Safeguarding your culture by managing toxic talent

Organisations require Emotionally Intelligent performance management to safeguard Engagement and Culture

We hire people for their talents and then fire them for their behaviour.

Just because someone has the right skill set or experience doesn’t mean they will be a good cultural fit. Without effective hiring procedures and performance management it is easy to let a culture become toxic. Talented employees can fail at work through toxic patterns of behaviour.

5 types of toxic behaviour which are warning signs of trouble:

  1. Aggression. This type of behaviour undermines culture, feelings of safety at work and requires diverting resources from productive work into defensive and crisis management.
  2. Narcissism. Excessive “Me” focused attitudes and behaviour interferes with team development, collaboration and knowledge sharing. This makes building a positive agile culture of balanced negotiation and compromise harder.
  3. A lack of credibility and integrity. A lack of clear communication and follow through reduces credibility and breeds mistrust.
  4. Blind acceptance. For change and innovation to happen we need to examine and question the “status quo.” Initiative and ownership are needed for optimal performance.
  5. Disorganisation. To achieve strategic goals a lack of structure, focus and discipline will reduce effectiveness, certainty and collaboration

Safeguard your culture by managing toxic talent! The reasons your culture become toxic:

  1. Ineffective interviews. The interview process often is not designed to detect these toxic behaviours, rather most focus on skills and experience ( rather than the “soft” interpersonal skills). Most interview candidates are smart enough to hide their toxic behaviours during the interview process. The scary thing is that many high performers are actually unaware of their own toxic behaviour. They are used to glowing performance reviews because in many organisations numbers trump behaviour. Poor or toxic behaviour is often ignored when people are delivering the numbers.
  2. Unreliable references. References are often not that reliable as they are often worded to reduce conflict or legal ramifications with their current or former employes. Additionally many references are written by people who genuinely don’t wish to harm their employment prospects by providing “negative” feedback no matter how accurate.
  3. Managers often can’t detect it. Many leaders find it difficult to detect and deal with dysfunctional behaviour by direct reports effectively as:
  • Toxic employees are often able to conceal their less desirable behaviour from their bosses (just like in the interview process).
  • The people who are aware of their toxic behaviour (e.g. peers and direct reports) usually are reluctant to report it due to group social pressure (“snitching” can lead to isolation or worse in most groups).
  • “Toxic behaviour” is normally not included in the performance measurement/management system and so is often ignored as long as employees deliver the “numbers.”

Even when toxic behaviour is detected it is often ignored as:

  • Managers are too busy dealing with more urgent matters (ironically these issues are often caused by the very toxic behaviour they are too busy to deal with).
  • Managers are uncomfortable “confronting” this behaviour directly.
  • Managers often lack processes, support and talent management skills to deal with this type behaviour effectively.

The combination of a lack of awareness and avoidance of managing these toxic behaviours can lead to a toxic culture, reduced Employee Engagement and a negative impact on morale, performance, and the bottom line.

Safeguard your culture by managing toxic talent Prevention is the best strategy for dealing with toxic behaviour

  1. Screen out toxic applicants before they start.

    The most effective strategy is using practices that prevent people with these traits from being hired in the first place. A “vales based” approach, self-assessment tools and “360 degree” or panel interviews work better in detecting potential problems than interviews and reference checks by an individual. It is far easier to fool one person than a group. An additional effective prevention practice is to share company values and expected behaviours with potential candidates during the interview process. Inform them these “value based behaviours” will form part of their performance assessment.

  2. Coach and mentor to embed the right positive values and behaviours.

    While first prize is to prevent hiring employees with these toxic traits, it is also valuable to detect problems early and intervene to minimise their harmful impact. Sometime toxic behaviours are learned bad habit and can be altered with support. With support and coaching most employees can learn more positive social behaviours over time. Detecting the habitual negative behaviours early on can minimise the impact of these negative behaviours. This approach can include education and coaching about the company values and the impact of toxic behaviours during the first weeks of employment; peer feedback using social support to support the right positive behaviours (including both verbal and written feedback); keeping values and the right positive supportive behaviours employee’s radar on a weekly basis. This approach needs to be accompanied by a focused coaching/training plan.

  3. Exit offenders.

    If all attempts at early detection and management of toxic offenders are ineffective the only thing left to do is let the employee go before they do even more damage to your culture and your brand. This requires clear policies, documentation of conversations and regular clear communication about expectations.impact of ignoring toxic employee

When a toxic employee is a top performer it is easy to want to let them slide, but the damage they do to your culture and performance will have far reaching impact if not addressed. Toxic achievers pose a real danger to business owners, managers, and leaders as even though they get the job done (often more quickly, and more successfully than their peers) they also create major headaches due to the way they relate to and influence others. Their negative and often confrontational attitude has a profoundly negative impact on your brand, culture and profitability over the medium to long term.





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Richard Riche

Change Communication and Employee Engagement specialist at One Clear Message Consulting
Richard specialises in helping you build real human communication skills. Employee Engagement / Experience, Emotional Intelligence skills, building high performance teams and a great place you want to work. TED style speaking and presentation skills. Training, consulting and coaching.
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