Derek Bishop


One bad apple

Date added: 05th Nov 2013
Category: Leadership

Your company culture is strong, you work hard on engaging your employees; surely you can afford to let one rotten apple slip through the net?  Wrong.  All it takes is one moment of inattention, one slight lapse and your entire pack of cards can come tumbling down.  The problem is that just one person, particularly if they are in a position of power, can negate all of your hard work in building a strong culture.

Before we go too far, let’s deal with the argument that if your culture was strong enough you wouldn’t have one bad apple in the barrel anyway.  In a perfect world that would be true but we don’t live in a perfect world and when business leaders have such a wide remit, it can be easy to give just that little bit too much leeway to one person or department.

Let’s look at a couple of scenarios.  Firstly, there is the case of the smaller business which you acquired to fill a gap in your offering.  You went after that business to take advantage of their expertise, you like what they have achieved.  Of course you are conscious that they may have trouble in adjusting to working within a larger organisation and in adjusting to your culture so you make allowances, you give them time.

Trouble is, they are so good because they are used to working in a set way and your cutting them some slack gives them the message that they can carry on doing so.  They’ve been used to sorting out problems with a friendly huddle around desks and therefore resent the fact that they now have to join in formal meetings or conference calls.  They have been used to flexing work teams and rearranging work patterns to suit their mood and can’t understand why they now have to commit to deadlines and workflows.  It’s not long before a culture of us and them has grown up, project implementations are   delayed and customers start to suffer.

Scenario two tends to happen when you appoint someone to lead a team when they are not suited to the demands of leadership.  They may have been good at a previous level but just can’t lead or they may have been brought in from outside the company and don’t understand the organisational expectations and methodologies.  Without training and guidance they can quickly flounder out of their depth and this often leads to an instinctive desire to micro-manage their team.  Before long a silo mentality starts to develop, team members become fearful of their position and start to reject requests for assistance and the team turns in upon itself.  Left unchecked a cascade effect sours the entire organisation.

At the route of both these scenarios is the fact that organisational leaders tend to overlook the fact that creating a strong company culture is only the first step in an ongoing journey.  So much work can go into the organisational culture change that it is tempting to transfer attention on to the next big project and leave the culture to run.   That’s when the team leaders, the departments or divisions can start to drift away, slowly at first and then in an ever-increasing pace.

All it takes is one bad apple, one individual leading their breakaway group and others will soon follow, either from a sense of “if they can do x why can’t we” or because their processes and workflow have been severely disrupted. The once unified organisation splinters into disparate shards and all of the hard work in creating a strong culture has come to nought.

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