Bad behavior is lying, cheating, stealing, bullying, unfair treatment, or anything that compels an honest and upright employee to head for the door. Left uncorrected, bad characters infect others, and the company rots from the inside.
How do we cultivate a workplace where bad behavior is not welcome? Let’s start with how bad characters gain traction.
HOW DOES INFECTION HAPPEN?
When employees adopt bad behavior, they often learn it at the knee of an owner or person of authority.
I hear you saying, “Not in my company, they don’t!”
Okay, perhaps the employee was influenced by a different boss – or a playground bully, an abusive parent or unprincipled adult.
However, it could be someone within your company who is doing the influencing.
I tell owners to look closely at the managers in their upper ranks. These may be charismatic leaders who charm the ownership team and board members, but treat direct reports savagely, selfishly or unfairly. Maybe there’s talk of how these managers use “tough love” to “get the job done.”
If that’s the kind of verbiage being bandied about, I suggest you are empowering and enabling managers of the most destructive ilk.
Let’s talk about toxic managers:
They abuse their power. They bully, intimidate and ridicule. They chase away high-quality employees and seek to control those who remain.
They reward and punish inconsistently and unfairly. They make decisions capriciously, often centered around their own gain. They point the finger at employees when anything goes wrong. Their unpredictability keeps everyone on edge and saps energy from the business.
They brag about how they take advantage. They gossip about how they accept kickbacks, pad their expense account, screw over customers… even cheat on a spouse. They are vocal about it, making others complicit in their deeds, and they proclaim you a sucker and weakling if you don’t buy into their nonsense.
They lie, straight out. They lie to everyone – and everyone knows it. They are sneaky liars at the lowest levels of an organization, and outright liars when they’re at the top. These types of liars flatter and cajole their inner circle while challenging those who cross them, calling them “delusional” and “disloyal.”
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
When I earned my degree from Harvard Business School, the professors told us, “Be a person of high character and run your business thusly.”
When I learned about business from my father, the esteemed Carlo LaManna, he said, “Rock, the people come first.”
When I started collecting and reading books on business, I looked for authors who understood the connection between integrity, employees and success.
One such author is Robert Cialdini, social psychologist and principle researcher for Influence and Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade (2016, Simon & Schuster). Cialdini uses rigorous scientific methods to examine the effects of positive and negative persuasion. In Chapter 13 of Pre-Suasion he says:
“An organization that regularly approves, encourages, or allows the use of deceitful tactics in its external dealings (with customers, clients, stockholders, suppliers, distributors, regulators, and so on) will experience a nasty set of internal consequences that are akin to tumors… They become malignant – growing, spreading, and eating progressively at the organization’s health and vigor.”
He explains that organizations where employees participate in or simply observe regular wrongdoings create “a dominant organizational culture that permits or promotes dishonest business practices.”
“To any leader responsible for shaping the ethical climate of an organization… those who cheat for you will cheat against you. If you encourage the first form of deceit, you will get the second, which will cost you dearly in the bargain.”
In my experience, Cialdini has it exactly right.
A WORD TO OWNERS
For an infection to take hold, it needs a receptive breeding ground. For that reason, we need to build a culture of high integrity.
Hire honorable people. Write job descriptions that clarify your ethical expectations. Check references. Ask tough questions. Put character before profits.
Use role playing and examples in your onboarding process. Let employees know what they can and cannot do to help the company achieve its aims.
Develop a workplace atmosphere where issues will be addressed. Investigate complaints promptly, professionally and discreetly. Communicate what will happen from the management side and how long it will take. Follow through.
Be vigilant. Meet regularly with your accounting manager and HR director. Keep an eye on the books, and note unusual financial activity. Look for employee behavior that is out of the norm. Keep good records, and be sure to follow the laws of your governing authorities regarding hiring, firing and employee disciplinary procedures.
Define what ethical behavior means at every level of the organization. Train everyone, not just managers. Set goals. Reward progress.
Visualize your legacy. As you look toward the horizon, when you no longer run your company, what can you do now to make sure your high standards are embedded in the company?
Especially in a family enterprise, integrity is a gift each generation can pass to the next. My father and mother have given their 11 children -- and our descendents – that gift.
Define, demand and practice integrity for the sake of your company... and for those who carry on.
For 35 years, Rock LaManna has helped label and graphics company owners make better decisions. If you are ready to sell your business or improve your bottom line, integrity matters! Email Rock@RockLaManna.com for a confidential discussion about services available from the LaManna Alliance.