So, for the purposes of this piece, let’s think of ‘terrorists’ as people who work within an organisation and yet are bent on undermining it.                                                   

Tackling Troublemakers – How to make difficult staff your biggest advocates

We are living in a time where the threat of terror has never been so great; please don’t think for a minute that I associate your staff with the really bad people of the world but poor behaviour can be damaging to your culture.

13th May 2016

Carl Gregory

So, for the purposes of this piece, let’s think of ‘terrorists’ as people who work within an organisation and yet are bent on undermining it.

Terrorists exist in a wide variety of organisations but why? How have they developed, what damage can they do and how can you deal with them?

I am sure we have all had a moan at some point in our careers about colleagues, who, shall we say, “less than buy into” the company culture, are a nuisance to other staff, or at worse go out of their way to cause trouble in our workplace. So let’s examine the world of the corporate terrorist and how you can ultimately defeat them.

Terrorists in organisations exist largely because of their own insecurities or deficiencies. They like to undermine others to deflect attention away from themselves and their own shortcomings. Let’s face it, if you’ve got time for tittle-tattle and mischief-making at work then you’re probably not paying enough attention to your own job anyway. Most terror suspects I’ve encountered in my career have gone down that route because:

1. They feel unable to cope with the demands of their job but don’t have the courage to move on. Therefore, they don’t want to attract any scrutiny of their own performance and are effectively issuing a “don’t mess with me” warning;

2. They may have been overlooked, rightly or wrongly, for promotion or progression, so this is their way of extracting revenge on the company that in their eyes “wronged them”.

3. They are simply people who only seem happy when they’re miserable – and more to the point, making the lives of others intolerable.

Their main aim is recruitment and sabotage. If they can bring others round to their way of thinking, then it justifies and vindicates their own behaviour. They effectively create cells of like-minded individuals. If they can create covert disruption to the organisation then that is mission accomplished. Making the lives of employees a misery along the way is just a bonus. I have worked in companies who have been aware of these people but chose not to deal with them.

The Senior Terrorist. This is the most dangerous animal of all because there appears to be no logic to their actions other than ambition or to cover up the fact that they have been promoted way beyond their level of ability. I have worked in a number of large organisations when a senior manager has created and encouraged the most awful culture of whispering and back-biting, been universally disliked by all their colleagues but somehow still comes up smelling of roses. How can this be?

So as a senior manager or business owner what steps can you take to tackle terrorism in your organisation?

Establish the Root Cause – You need to understand what type of terror exists in your company. Is it just low-level moaners or do you have a senior terrorist in your midst? It could be a combination of the two, but you need to understand what threat you are facing..

Balance their Value – Some organisations are prepared to tolerate certain terrorists because the commercial value they bring to the company far outweighs the trouble they cause. I would only consider this in extreme circumstances because ultimately all terrorists create a hidden damage to your organisation in terms of low morale and company reputation. Remember, terrorists not only speak badly of your company to colleagues, but also to potential customers. Plus, retaining terrorists is one of the main reasons that your good people leave, so is it really worth it?

Expose the Threat – Terrorists fear exposure above anything else – even destruction. Therefore, just a quiet word to let them know that you’re aware of their behaviour is often enough to nip things in the bud or encourage them to move onto pastures new. They won’t like the fact that you’re on to them.

Convert – Some terrorists can be re-educated and become your biggest assets if managed in the right way. If a good employee has become radicalised for a legitimate reason, then you have a duty to be fair and try to address this. For example, I know many employees who should have gained promotions and didn’t for a variety of political reasons. They could have been saved and turned into real company advocates had somebody taken the trouble to identify and reward their true worth. There is a real lesson here. Terrorists can be time-consuming and energy sapping, but only if we don’t address them. We need to get back to putting our reward and recognition into the good people in our businesses, rather than taking them for granted. Do away with promoting staff on the basis of politics and get back to recognising staff for the true value they bring. This creates a more open and transparent culture. Companies that act with integrity attract and retain staff with the same values.

Confront & Dismiss – The tragedy is that often in organisations good people who are effective at their roles lose their jobs for a variety of reasons but terrorists somehow hold onto theirs. They can be experts at survival. This is usually because senior management and / or HR are afraid to tackle and confront them. There is an apathy – a feeling that it’s easier just to leave well alone. Tackling terrorism sends out a strong statement to your organisation though and will make potential terror suspects think twice before engaging in subversive activity. With today’s employee legislation it’s never been easier to follow the correct disciplinary procedures and remove these people and the damage they cause to your business. You can then begin to enjoy the benefits of a relatively terrorist-free environment and the rewards that brings in terms of employee and subsequently customer satisfaction.

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