Three years ago, a tech company was on cloud-nine when they recruited a highly sought after engineer. Shortly thereafter, the engineer developed a great program that increased their competitive edge, and management patted themselves on the back. What a great hire! Sure, this guy was rude and hard to work with but his reputation and early win set the stage for tolerating behavior they normally wouldn't. The guy frequently yelled at people -- including senior management -- and got progressively worse with the passage of time.
As the complaints about this engineer mounted, management had talks with him, sent him to sensitivity training and had him work with an executive coach. After all this, he was still a jerk. Then came the straw that broke the camel's back -- another valued employee resigned because he couldn't work with this engineer one more day. During the exit interview the resigning employee said something that really hurt -- "I don't want to work for a company that puts up with outrageous behavior for the sake of revenue." The following day, senior management terminated the bad behaving engineer. It was the right decision but it should have been done a lot sooner.
An ad agency recently faced the same situation with their creative director who was prone to tantrums. However, their employees had a different reaction. Instead of quitting, they jumped on the bandwagon. Now the company had several prima donnas all creating havoc without worrying about consequences.
Companies that tolerate unacceptable behavior could take a page from the former NFL coach, Bill Parcells. When he became coach of the Dallas Cowboys, there were several star players whose behavior was at the least a distraction, and at worst a disruption to the team. Most notable was Terrell Owens, their star wide receiver. Parcells believed he was a bad influence in the locker room and released Owens from the team.
For Bill Parcells, no matter how talented a football player you are, your behavior has to remain in an acceptable range in order to continue as a member of the team. His swift and decisive action sent a clear message to everyone on the team.
Here's what companies should do if they have an abusive employee:
Take immediate steps -- the sooner you address the behavior the better for everyone. Let the employee know that their behavior is unacceptable and that they will have to make significant changes in order to stay on. Offer resources to help them improve their interpersonal skills and establish specific standards of acceptable behavior. Calibrate their willingness to make a change as this will tell you how successful an outcome there will be. If the person doesn't significantly improve within a reasonable time, terminate them.
Call a staff meeting -- assemble everyone and let them know that the company will no longer tolerate abusive behavior. This is going to set the tone for the organization as you move forward, and the staff will know that senior management has a backbone.
Machiavelli's theory of "the end justifies the means" may sound interesting when you're sitting in a college lecture hall, but it has a hollow ring when you have to spend 8-10 hours a day around an employee that is bullying everyone. It may be painful in the short run to get rid of someone who contributes to the bottom line, but like ripping off a Band-Aid -- the faster you do it the better you'll feel.
Fred & Gladys Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success