Friday, September 25, 2009

Healthy workplaces go beyond corporate policies: Civility is a business strategy

I've been reading a lot of online articles lately that claim the answer to your bully problem is the implementation of a corporate policy. Even BusinessWeek is guilty.

We can implement policies all day long, but unless they are in alignment with the organization's overall vision and have leadership buy-in it will be like they don't exist at all. Corporate policies are only as good as management and employee support for them.

That means we must adjust the corporate culture and obtain buy-in from everyone (or at least as many people as possible) before we can create a corporate policy that fits within the new, and nice, way of doing things. If the anti-bully/healthy workplace policy is to be effective, it will decidedly be designed to achieve the newly established vision and culture. (In other words, corporate policies do not adjust corporate culture, but they can be used as a tool in the process.)

One sure fire way to gain employee support is to get them involved in developing the vision of a healthy culture and corresponding policies. If staff helps create the vision, it's easier to hold them accountable to it. And when they feel included in the process, they are more likely to take heed to it anyway simply because they have a vested interest in doing so. In addition, when employees are involved their personal values are involved, thereby individual values and corporate values become one in the same.

Asking departments to develop action plans surrounding the new vision is also useful in obtaining support. Action plans are documented procedures directly related to meeting the new business strategy; and list the actual steps, responsible individual, resources required, measures for success, due date and actual date of completion. For example, a department might decide to perform a specific project as a pointedly collaborative team; tracking their success, how well they work together, and the accountability of each team member. The results would then be reported to management and perhaps the entire organization for accountability.

Appointing organizational champions can also be helpful. Employee assistance professionals, ombudsman, and even plain ol' employees can fill these positions. Organizational champions would then be responsible for ensuring people are treating one another with civility, respect and encouragement. Champions should also be part of the policy roll-out process in order to obtain their full support of these new responsibilities.

So, don't add an anti-bully corporate policy to the policy handbook and expect the bullying behavior to stop. If no one supports it, then who cares. Bullying behavior will stop when the corporate culture doesn't allow that type of behavior to thrive anymore... and that goes way, way beyond anything a corporate policy can do. Adjust the company vision, and then implement a policy in-line with the new way of doing things.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Powerful Questions to Ask at a Job Interview (In Order to Avoid a Workplace Bully)

Last month, I received a request from a reader to discuss what to say in a job interview if you left your last job because of a bully.

I came across this article by Kathryn Britton, which is a nice second part to that post. It discusses what questions to ask in an interview in order to avoid another toxic workplace.

Janet is about to interview for a new job. She wants to leave a toxic work environment where her boss stands so close when he yells that she can feel his spit hit her face. Her peers rarely greet her, and she feels vaguely in competition with them for opportunities, advancement, maybe even the job itself. She knows that she and her cubicle partner would both be happier and more productive if they swapped some tasks so that both could do what they do best, but she has gotten the message: that’s not the way work gets done here.Janet took that job with high hopes that were soon dashed, and it wasn’t her first experience with unwelcoming work environments. How does she avoid yet another?

This is the dilemma Alan Foster described to an audience of junior and senior leaders in the Wharton program at the University of Pennsylvania. Janet had asked Alan for advice, after observing his good fortune working at Bain & Company. Alan proposed six questions that she could ask in an interview to see what the job environment would really be like.

These questions were so good that I got Alan’s permission to share them on PPND. If you use them, ask potential employers and peers for specific examples so you can figure out what they mean by words like teamwork and collaboration. Do these terms represent strongly held cultural values, or do people just give them lip service?

1. Who will I learn from and how? Is career development outsourced to training companies that know little about the specific environment? Does the company tell employees “You’re responsible for your own career,” avoiding involvement?

Or does the employer have a mentoring culture where more experienced people gracefully accept the responsibility of helping new people develop? Does it have a peer learning model where people are expected to take time to help each other learn? Do managers share the responsibility for career development with employees? Is mentoring ever tipped upside-down so that senior people learn new skills, such as computer proficiency, from younger people?

Jane Dutton describes a related key strategy, task enablement that can involve teaching, designing tasks effectively, advocating, and accommodating individual differences. Some of the references below explore the value of mentoring to the workplace, mentor, and protegé.

2. Who is held up as a hero here? What for? Bandura’s serial dramas are based on the theory that people learn from role models whose behavior they wish to emulate. In similar fashion, workplace culture is conveyed to new members through the stories of its heroes. What behaviors are valued here? Are those behaviors that you wish to emulate?

Are the heroes people who deliver on very aggressive commitments, no matter what — even if people leave their organizations burned out and demoralized? Or are the heroes people well known for collaborating and bringing opposing sides together?

Are heroes always individuals, or are particular teams held up as examples because of the ways they’ve pulled together?

3. How do you resolve conflict here?There will be disagreements in any work environment. So how do they get resolved? Are corrosive, threatening behaviors tolerated? Or are there procedures for giving everybody a voice but coming to agreement, either through explained decision-making or consensus?

Dutton, Frost, Glendinning, Sutton, and others write about corrosive workplaces where bullying is tolerated. According to Pearson, Andersson, and Wegner, people who instigated incivility were three times as likely to have more power than their targets than to be peers or subordinates.

This is the question that Janet most wished that she had asked in her last interview.

4. How willing are people to help each other?Are people pitted against each other in job evaluations so that there is a feeling that helping someone else will put a person at a disadvantage? Or is helping others both valued and expected? How is work divided up? Are people given assignments and expected to complete them by themselves? Justin Berg suggests that the Job Crafting Exercise could be used by a team to divide up work so that people spend more time with tasks that line up with their strengths, motivations, and passions. How much flexibility is there for people to divide work and swap tasks?

5. How do you celebrate what’s working?It is so easy for organizations to focus on problems and negative events and then take victories, large and small, for granted. Gable and colleagues have demonstrated that people get much more benefit out of positive events when they take time to talk them over with trusted others who respond actively and constructively. At an organizational level, do people have an opportunity to capitalize on achievements? Are questions asked that highlight what’s working? Alan mentioned that people in his company became much more willing to fill in employee surveys when the first question changed from “What is going wrong on your project?” to “What is going well on your project?

6. What keeps you going when things get stressful? Fear or a sense of purpose? Competition or comradeship?

By this point, many of you are probably thinking, “Jobs are so tight right now, I won’t have any choice.” Even if that is so, you can go into the job with your eyes open and perhaps with your armor on. But the job market won’t be like this forever. I remember the late 90’s when we couldn’t find people to fill jobs, and those times will come again.

These questions are important, not just for people looking for jobs, but for companies that want to be employers of choice when the job market turns up again. Job environments matter to people. Even now, there are people wondering if they’d rather starve than go to work in their toxic work environments. Whetten and Cameron justify the study of management skills by citing a study that revealed that “one factor—the ability to manage people effectively—was three times more powerful than all other factors combined in accounting for firm financial success over a five-year period!” (p. 6). Wouldn’t it be better if employees felt a deep sense of purpose, inclusion, and celebration at work so that they want to stay, even when economic times improve?

This article is © 2009 The original article was authored by Kathryn Britton on April 7, 2009, and can be seen here. To join the discussion about this article, click here.

Aguilera, M. B. (2002). The impact of social capital on labor force participation: Evidence from the 2000 Social Capital Benchmark Survey. Social Science Quarterly, 83(3),, 853-874.Berg, J., Dutton, J., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2008). Job Crafting Exercise.Dutton, J. (2003). Energize Your Workplace: How to Create and Sustain High-Quality Connections at Work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Feeney, M. & Bozeman, B. (2008). Mentoring and network ties. Human Relations, 61(12), 1651-1676.Fisher-Blando, J. (2008). Workplace bullying: Aggressive behavior and its effect on job satisfaction and productivity. Dissertation, University of Phoenix. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences Vol 69(4-A), pp. 1283.Gable, S.L., Reis, H.T., Impett, E.A., & Asher, E.R. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87,, 228-245.Gentry, W., Weber, T. J. & Sadri, G. (2008). Examining career-related mentoring and managerial performance across cultures: A multilevel analysis. Journal of Vocational Behavior. Vol 72(2), pp. 241-253.Glendinning, P. (2001). Workplace bullying: Curing the cancer of the American workplace. Public Personnel Management, 30(3), 269-286.Horvath, M., Wasko, L. & Bradley, J. (2008). The effect of formal mentoring program characteristics on organizational attraction. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 19(4), 323-349.O’Neill, R. (2005). An examination of organizational predictors of mentoring functions. Journal of Managerial Issues, 17(4), 439-460.Pearson, C., Anderson, L. & Wegner, J. W. (2001). When workers flout convention: A study of workplace incivility. Human Relations, 54, 1387-1419.Smith, D. (2002). The theory heard ’round the world: Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory is the foundation of television and radio shows that have changed the lives of millions.Sutton, R. (2007). The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. Business Plus.Whetten, D. & Cameron, K. (2007). Developing Management Skills , 7th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, Prentice-Hall.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Flourishing in the Paradox of the Positive

By Robert Quinn

I was recently invited to run a retreat for a business school in another part of the country. I was to make a presentation and organize a series of exercises that would help the people design their future. A year ago one of my colleagues played the same role with this group. During his day he made an extensive presentation of empirical findings from POS. He also presented tools they could use to apply the principles he taught.

As I visited with people it was clear that they were very impressed with the previous presentation. One professor told me he was intellectually “awed” by it.
Yet it was also clear that few of the POS tools or suggestions had actually been applied. It had been a tough economic year and there were also some conflicts going on in the organization. While some good things had happened, few seemed to be connected with the application of POS.

As I considered the tension in the organization and the fact that there was relatively little application from the previous year, I became increasingly apprehensive about what I was supposed to do. I was to go on in 30 minutes. I felt fear and a knot began to form in my stomach.

Positive Emotions

As I sat there I thought of the research by Barbara Fredrickson. Her work demonstrates the importance of positive emotions. Positive emotions:

• Lead to thoughts that are unusual, flexible, integrative and efficient.

•Broaden visual attention, increase bonding, help regulate negative arousal, improve coping with adversity, increase the likelihood of finding positive meaning in negative events and facilitate the development of plans and goals.

•Increase the likelihood that we are able to play, to explore, envision the future, savor experience and integrate new views into the self.

She states that, “Positive emotions transform individuals into more resilient, socially integrated, and capable versions of themselves.” [1]


For people in organizations this claim is particularly important. She indicates that positive emotions are contagious and spread through groups and organizations. Positive emotions give rise to sequences of events that create new meaning. Such changes can reduce conflict and give rise to more integrity, trust, vision and creative mutual support. The culture can become more compassionate and creative and can take the group or organization to a more optimal level of functioning.

Click here to read the entire article.

I thought this part was particularly of use in dealing with workplace bullies:

“Positive emotions transform individuals into more resilient, socially integrated, and capable versions of themselves.” As we apply principles that cause of us to feel more positive, authentic and courageous, we then engage in more positive, authentic and courageous acts. We thus become emotionally contagious in that we inspire more positive, authentic and courageous feelings and action in others. They then do things that inspire us and our relationships become a virtuous cycle. As we live in such a virtuous cycle, we flourish in the paradox of the positive.

6 steps to creating a healthy workplace, saving your bottom line

A study published in the Handbook of Workplace Violence (2006) indicated more than 70% of employees are victimized by a bully at work. Bullies use ongoing negative, aggressive, unprofessional, inappropriate and hurtful tactics against subordinates, peers and even superiors; creating a power imbalance and inviting serious damaging consequences to targets, witnesses and organizations.

Targets experience distress, humiliation, anger, anxiety, discouragement, hopelessness, depression, burnout, reduced quality and quantity of work, lower levels of job satisfaction, increased absenteeism and turnover and in some cases even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In turn, a single American business could spend thousands, if not millions, in absenteeism and turnover, workers' compensation claims due to stress, reduced quality and quantity of work, lower levels of job satisfaction, communication breakdown and even a bad reputation within the community.

Bullying is not a simple case of a bad behaving employee. It is a systemic problem caused by many organizational factors, including the organization's culture, changes (e.g., downsizing) and bureaucratic management styles.
Identifying, fixing and preventing bullying can make the difference between a successful organization and one that fails. For example, companies that openly promote civility among employees earn 30 percent more revenue than competitors, are four times more likely to have highly engaged employees and are 20 percent more likely to report reduced turnover, according to a study conducted by Watson Wyatt in 2003.

Here are six keys to successful implementation of a healthy, and bully-free, workplace.

1. Use internal communication strategically. Organizational success depends on a climate of fairness and supportiveness; where members are listening and being sensitive to one another's needs and aware of how comments might be perceived by others. Leaders and management can use language to deliver a healthy culture and encourage open discussions and employee empowerment. Developing rituals and employee reward systems that applaud interpersonal communication skills and compensate positive attitudes will solidify management's intentions.

2. Perform periodic audits of internal processes. Audits offer a comprehensive review of communication patterns that provide information about the structure of the organization, effectiveness of communication, and employee support for the organization, leaders, superiors and each other. This facilitates strategic planning and learning the success with which internal information is conveyed, and of course detects whether some employees feel others are bullies (or bottlenecks, buck-passers, know-it-alls, chronic complainers). Outside consultants are the most effective people to conduct the audit because organizational members often say things to external auditors that they would not say to internal auditors.

3. Roll out an anti-bully policy. An anti-workplace bully prevention policy must be implemented and include management's commitment to a healthy workplace, a definition of bullying, management and employee responsibilities for maintaining the policy, a training program schedule and a formal grievance procedure that includes investigation of complaints and appropriate disciplinary actions. The policy should also stress the importance of written documentation from all parties involved in any complaints; including target(s), bullies, witnesses and investigators. Of course, the policy is only as effective as management's commitment to it.

4. Conduct management and employee training. Establish training programs for all levels to occur during new hire training and at scheduled intervals thereafter. At the very least, training should remind employees and managers that they have a responsibility to contribute to achieving a healthy and civil work environment that does not tolerate bullying. Offering conflict management and leadership skills training will complement these trainings nicely.

5. Take grievances seriously and investigate them immediately. When a grievance is filed, the target should present written documentation and precise details of each incident of bullying. Human resources should follow appropriate disciplinary procedures as laid out in the policy, and is encouraged to continue to keep the situation under review.

6. Use 360-degree reviews. A 360-degree review provides every organizational member with reviews from everyone they work with, including peers, managers and subordinates. This provides an avenue for managers to learn from the people they direct, rather than only those who direct them. If done right, 360-degree reviews receive high employee involvement, have the strongest impact on behavior and performance, and greatly increase effective internal communication.

Bottom Line
By addressing workplace bullying and developing techniques for sustainable change, you can increase employee retention and reduce turnover, reduce absenteeism and medical leaves, manage and leverage organizational brand, motivate, inspire and develop staff, minimize workplace politics, improve communication among staff and managers, protect your company's reputation, increase the quality and quantity of work product, improve community awareness, reduce workplace stress, and improve the health of employees and your organization.

On a final note, be weary of the anti-workplace bully law in our midst. David Yamada, a professor at Suffolk University, wrote the Healthy Workplace Bill that has been under review in 15 states, including California in 2003. Only the government of Ireland (since as early as 1997), and the province of Quebec, Canada (since 2003), currently have specific laws against the act of bullying at work, but all that is soon to change.

Schat, A.C.H., Frone, M.R., & Kelloway, E.K. (2006). Prevalence of workplace aggression in the U.S. workforce: Findings from a national study. In E.K. Kelloway, J. Barling & J.J. Hurrell (Eds.), Handbook of workplace violence (pp. 47-89).Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.