“People who score high in primary psychopathy lack empathy and are cool-headed and fearless. They don’t react to things that cause other people to feel stressful, fearful, or angry” according to Professor Charlice Hurst from Notre Dame University in Indiana.
She argues that businesses run by psychopaths end up as psychopath traps employing similar types as people with normal emotions can’t stand the toxic environment and leave.
She asked over 300 experienced employees about two fictional managers. One was adept at corporate speak but bullied people, showed a total lack of empathy, and took credit for others’ work. The other was inspirational, supportive, and considerate. Both were said to be equally valued and respected by the company.
Asked about working for the two managers and how angry it would make them working for him all said they would be happy working for the supportive one and most disliked the bully. But some people saw no difference and that depended on their own level of psychopathy.
Those with high levels weren’t upset by being abused at work and even said they felt more engaged at work. It could mean that a company led by psychopaths ends up with a highly engaged workforce of psychopaths.
“Psychopaths thriving under abusive supervisors would be better positioned to get ahead” said Hurst. “Companies with a problem with endemic abuse might notice increased turnover among employees low in primary psychopathy and retention of those high in primary psychopathy”
I’ve always thought that toxic workplaces need both a psychopath at the top and a culture that encourages bullying and abuse.
It’s well known that psychopaths are attracted to positions of power. There is extensive literature on the dark side triad of psychopathy, machiavellianism, and narcissism.
News that two out of three companies are planning to change their staff appraisal processes “radically” might be good news – depending on what they come up with of course. And one in 20 companies are scrapping it entirely.
PwC conducted a survey which came up with these figures and said that that once-a-year assessment of performance and exchange of views between managers and staff didn’t motivate staff or provide the honest feedback bosses needed.
Most of the companies abandoning the traditional approach are encouraging managers to give continuous feedback so that problems are dealt with in a timely fashion and praise is linked to current work performance or behaviour.
PwC is cautioning managers not to abandon appraisal completely as they claim most employees like them as they helped them to understand what they were doing. Does it need an appraisal system for that to happen? I think not. Perhaps improved communication between managers and employees would do the trick.
But PwC also acknowledges that most managers don’t like doing them because of all the paperwork it entails.
Deloitte recently calculated it spent 2 million hours on 65,000 staff. They have replaced that system with one comprising just 4 questions.
Accenture has also dropped annual appraisals. In future staff will no longer receive a ranking or evaluation, just “timely feedback“.
They also say “Companies need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water. Without the year-end rating the danger is that the distribution of pay and bonuses can become even more of a dark art as shadow systems evolve without proper governance and infrastructure behind them”. And what would HR find to do?
One of the reasons for discontinuing ranking methods is that globalisation has thrown up many different roles and comparisons become more difficult.
There are also cultural differences. I remember being asked in Sweden by a Swedish employee in a multi-national company why his boss always asked him where he planned to be in 5 years time. He said he was quite happy doing the job he had. I also coached a senior Swedish manager who decided to leave the company he worked for rather than having to turn down promotion to a more global role. He opted to move down the road across the Øresund bridge instead.
The Swedes tend to take a different view on careers, valuing work-life balance more than say Americans or Brits.
I’ve posted before on this topic
Given the rewards that most corporate leaders receive these days (an average of over £3million plus bonuses) you might think this is a stupid question when the average wage is around £27,200 ($41,840).
However Roger Jones, a consultant, says ‘Leaders’ unconscious personal fears affect their performance, that of their team, and that of their company‘ according to Carly Chynoweth’s column in the Sunday Times business section.
The number 1 fear, according to the Academy of Chief Executives, is the fear of being found out – or imposter syndrome.
Other fears include worrying about being able to repeat past successes, not living up to past successes in a family business, and losing friends as they get promoted (did no-one tell them it can be lonely at the top?).
These fears can lead to bad decision-making and a loss of perspective. They may also result in poor inter-personal behaviours such as rudeness, problems with anger management, and lack of consistency with their teams.
Unfortunately for the business such behaviours can be emulated by junior staff who think its OK to do it because the CEO does it.
60% of the leaders questioned in Jones’ research (published in the HBR) said their executive teams were affected by fear, that there was an absence of honest conversations, excessive politicking, and a willingness to tolerate bad behaviour.
Executive search companies say they see these behaviours with newly promoted executives at second or third tier. A partner at one of them believes that the growth of psychometric testing might eventually identify those with problematic traits so they can be dealt with where possible (The Hogan series of psychometrics includes on which identifies elements of the dark side triad i.e. sociopathy, narcissism, and machiavellinism).
Jones is also optimistic. “Most leaders can manage their fears. Those who are self-aware are more understanding of what dysfunctional behaviours they may have and they can try to prevent them happening”.
One of the most effective approached is helping leaders develop their emotional intelligence – from improving self-awareness and self-control to managing relationships better.
Of course a lot depends on the culture of the organisation. If your company has an open and helping culture where feedback is freely and honestly exchanged some of these issues might never arise.
And there is some evidence that CEOs who are more guilt-prone can make better leaders.
Is it one where everyone picks over the bones of failure, blaming everyone else?
Do you wonder what it would be like to work freely without worrying about messing up?
And is your company so paralysed by indecision that no-one is prepared to raise their head above the parapet?
Tim Lambert at Kay-Lambert Associates Ltd has identified what he calls the Vulture Cultures.
He says; “These are so damaging because the enemy is within and not always easy to pinpoint. Slowly, over time, the organisation behaviour becomes one of back-biting, bullying, baiting, battling, and blame. People become afraid and are always looking over their shoulder, and on the lookout for somewhere to hide.”
He suggests that there are 4 types of organisational vulture cultures: Cultures of Atrophy, Chaos, Accord, and Caution, each with their own characteristics.
And whilst Lambert admits that vultures fulfil a vital function in nature you wouldn’t necessarily want one in your organisation. His company has been working with companies across Europe, the USA, and Asia-Pacific implementing programmes to help them avoid the vulture culture trap. Asking the question; “what are the biggest internal issues you face in your organisation?” produces a variety of responses but Lambert asserts that they all come down in the end to weak and ineffective decision-making.
So here are five simple remedies taken from his programme.
Develop & articulate decision-making rules eg supporting team decisions
Introduce a company-wide systematic decision-making process (the “Dare to Decide” process)
Be explicit about every employee’s authority to decide ie their job profiles and boundaries
Delegate routine decisions
Always schedule learning reviews – as a team, a department, and as a company.
This post is based, with permission, on a paper: “How to avoid a vulture culture… and create a culture of construction” written by Tim Lambert, founding director of Kay Lambert Associates Ltd from whom you can obtain the full article or further advice.