless a life as is humanly possible, and when you falter, accept responsibility for your actions and apologize.
Getting everyone engaged at work is no quick job. It is definitely a long process, but if you are willing to persevere, the rewards will be enormous. Your company will make a lot more money regardless of economic conditions, your people will be much more productive and efficiency rates will be considerably higher. Guaranteed!
Few public relations & communications specialists have as diverse a background as Renée Cormier. Add published author, employee engagement specialist, sales and marketing strategist, entrepreneur and educator to her list of accomplishments. In her career Renée has held leadership roles in sales and marketing, developed and implemented national marketing strategies and was responsible for teams as large as 28 strong. She brings a wide range of experience and talent to her work.
Renée really shines in marketing communications. She is known for developing and implementing comprehensive communications strategies and generating results through flawless implementation. With such strong business acumen, passion for her work and a natural talent for business strategy, Renée is definitely considered an important resource for her clients. Is your business in transition? Do you need help with your communications or public relations efforts? Contact Renée through her website.