Posts Tagged ‘Bullying’

Emperor Rupert and Prince James – A master class in Competitive Advantage?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Illustration: Truth and LieThe trouble with Faustian Pacts is that sooner or later you pay for the privileges provided.  Was it naivety or a deliberate decision on the part of our politicians to do a deal?  Levinson makes fascinating watching as the extent of News Corps’ influence is revealed.  That interest is beyond merely media and government sectors. 

In our increasingly international markets the ethics and values of competitors differ, adding significantly to the complexity of managers’ task.  Some practices are culturally based such as the dormitories of the Apple subcontractor which allow hours to be adjusted according to product launch requirements.  We might also include the use of forced or indentured labour and the lack of a safe working environment.  The legal frameworks of national markets also differ, some having a much clearer and equitable application of the rule of law.  Whatever the basis, lower costs of production give competitive advantage.  

How do organisations compete when competitors gain super profits from illegal or culturally unethical practices?  The good news is that it is possible to fight back; it takes intellect, courage and a holistic plan.  It takes above all the ability to think through the likely consequences of actions – including the consequences of accepting too quickly siren invitations from very persuasive and apparently charming individuals and corporations.  This requires reflection – which requires time and practice – as well as a guiding management culture that is clear about values and the reason the organisation holds them.   

What would your organisation look like if you were able develop this skill in your managers?  What would stop them repeating what used to work and think about and implement new behaviours that work now?  

Don’t miss out, talk to us about how others have benefited from our expertise in developing thoughtful practice in managers that enable them to drive performance and leverage new opportunities – without the Faustian Pacts.

Enterprise Risk and Psychopathic Employees

Saturday, October 1st, 2011


Star employee or Psychopath?

Star employee or Psychopath?




A  German[1] study has highlighted similarities in brain function between convicted and certified psychopaths, and traders.   Interestingly the traders were more concerned with reward and, “spent a lot of energy trying to damage their opponents”, compared to the prisoners.  Whilst the study was relatively small (27 traders and 24 psychopaths),[2] it would seem to be backed up by anecdotal evidence from, and recent events in, the banking sector.[1] 

We understand the attraction of trading to those who may show psychopathic tendencies.  It is an impersonal activity – a matter of spread sheets and automatic execution into anonymous markets.  It offers all the excitement of gambling and computer gaming, with the real risks of the gamble being taken by the employer and apparently mediated by risk management software.   It doesn’t require EQ skills.

However, we don’t agree that every trader fits this profile[3].  People who are extremely numerate may not have good EQ.  Corporate cultures may reward and encourage what could be described as selfish behaviour[4].  Similarly the effort that went into destroying internal competitors may be the consequence of a failure of performance management.  The real risk management issue is not purely individuals (or trading teams).  It is both how the organisation assesses and manages performance, and the impact of the prevailing organisational culture on the development and display of these traits.   

Psychopathic behaviour damages organisations.   Sabotaging colleagues destroys team working, creating a hostile environment with an internal rather than market focus.  The consequences include increased churn, with the real talent leaving.  Once the realities of working in the organisation are known, attracting good candidates for employment becomes difficult.   Promoted into management the damage is worse.  Productivity of other teams will plummet as internal competition ‘hots up’, more talent will leave and actions for bullying and harassment will eventually surface.  The inevitable resulting internal focus compromises competitive advantage and the organisation’s future.   

Fortunately, the psychopath’s ability to blag and charm does not stand scrutiny from effective performance review.  A key part of this is the review and feedback process itself. Ironically those who are best qualified to deal with the technical competencies in this population are unlikely to have the interpersonal skill sets to do so, and will feel most challenged by it.  Given the risks, it is important that your managers are competent in their interpersonal performance management skills.  Talk to us now about how to ensure your managers have the essential interpersonal skill sets to thrive at this challenging task.


[1] University of St Gallen: authors Pascal Scherrer and Thomas Noll

[2]The brain chemistry/mechanism that could be at play has been evidenced by  research published by the University of Vanderbilt

[3] Psychopathic tendencies do not automatically mean that an individual becomes a psychopath.  The difficulty is semantic, the association with criminality.  As we have noted elsewhere, psychology and neurobiology are useful sciences to inform our interaction in the real world which is where organisations operate. 

[4] See our ‘Hard Wired to Fail?’ May 2011

‘One out of every 25 business leaders could be psychopathic* ‘

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Is your Boss a psychopath?
Is your Boss a psychopath?

What a great headline and timely – we’ve all worked with bosses from hell, and at times of turbulence when people are very stressed, these stories have a particular resonance. But the headline is a gross simplification.  **1 in 25 out of small sample of 200 individuals – that’s 4% of a really small population. 

Many of the skills sets required to be a good boss could easily be confused with those described as psychopathic traits.  Doing business means that we are not always authentic in our emotional response to situations.  Appropriate senior management behaviours include:

·         Always outgoing and charming in public, (even if you’ve just lost a major contract).

·         Knowing when not to engage at an emotional level, and even when to ignore individuals (and how not to give offense when you do not).

·         Staying adult, (whatever the provocation), with staff, and customers.

·         Maximising time to useful contacts; minimising time given to those who are not useful – and making assessments about the ‘usefulness’ of the people concerned.

·         Firing people  – even if they have families to support and there is no other employment for them.

·         Making political accommodations and contracts with people and companies you do not ‘admire’.   

Consider also entrepreneurs?  Individuals who succeed against the odds – be it in commercial or not for profit sectors tend to have different psychological traits to those of the general population.  Some of these traits are not very attractive.

Here is how to protect your organisation from psychopaths:

1                    Know your business – it’s hard to fake when managers are knowledgeable about their business. 

2                    Manage performance – manage performance against objective criteria and agreed timelines.  To underline the point, business plans usually come with numbers and dates. 

3                    Have robust hiring systems.

4                    Inform everyone one of and apply relevant processes (including informal networks) to stamp out bullying.

5                    Ensure the Organisational Values are alive, not just written on a piece of paper – which means including them in performance management.


 Talk to us, in confidence and without obligation about helping your managers develop the competence and confidence to manage effectively.  Solutions that engage, motivate and fit around, rather than disrupt the business.

*The Guardian newspaper and other media sources.

**The study was conducted by Dr. Paul Babiak, you will find more – including a (n interesting) check list of psychopathic traits at

Hard Wired to Fail?

Friday, May 6th, 2011


The connections between the physical form and functioning of the brain and behaviour continue to be revealed. Professor James Fallon,  a true believer in genetic determinism ( i.e. that behaviour is driven by the brain’s biology), makes an interesting appearance on the BBC’s All in the Mind. He reveals his own personal journey to understanding the importance of environment and nurture, recounting his discovery that he had the brain structures of a psychopath, and comes from a long line of convicted murderers. Yet in his case he has ‘turned out well’. What made the difference was nurture and environment.

At the time of writing the interview is still available on the BBC at

It was Alice Miller, back in the 1950s, who pinpointed nurture and the wider environment as key protective factors in child development. Her work was an investigation into how Hitler became such a monster. This work highlighted that most of the children she studied, who were brought up in unacceptable circumstances, went on to be useful members of society, rather than psycho or socio paths. As Fallon demonstrates by his own life– genetics and biology do not inevitably determine behaviour.

It is not necessary to scan the brains of your employees to identify and exclude the undesirable. Some of those problematic brain structures probably explain success – engineers/quantitative people with autistic tendencies for example. But the science does have useful lessons. Environment may switch certain tendencies ‘on’. We see this particularly in organisational cultures which admire strong leadership. ‘Strong’ leadership may just be sociopathic tendencies playing out – RBS and Fred Goodwin and his apparently bullying sales culture being an example.

Just as for the young, environment (culture) is protective for the organisation. Setting expectations and limits, defining and rewarding appropriate behaviour etc. All make a difference.

Good management skills are not a nice to have, they are a requirement for success.

Talk to us, in confidence and without obligation about helping your managers develop the competence and confidence to manage effectively. Solutions that engage, motivate and fit around, rather than disrupt the business.


Avoidable risk continues for Beeb

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

‘Being told what to do is not the same as understanding what you should be doing…..Understanding what you should do is not the same as being confident and competent in doing it.

The BBC’s official statement[1] following the tribunal verdict against them on ageism and harassment is interesting for the questions it raises. The Beeb admit they were at fault and then promise more ‘training’ for responsible executives and ‘new guidance on fair selection for presenter appointments’. It goes on, ‘These findings also raise questions that need to be addressed by the whole industry.’

We have identified 3 particularly interesting points in the statement.

‘Being told’ or understanding?

Offering yet more training may not solve the problem. Being told what to do is not the same as understanding what you should be doing – albeit it gives HR proof of attending training for the Disciplinary. Understanding what you should do is not the same as being confident and competent in doing it. Setting limits and challenging behaviour is what managers do whatever the group or work team that the manager may be part of thinks. This, after all, is why managers are paid more than others.

Selection Criteria and Competence?

In the tribunal it was apparent that the BBC did not have clear criteria for presenter competence. Given the relatively recent changes to employment law on harassment and bullying, the risks should have been evident. Has the BBC confused the encouragement of an entrepreneurial/creative culture with giving rein to the whims and fancies of ‘Kings and Princes’[2]? Is this much vaunted people business unable to manage people?

Sector leader or follower?

The BBC has significant State guaranteed income. It is hugely economically, culturally and politically powerful. Thus it is difficult to understand why it should be overly concerned about ‘industry practice’. Sector ‘leaders’ do not usually follow the practices of sector ‘followers’ – especially when it comes to talent, a key differentiator of performance.

The Beeb itself now has more than an external PR problem. The BBC generally does better than many large employers at hiring, promoting and retaining female staff, not just presenters. It is this group who must really be wondering about the value of the organisation’s much vaunted statements of equal opportunity. When tested by tribunal process, policy was found not to be practice.

Yet it doesn’t need to be like this. Correctly engaged and motivated even your highest IQ and most creative or technical managers can become super competent in those difficult soft skills they usually avoid. Talk to us, in confidence and without obligation about helping your managers develop the competence and confidence to manage effectively.  Solutions that engage, motivate and fit around, rather than disrupt the business.


[2] Weber

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