Surviving the jungle: Employing not imploding

There is a saying that goes: Life is a mirror. You get the back what you reflect. I like to believe a good business organization is like a mirror. The culture of the organisation is a reflection of the beliefs and attitudes of its leaders.

Off course there will be that odd radical time when this quote will be untrue (i.e. because of poor decision making). But almost always, an organization that has had the time to form it's policies and set it's goals will be a reflection of the top leaders.

Gossiping at work

I have a small business with less than 10 employees. Together with these employees we have managed to achieve really big things for our clients so, I am extremely proud of everyone. We are a very close family. This is the culture of my business. Recently, I began to notice some negative behavioural traits like spiteful and almost vindictive attitude in one of my employees towards some of the others. It really troubled me because this employee in question is quite productive. Don't get me wrong, EVERY work place has that one spiteful but productive trouble maker. It is always the goal of the leader to re-align their energy towards the good of the organization while establishing a deterrent for the specific bad habit.  But, what do you do when, as a boss you realize that you are partly to blame for this problem?

The culprit:  One of the employees is from the same ethnic background as me so we share stories, joke and laugh together. There was one occasion when the employee showed me a funny video on YouTube. It brought me so much joy to be able to reminisce about childhood memories. So, we laughed at each other's stories but, this gave another employee the impression that I 'favoured' this employee. I am a very strong, family-oriented person. My personal default mode is to view the world as one family.  So, I built these principles into every fabric of my business. Trouble is: business is a jungle. A jungle consists of different animal families trying to survive. Sometimes animals are often threatened very easily so, any semblance of danger will cause them to attack.

Sabotage at work

Dun. Dun. Duuuuun. This is what happened at my business recently. Because this employee in question felt "less valued", she likely believed her livelihood was threatened. So, she lashed out at the others and began to sabotage their work in order to make them look bad. She began to manipulate the others by telling them false stories. Unfortunately, her way of dealing with the situation led to poor service which led to increase client complaints. This is how I knew something was really wrong.  After a storming session, I got the employee to tell me her feelings. My analysis in the end was that she was feeling threatened by my closeness with the other employees. My belief that I can successfully build a business on the principles that everyone is one big "happy" family was not a mistake but giving the impression that one member of that family was more valued was catastrophic and it almost imploded my business.

Reversing and correcting course: The biggest thing I did to rectify the problem was to play an active role in building the kind of corporate family we want to be. I made a decision that would deter sabotage by firing a disruptive employee.  I set a brand new tone at a staff meeting where I commended good behaviours and instituted new policies for dealing with undesired outcomes. By the time the meeting was over, it was clear that everyone in our business is an "employee" of our company. Including myself. I impressed upon them that if we (staff and managers) all fail at our jobs, we fail each other. Often, I try to connect with everyone of "our corporate" family by asking them "Roses" and "Thorns" question. What was the best part of your day today? The worst part? etc... So, in a way we are a different kind of family now.

The lesson: When employing people, we want them to work for the benefit of the owners and for their livelihood. If they feel threatened by a seemingly unfair treatment, they will start to make bad decisions that put the life of a business in jeopardy. A small business will eventually implode if you have one or two bitter employee(s).