It’s not OK to let someone be an arsehole just because they are talented. Challenging their behaviour is essential.
Something that I wish I had learnt early on in my career is that you don’t need to tolerate arseholes.
It’s not that you don’t need to tolerate arseholes, you should actively challenge them.
In the past, I have prioritised individuals performance over team performance. Not putting the team first gives you an unfortunate opportunity to excuse bad behaviour in an individual if they are performing well.
Oh, it’s ok that Archibald snaps at the juniors when they ask him a question because at the end of the day he’s smashing it on the delivery of the Businesstron 4000
The sliding scale of douchebaggery
The challenge with accepting this behaviour is that it solidifies this as a part of your team culture. If it’s ok for Archibald, it’s ok for everyone. Culture forms by the actions of the most influential characters in a group of people. Although it’s unlikely that allowing one person to be an arsehole will mean you’ll end up with a team of arseholes, that behaviour will creep into the ways of working of the rest of the group.
Quickly, you have a toxic workplace. There are some terrifying examples of this on larger scales. If you look at recent stories around Uber and Revolut, you can see this effect on a company-wide level.
There is a sliding scale of douchebaggery, not everyone who exhibits bad behaviour goes full Kalanick. But even small signs of it can be damaging.
The Definition of an Arsehole.
Before jumping in to try and solve the problem, it’s worth defining what an arsehole is. It’s worth doing this because arseholery is contextual. What might be acceptable in one situation may not be acceptable in another.
For example, sense of humour varies massively from person to person what some people find hilarious others find offensive. It may be perfectly ok to call your friend down the pub a ‘bus wanker’ when they are telling you of their traumatic public transport journey. But it’s probably not ok to do that with most of your colleagues. On the flip side of this, I’ve had plenty of work colleagues I would have been comfortable calling much worse, but only after building up a relationship over time and knowing exactly where the boundaries lie.
For me, the definition is simple. The moment one person is upset or uncomfortable with someone else’s behaviour, then you have a problem that you need to sort. At this point, the offender has been an Arsehole.
Assess the Impact.
Before you deal with the problem, it’s worth trying to assess the impact of the behaviour before you proceed. Although I would advise challenging all behaviour that has any adverse effect on the team, the way that you deal with is essential. It will need to be measured and appropriate for the action.
Working out the appropriate course of action is a tough tightrope to walk, go in too hard you will risk losing the respect of the individual in question if you’re too weak you will risk losing the respect of the members of the team that have been affected by the action.
Gathering a consensus on this is the best idea, play the issue back with other managers if you can, ask the individuals who were involved in the matter. How they feel about what’s happening?
Challenge Bad Behaviour.
Once you have the evidence, you can make an educated choice about how you should deal with it. How you want to challenge the behaviour has to be up to you. You need to make sure you deal with it alongside your management style and beliefs.
However, some things do need to be consistent is that dealing with a tough situation like this; you need to make sure that you are:
- Timely: The longer you leave dealing with the issue, the more ingrained the behaviour will become in the individual, and possibly the wider team, and harder for them to rectify.
- Factual: You are likely to be dealing with differences of opinion, the individual may not feel the same way you and the rest of the team. You need to present the real outcomes of their actions, present facts, not conjecture.
- Fair: It’s easy to pick a fall-guy if there is is a dysfunctional environment within your team. Give balanced and fair feedback, deal with the issue in hand and be careful not to flip the whole process on its head and make the individual the victim.
- Private: Always give challenging and negative feedback in private, never in public.
Make Sure it’s Not You Who is the Arsehole.
During this whole process, it’s worth always double-checking your own bias and behaviours. Dealing with this kind of action includes isolating the behaviour one person and trying to help them change it. But it’s very easy to slip into a dominant role in this situation and to punish the individual without defining a way forward. That’s not the point; it’s about helping people work together in a happier and more supportive environment.
Don’t Be Afraid to Fire Arseholes.
But when the crunch comes, some people don’t want to change — some people who are just arseholes.
Don’t be afraid to remove these toxic individuals from your team or organisation. A lot of people will say ‘sometimes it’s better to let someone go, they will find somewhere they fit better’ and I believe this in most situations. But for true arseholes, maybe it’s unlikely to play out like that. We can but hope that maybe if multiple people raise the same issues, they may eventually have a moment of realisation.