In graduate MBA programs, you are required to work in groups to complete nearly all of your assignments. This group work prepared me for my first corporate job (i.e., dealing with team members who didn't contribute as much, political maneuvering, etc.). It did NOT, however, prepare me for dealing with bullies in the workplace. In graduate school, we could pick most of our teams, so the issue of difficult or underperforming colleagues gradually sorted itself out. In the corporate world, however, you're stuck with the "team" that's been assigned to you and they don't always rotate out once a project is completed, so your problem remains.
There are numerous organizational management resources with advice on dealing with jerks in the office. Instead of focusing on what to do once you're stuck in a toxic office environment, my advice to you, as an entrepreneur or leader in your company, is to:
Consciously build a culture and a network of creativity and inclusion; and
Carefully assess company culture fit with all prospective employees.
Building a Culture of Creativity
As an entrepreneur, a high-level executive, or a team leader in a company, your focus should be on building a culture of creativity - both inside the company and out. Bullies in the office place can hamper creativity, demoralize staff, increase turnover and lower productivity. Address your costly hiring failures quickly!
At the same time you are developing a diverse team of experts, you want to grow your external network of creative, bright and business-minded people across different industries and geographies. Ideas can come from anywhere!
Robert Sutton, a Stanford Professor and an authority on consistent, certifiable a**holes in the workplace, said in an interview that "there's no danger that companies are going to stop hiring assholes." However, implementing these preemptive, basic principles for developing a culture of creativity will ensure that there is no place for bullies in your company-- no matter how big or small. Setting your team up for success starts at the top of the company and works its way down through the organization. According to the New York Times,
"Bullying bosses tend to undermine their own teams. Morale and company loyalty plunge, tardiness increases and sick days are more frequent."
Setting your team up for success starts at the top of the company and works its way down through the organization.
Are You Interviewing Potential Employees?
These recommendations are not a fail safe for avoiding toxic hires at work, but they can at least help you evaluate a prospective employee's fit with your company culture and manage expectations early on in the process.
Bring in team members of the prospective hire to participate in the interview process. This will give you feedback on team dynamics and whether the prospective employee has stronger collaborative or competitive inclinations.
Ask other members of the management team to participate in the interview. These individuals should be on the same page regarding the defined role and the expected professional trajectory of the new hire. This approach provides two advantages: (1) it reinforces your company’s focus on talent management and developing a pool of talent resources; and (2) it gives you a broader perspective on the applicant’s cultural fit with your company.
Before extending a job offer, prospective employees should understand company policies, including those regarding appropriate personal interactions and the resolution of interpersonal conflicts. Describe the benefits package, which should provide access to wellness and employee assistance programs, to the interviewee. Let prospective new hires know that your company takes team building and personal development seriously within the organization, and that interpersonal conflicts will be quickly resolved according to these policies.
Communicate the way in which the company's organizational structure supports creativity, growth and team building at your company. (A less bureaucratic, flatter structure may lend itself to greater employee autonomy and room for creativity - and, potentially, less political in-fighting.) Does the interviewee see himself or herself fitting in with your company culture? Do you?
Christie Solomon, MBA, established Elevate Next Business Consulting after ten years of broad experience in corporate operations, marketing and administration. Contact us today to schedule a complimentary session to see how we can help you position your company to achieve the next level of growth!
Robert Sutton is a Stanford Professor, organizational researcher, and best-selling author. His seven management books include bestsellers The No A**hole Rule, Good Boss, Bad Boss, and (with Huggy Rao) Scaling Up Excellence. His latest book is The A**hole Survival Guide: How to Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt.
 Carey, Benedict. When the Bully is the Boss. Leadership: The Principles That Matter, Teams That Win and Your Path to Success. New York Times. 2021. Pgs. 52-53.