You are the average of the five people you spend time with.
This statement, often attributed to Jim Rohn, is generally related to the people we choose to spend time with socially. Given we spend a large proportion of our time in work, the saying can be applied equally to our professional life. We don’t always recognise the influence of colleagues, managers and leaders that are inadvertently part of our daily experience. Their influence can impact our priorities, work ethic, confidence and emotions.
If we think about influence as a collective or viral effect, one negative influencer can impact the five closest them and so on. We often look at leadership having the greatest impact on culture, but even one disengaged or misaligned employee can derail an organisation’s best intentions of building a positive culture. Like a drop of colouring in a glass of water, it will distort the clarity of the whole glass.
Here’s some examples of employees that may be impacting not only the organisation’s culture but also your own working experience.
The Brilliant Jerk
There has been plenty of exposure of the Brilliant Jerk over the past couple of years, calling out the highly capable, intelligent or creative employee that delivers amazing ideas or genius but can’t work effectively with others. A brilliant jerk can deliver outstanding results due to their technical or creative capability, but in the process damage valuable working relationships through their limited emotional intelligence.
The Anti-change Agent
These employees are usually highly intelligent and capable but resist change at every opportunity. When presented with a new idea, or suggestion of how things could be done differently, they respond with sound critical reasons why it’s a poor idea or too risky. The problem is they give the same response every time, essentially squashing new ideas and in turn deflating and planting doubt in those around them. Eventually, and especially if this is a manager, employees will stop making suggestions.
The Grenade Launcher
Anyone who has sat in a group meeting trying to work through an issue or develop a new project may have experienced a grenade launcher. Their contribution to the conversation may be limited but then, in the midst of discussion, will throw out a potential risk or curve ball that may be loosely connected to the situation or relevant a later stage. The grenade launcher may appear to be across everything, but in reality, may be covering for a lack of confidence or knowledge. By throwing in a distraction, without contributing to the solution, they can derail momentum and send a project off track.
Collaboration, as a core workplace practice, can be the Achilles heel for the controller. When working on a project, these individuals may not share progress, notes or critical information, essentially creating blocks and stalling progress. If they manage a team, they may micro manage and insist all decisions go through them. With autonomy and mastery being two of the essential criteria for meaningful work, those around this person may lose confidence and sense of fulfilment as they slowly defer decisions and lose confidence in their work.
This employee always views the world with cynicism and assume people’s intentions have an ulterior motive. They don’t want to be a grinch on their own though, instead planting the negative seeds in those around them so they aren’t the only ones that feel all is not as it seems. The Grinch will generally be quiet except for the sly quiet comments during a meeting or emailing comments and memes. The Grinch may be quietly undermining the positive initiatives being implemented and creating disengagement where it doesn’t need to be.
We all want to belong, and naturally social groups form within the workforce. Developing relationships with colleagues is a key element to employee engagement and wellbeing. But, if those friendships create a clique to the exclusion or resentment of others, then you may have a problem. By letting a clique become entrenched in a culture or potentially a clique including those in senior positions, can lead to distrust, dysfunction and good employees leaving.
Before looking at the overall culture of the group, make sure all the individual players are in the right headspace to make a positive contribution. If you think you have an employee that may becoming one of these culture killers, it’s usually due to an underlying negative emotion (ie. fear or anger). If employees aren’t getting their needs met, a previous situation has not been addressed, high degree of uncertainty or there is misalignment with the organisation, honest conversations may be required to address the situation and to consider options for individual development and change.