Monday, 16 November 2009

What to do about workplace bullying

The other day a prospective business-owner client asked me what to do about workplace bullying. My advice: act immediately to change the culture and isolate the bully. Bullies kill engagement, big time. They cost you heaps in diverted energy and focus and unnecessary staff turnover. They drive their victims, potentially your most promising people out, or mad, or both. Though they may seem competent and nice as pie they are typically operating well beyond their competence and their influence is effectively evil.  You can’t fix a bully. They have to go. Here’s a strategy that works:

Start MBWA (Managing By Walking About)immediately .

Bullies thrive in bureaucratic hierarchies where they can control the flow of information both upward and downward. Bureaucratic hierarchies aren’t the preserve of large organisations. They are common in organisations of all sizes and kinds. Open up communication and loosen up the hierarchy by establishing direct, focused conversation with a range of individuals at different levels in the organisation. Share your knowledge with them. They’ll return the trust.

Establish purposeful responsibility.

Bullies manipulate roles and expectations to their personal advantage, typically to obscure their own incompetence. To counter that, execute a strategy to clarify the organisation’s values, purpose and long term goals. Within that framework, work with individuals and teams to clarify responsibilities, accountabilities  and action priorities. Make them widely known (including yours).

Establish a widespread habit of regular, frequent meetings to openly discuss individual and team progress and blockages in executing those priorities. People thrive on shared purposeful responsibility plus frequent open discussion of progress foils a bully’s manipulative strategy. Expect the bully to resist and attempt to subvert this regular, open reflection and review process.

Isolate the bully.

Regular, frequent open review of progress on personal and team accountabilities will isolate the bully’s performance and break the bully’s hold on information flow. Better informed, other team members will become more bold, convincing and successful in their arguments and actions. The bully will become clearly and contrastingly less competent and isolated.

You may be surprised who the bully turns out to be. After all they’ve been making a career of ingratiating themselves with you: agreeing with you, bolstering your ego and maybe even dealing with a few of your tough HR issues, while creating an engagement-killing climate of fear and favour to isolate and silence their critics. Bullies are experts at hiding their incompetence and bad behaviour. Victim’s attempts to draw attention to the bullying  will likely be cast by the bully as whinging justification for poor performance.

Openly confront the bully.

When you have plenty of solid evidence of the bully’s incompetence and lies,  personally confront the bully.  Be  ready for  angry denial and counter attack.  They will attempt to bypass you and ingratiate themselves with a higher authority. The bully will be very reluctant to admit their bad behaviour and incompetence even to themselves, even though it is by now widely and openly known.

If the bully doesn’t leave on his/her own accord then you already have clear justification and support to dismiss them for unsatisfactory performance in their specific role.

1 comment:

  1. Steve this was a great post. Like you the "workplace Bully" is ever present in most organisations and it takes a bit of tough love to deal with them and the issues they can cause. I wrote a piece about the subject too which i invite you to read. Kendall