Minimize incivility (and fire the assholes!)

“The costs of incivility are great. In our research with Christine Pearson, a professor at Thunderbird School of Global Management, we discovered that half of employees who had experienced uncivil behavior at work intentionally decreased their efforts. More than a third deliberately decreased the quality of their work. Two-thirds spent a lot of time avoiding the offender, and about the same number said their performance had declined.”

That quote is from the article, “Creating Sustainable Performance” in the current issue of Harvard Business Review. The authors—Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Christine Porath, assistant professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business—spent seven years studying what makes employees and organizations thrive. Minimizing incivility was among the four top things they found that managers could do to make workplaces more productive.

Civility is a big deal at Intertech. Not only does it make business sense, it makes coming to work a lot more pleasant! Civility starts at the top by setting an example.  I’m happy to note that Intertech partners and senior managers simply do not yell or browbeat people. We also make a practice of saying “please” and “thank you.”

But behaving nicely only goes so far. We’ve also institutionalized our behavioral expectations in a 15-page document called “Intertech Communication Guidelines.” This spells everything thing out so employees don’t have to wonder what is — and what is not – Ok.

Sadly, though, sometimes even the Guidelines are not enough to ensure civility and that’s when we let people go. Or, as I like to say, we fire assholes! If you know me, you know I don’t use that term often or lightly, but several employees over the years left me with no other adjective or choice. They were the “dogs” in my “Saints, Dogs and Stars” analogy (see Building a Winning Business if you have no idea what I’m talking about!). Essentially, they were exceptionally smart or gifted and believed that entitled them to treat others badly.

I hate to sound like a pessimist, but by the time someone is into their ‘20s, they’re about “98% percent baked” as a person. Data supports this statement, which means it’s pointless to try to reform an asshole. The best thing you can do is to show him or her the door. Similar to firing someone who’s nice but isn’t a performer, having the strength to fire an asshole is a test of your culture. If people who abuse others are permitted to stay, it won’t be long before the folks that they’re abusing decide to leave.  With nice people leaving and assholes staying, you’ve got a culture shift – and that’s something I never want to experience at Intertech.

Next time I’ll wrap up this series on employee happiness with a post on employee feedback.

Next post: Let ‘em know how they’re doing!