How to cut down backstabbing in the workplace

Workplace backstabbing is a virulent affliction. It destroys productivity, creates employee strife and damages the bottom line.

As with disease, prevention is the best medicine. Hire people by using objective, scientific assessments of personality, behavior and attitudes. Conduct regular, periodic workplace reviews to identify — and treat — early warning signs. And if a problem does arise post- hiring, have a system in place to fix it before damage spreads.

“One saying is that people hire based on experience, background and education,” says Lloyd Gottman, CEO and chief synergist of Littleton-based Synergetic Systems LLC. “They fire because of lack of fit with the job and company. That can include backstabbing.”

Do it wrong, and you’ll pay. Statistics cited in the book, “You’re Not the Person I Hired” state that a poor executive hire can cost three times the person’s annual salary to rectify. The authors note that some researchers claim the cost can be more than 24 times the person’s base salary.

Dealing with employee conflict is estimated to consume from 30 percent to 42 percent of a manager’s work day. If that manager is making $60,000, that’s $18,000 to $25,200 spent annually dealing with backstabbing and other issues.

“You’re looking for an employee who can do the job well, [whose] behaviors fit well, and motivations to do it well fit for the long term,” Gottman says. “This will lead to a person who will stay longer, produce more, consume less management resources and be more profitable.”

Use an “Assess, Address, Remediate” system to minimize backstabbing. Elements are:

Assess job candidates thoroughly and accurately.

This doesn’t mean a good gut-level feel or hiring based on charm or affability. Get past credentials and experience to see how well someone will play in your organization.

Gottman recommends an employee assessment meeting two smell-test items:

(1) Does it have a built-in Truth Scale? Sometimes called a Distortion or Honesty measurement, a Truth Scale is designed to measure if the person tries to fake answers to improve image.

(2) Is there a technical manual showing testing done on the test to guarantee that it meets or exceeds government standards?

Gottman uses Profiles International assessments. There are others that may do the job, but be prepared to vet your choice of assessment carefully.

In an interview, “A person is wearing a Halloween mask,” Gottman says. “They only let you see what they want you to see. You must get behind that mask, and find out who the person really is.”

As part of the hiring process, Gottman recommends hiring people who have the personal characteristics of someone who will show up, work hard, be drug-free, not steal and be truthful.

Measure how the person thinks and learns, what their natural behaviors are and what really motivates them, because those are the “most important predictors of job success or failure,” according to Gottman.

Address the entire workplace culture.

Companies will develop vision and mission statements, but most neglect to establish a clear culture framework that employees buy into and are expected to live by.

Bob Liebhauser, certified business coach at Denver-based ActionCOACH, recommends that companies develop a culture statement that “sets the rules of the road.”

He stresses the importance of strong leadership, creation of common goals, having an organization action plan that keeps everyone informed, encouragement of risk-taking by employees to spur exploring ways to do a job better and fully informed employees as keys to supporting a workable corporate culture.

Key to establishing and maintaining a healthy culture, he says, are the ability to trust, comfort with discussing decisions without fear of conflict, total employee population commitment, accountability and focusing on results that are best for the team (versus ego- driven decision-making).

When employees don’t tow the line, Liebhauser adds, colleagues must strive to make the offenders accountable. He notes that culture discussions and getting prospective employee buy-in should “absolutely be a condition of employment. If they don’t buy in, [they should be] excluded from the hiring process right there.”

Remediate immediately any acute backstabbing issues, often signified by disagreement or excessive work gossiping about specific employees or the company itself.

Don’t waste time or effort trying to analyze the backstabber’s motives. Much energy is expended trying to psychoanalyze, then “cure” the problem. Backstabbers often act out of habit or because these bad behaviors have worked for them in the past.

Instead, investigate the situation and what needs to be done to remedy it. Best case, this takes the form of intracompany intervention and resolution along the lines of Liebhauser’s approach. If necessary, look at some form of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration.

By getting in front of backstabbing issues, you can eliminate one of the chief impediments to corporate success.


 

ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: DENVER BUSINESS JOURNAL 050607

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