What Can Your Organization Learn from Charlie Sheen?

I don't dare make any attempts to understand his mental state -- I'll leave that to Dr. Drew -- but I do see some organizational correlations, albeit to an extreme, that are worth exploring.
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Like syndicated sitcoms, Charlie is suddenly ubiquitous, eager to tell his side of the story about unfair treatment at the hands of the producers of Two and Half Men. Apparently, they found Sheen's alleged illegal drug use, partying with porn stars and erratic behavior detrimental to the prime-time hit and shut down the wildly successful show still at the height of popularity.

I've never watched Two and Half Men, and can't recall any Sheen movies other than Wall Street and Major League, so you can see I'm not a big fan. But I haven't been able to escape him in this newest role of scorned superstar and watching this life-drama unfold.

Despite degrees in psychology and counseling, I don't dare make any attempts to understand his mental state - I'll leave that to Dr. Drew - but I do see some organizational correlations, albeit to an extreme, that are worth exploring.

No matter how diligently organizations work at maintaining cultural health, there's a likelihood of some level of dysfunction. A workplace, while made up of individuals, operates like a system. All it takes is one individual to disrupt the homeostasis and stability shifts. In a positive example, new leaders can initially de-stabilize a system but good leaders will work to recalibrate and restore equilibrium.

Here's some simple diagnostics that can help keep your company well-balanced:

Are under-performing employees being enabled? Everyone -- even A-players -- have times when performance wanes but if it is consistent and frequent, others on the team will notice. They can become resentful of the enabled employee, and mistrust the leader who is tacitly allowing others to pick up the slack.

Are you the one who is enabling? Ask yourself why? Has the work changed and employees can't meet new expectations? Are you unable to relinquish control? Did you make a bad hire and are now carrying the workload for someone who under-performs?

Does one person have too much control? The recent recession forced companies to cut staff so dramatically, there is little -- if any -- redundancy in some areas. That can mean an organization's entire functional knowledgebase can sit in one person's brain. Make sure you have a strong succession or retention plan (preferably both) and always maintain open communication so you can jump in and manage the work if necessary.

Does a star performer think the sun shines for them only? An employee holding all the functional knowledge, an A-player, someone riding the accolades of a highly successful project, or being courted by recruiters, could develop over-confidence and a strong sense of "untouch-ability." This false impression of job security can cause them to take business risks or even coast and be less productive, and you'll have to keep their ego in check to bring them back to earth with the rest of us.

Is there someone who is openly negative? It's natural for employees to occasionally moan and groan about work, the office and the boss but constant negativity will quickly permeate a workplace and bring everyone down. Nip that toxicity quick or you can wind up with corporate anarchy.

Charlie isn't the first celebrity whose problems are being played out in public (just ask Mel Gibson) and your company won't be the only one to suffer some level of dysfunction. You can recover. The first step is to admit it.

Have you seen any of this behavior in your organization? How have you handled it?

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