Does Your Organization Ignore (and Maybe Reward) Bad Behavior at Work?

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Oct 1, 2013

Nice guys finish last. We’ve all heard that phrase before. Which probably means that there’s something to it.

Now why is that?

Because we’ve seen it happen, haven’t we? Again and again.

In the work environment all too often the steady and reliable performers — those who follow the policies and procedures, who stay on the right side of ethical dilemmas and controversy, the “nice guys” that every manager would like to have on their team — they can come up short when recognition and rewards are being passed about.

How organizations reward bad behavior

They may not finish last, as the adage goes, but they often don’t gain the credit, the respect and recognition, and financial rewards to the extent that the “bad boys” do.

Bad boys? You know them. Those who at first glance seem to deliver results; however, there always seems to be a “but” or an asterisk that accompanies their success. Annoying little behavioral caveats that tend to be pushed aside and ignored  –because “they’re doing so well.”

You’ve seen this scene play out before, where these “Golden Ones,” “Favored Sons” or “Teflon Jacks” are recognized, and even admired by senior leadership, even though their pedestal may be built on a shifting pile of sand.

Life isn’t fair, the pundits say, but come on! Are they blind out there? How many times have you seen this happen?

  • Troublesome personal behavior is ignored while only the bottom line results are recognized. We could be talking about arrogance, or unprofessionalism, taking questionable short cuts, or even worse. Employees in this category think of themselves, first and foremost, president-for-life of their own fan club. They are not team players.
  • Management beats the drum of “results, not effort” so hard that soon few employees (or their managers) seem to care how results were achieved. Just make the sale — or else tomorrow, you’ll be history.
  • Quantifiable metrics (add up the numbers) outweigh an individual’s style, leadership, ethics, and professionalism. The focus is more on quarterly results than building for long-term success. Do we have the numbers?
  • Those who are “connected” (who you know, not what you know or how you conducted yourself) don’t seem to receive the same scrutiny of their efforts as the rest of us.

A slow erosion that’s harmful to the business

Do employees see you turn a blind eye to how results were achieved? Yes, they do notice.

Does your management really care if an employee leaves bodies strewn across the corridor on the way to their own personal success? What does that say about the priorities of the organization, and how leadership values people? Does that culture become visible outside the company? Does that environment become an impediment to attracting the right caliber of people?

Yes, it does — on all counts. And over time, the organization will slowly evolve in a manner that’s ultimately harmful to the business.

  • External recruiters may change their mind about recommending the organization to otherwise qualified candidates. When the whispers on the street begin, recruiters take notice.
  • As your bread-and-butter contributors see how the organization’s behavior-blindness hampers their own career progress, engagement and productivity start to slacken.
  • A natural corollary to lower engagement is higher turnover. The first to go would be those with the most options, those whose performance record of behavior and results would be appreciated elsewhere.

Recognizing the true team players

All this is avoidable. But it takes a certain amount of courage to challenge one of the favored sons, especially if your plan is to instead recognize one of the less flashy, steady-eddies you may have in abundance.

So take off the blindfolds and recognize those who are day-in and day-out helping to move the company forward. They are the team players. They are the ones who say “we” instead of “I.”

Your employees know who these winners are. It would help your organization if you did too.

This was originally published at the Compensation Café blog, where you can find a daily dose of caffeinated conversation on everything compensation.