I’m going to start this article with a bit of perturbation – there is no such thing as a toxic employee!

What?! I can hear the gasps of disbelief from here. Sorry folks, but Jeremy from the back office that does all that stuff that peeves everyone off? It’s not really his fault – it’s yours.

Sufficiently perturbed?

Let’s get into it…

We’ve all met a Jeremy somewhere. He is an odd sort. He doesn’t listen very well, is always complaining and pushing back on any direction given. He doesn’t fit into the ‘culture’ of the company, and often seemingly does the bare minimum to get by. He doesn’t seem like an over-achiever, or really an achiever of any kind. He’s been at the company for years, in the same role, plugging away doing his thing.

In the 4-player model, we might categorise Jeremy as an Opposer. Often perceived as negative, he doesn’t ‘just do’ what he’s told. Instead he will often push back on ideas, attempt course corrections, point out perceived flaws.

However, in a command-and-control organisation, Jeremy is a non-conformist. The business mostly wants to make its Moves, and will typically expect an army of Followers to be compliant. As such, Jeremy is shunned – forever the outsider, rarely good enough to make the cut, and only good enough not to be shown the door.

There are two major problems with this situation.

The first:

The organisation does not realise that the lack of Opposition in their system might be taking them in the wrong direction

Without good, purposeful course corrections the Moves in the organisation might be rampaging unchecked. The shunning of the Oppose in the system might actually be detrimental to the system itself.

The second problem is a doozy:

Being a command-and-control organisation, non-conformists are ‘punished’ for not meeting expectations

Jeremy might have actually never done anything wrong. In fact, in a more flexible environment, he might be a superstar. The crime Jeremy is guilty of is not falling in line behind the company. And as punishment he’s forever assigned to the back office, shunned in meetings, never promoted… only ever ‘just good enough’.

Woah. So, what’s the fix?

There’s two solutions, given the two different problems – however to be truly effective, both need to be implemented. The first is an intervention in Jeremy’s working group, to highlight the group behaviours toward Jeremy, as well as surfacing what Jeremy really has to offer. Jeremy has some great stuff floating around in his mind, and creating a safe environment where those contributions are heard and respected is the very first step.

The second is a systemic intervention, creating awareness of the command-and-control nature of the organisation – and how it can be different. While we can create an environment of acceptance in Jeremy’s working group, nothing will change if the organisation doesn’t change as well. Where there’s one Jeremy, there may be many. Untapped talent throughout a large organisation that is going under-utilised and often shunned, because challenging the command-and-control nature of the organisation is frowned upon.

This change must also begin at the top. I’m talking to you, executives. You’re the ones who hold all the strings, make all the rules, and create en environment within which a culture will grow. Without your changes in perception, nothing else can change.

I’ve known a lot of Opposers throughout my career. The most interesting thing about them is that – when harnessed correctly – they can turn direction on its head. A strong opposition, at the right time, can be exactly what many organisations need. If only they would embrace it more…

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