Monthly Archives: October 2011

Seek and Ye Shall Find…a bit!

I’m not alone, I’m sure, in finding myself misunderstood. It’s taken 29 years for me to be able to say “My wife understands me”, which is an indication of how long it can take to get on someone else’s wavelength. Of course, she might disagree.

And I am definitely not alone when I say that I am often totally perplexed by other people.“Why did they do that?”, “What on earth do they mean?”, or “Why don’t they get it?”

Stephen Covey talks about the need to first understand and then to be understood. He basically means ‘zip it’ and listen out for what other people are thinking and feeling, as well as what they are saying and how they are behaving. But he is careful enough to make this daunting task more manageable by suggesting we “Seek” to understand. It’s the seeking that’s important, even if we don’t fully understand each other.

My own view of the world is limited, inaccurate, partial, and inconclusive. So I shouldn’t expect to have a greater understanding of someone else’s. However, it is right that I should make the effort to explore and learn from others. How dull to have to rely on my own resources when the world is teeming with exciting possibilities, alternative viewpoints, information, ideas and beliefs. After all, it is these things that are responsible for why people do the things they do. It’s helpful to know this, or at least have an inkling!

So I’m going looking. And I’m also going listening. And I’m going to try doing those things first before succumbing to my often overwhelming need to pontificate. You should try it too.

There’s an irony here: I’m talking about seeking to understand others whilst pontificating in this blog. It just goes to show: nobody’s perfect and we shouldn’t expect them to be.


How to Avoid a Vulture Culture…and Create a Culture of Construction

  • Do you work in an organisation that seems to feed on itself, picking over the bones of failure and blaming everyone else, rather than itself?
  • Do you sometimes find yourself wondering what it would be like to work freely without the fear of a hungry hoover hovering above, waiting for you to mess up?
  • Is your company so paralysed by indecision because no-one wants to stand up and raise their head above the parapet?

If so, you might be in the grip of a Vulture Culture.

Vulture Cultures 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, always looking over their shoulder, always on the look-out for somewhere to hide. But it’s subtle and gradual, and the predator often isn’t spotted before it strikes.

Personally, I’ve got nothing against vultures – frankly, I think they’ve received a bad press. They might lack the cuddly fluffy feel of a kitten, but they do fulfil a fairly vital function in nature.

The trouble is, you really don’t want them hanging about your canteen, or getting too close to your business. Vultures are messy eaters, and it’s not a pretty sight seeing them hack away at a company carcass.

In times of recession, it is more important than ever to eradicate in-fighting and get your organisation pulling together constructively. Leave the Vulture Culture outside, cold and hungry. Whatever you do, don’t invite it in!

Our programme has helped to transform organisations and teams operating across Europe, the US and Asia Pac. It’s a simple enough remedy, (which is perhaps why so few people have tried it!), and it begins with looking at the way organisations make decisions.

The Science of Cultures

Science tells us that cultures, left to their own devices will   grow and develop organically, whether in the petri dish or in the boardroom. And not always in the direction we would wish.

The challenge lies in correctly identifying the negative culture, and then taking positive action to shape it so that it acts as a catalyst for growth rather than a vehicle for self-destruction.

And it really helps to identify where the culture is growing from – what combination of cells and elements are contributing to the way it cultivates and develops?

If you ask the question…

 “What are the biggest internal issues you face within your organisation?”

…you’ll get a variety of responses such as ‘communication’, or ‘politics’, or ‘blame culture’, or ‘we’re too risk-averse’, or ‘slowness to react’, or ‘lack of accountability’.

And it doesn’t take an Einstein to realise that all these responses have as their root cause something to do with weak and ineffective decision-making. It’s prime feeding ground for the vulture culture to flourish.

So what’s going to keep the Vulture Culture at bay, and how can you create an organisation culture that is exemplified by great decision making?

Bad decision-making feeds cultures that are highly damaging to the long-term prospects and short-term operation of any organisation.

Do you recognise any of the following cultures in your company organism?

The Culture of Atrophy – Where no-one makes any decision, because they think someone else should do

The Culture of Chaos – Where everyone tries to make a decision even though they don’t have a right to do so, and decisions have to be un-made or remade later

The Culture of Accord – Where no-one will make any decision until they have wrapped themselves in the security blanket of the widest possible consultation

The Culture of Caution – Where people are so afraid to get it wrong, that they brood for too long before taking any action, by which time their competitors have stolen a march on them and the opportunity has passed.

Of course, it’s possible that within any organisation, all of these Cultures are in evidence at any one time.  Collectively, they are the Vulture Culture.

Where people fundamentally lack any understanding of what authority they or their colleagues have to act or make decisions, the rot sets in.

It’s a recipe for disaster but, fortunately there is a better recipe to follow.

By introducing the correct set of elements you will be able to create a stronger organisational compound.



When you feel the vultures circling overhead, don’t wait for the feasting to begin. Take positive action.

Here are five simple remedies that are taken from our programme. If allowed to permeate your organisation, they’ll begin to positively shape the way decisions are made, and make way for a new Culture of Construction.

Our 5 Top Titbits to Keep the Vulture Culture Away

1.       Develop & Articulate Decision-Making Rules that guide the way people and teams make their decisions. Don’t leave it to chance or assume that unspoken rules will do. See below for examples.

Some Decision Making Rules

Example 1:

Members of a team who are unable to attend a meeting mandate those members who can attend to make the decision on their behalf.

Example 2:

Non-attendees (who are part of the decision-making team) waive their right to challenge the decision after the event, as long as they have been given a chance to make their views known in advance.

Example 3:                                                         

Once decisions are made within the team, the WHOLE TEAM will stand by that decision and actively support its roll-out.


2.      Introduce a company-wide, systematic Decision-Making process. DARE to Decide’is a process we have developed that describes four stages in a sequence which, if followed, increases your chances of making good and courageous decisions

  • Diagnose  (Recognise that a decision is needed; work out who needs to be involved and who needs to take it; and be explicit  about your decision criteria).
  • Analyse (Gather just enough information; generate ideas and test them against your decision criteria before making your       choice).
  • Reveal (Communicate your decision and your reasons for making it to the people who will be affected by it).
  • Evaluate (Make sure you review and learn from the process and from the outcome).

3.      Be explicit about every employee’s authority to decide. This means, letting people know through their role profiles, job descriptions and performance management reviews, the boundaries of their decision making authority, and the point at which a decision needs to be referred elsewhere.

4.    Delegate routine decisionsIdentify what is a routine decision and formally authorise people to get on with it, so that they don’t feel they have to seek permission to take basic action.

 5.      Always schedule Learning Reviews. Take time to benefit from past experience and do this as a team, as a department, and as a company. Share the learning broadly rather than keeping it to yourself. Remember, that some of the greatest achievements have been as a result of initial failures, but only where reflection and learning takes place.


Nature abhors a vacuum, and cultures will propagate of their own accord in order to fill vacant space.

Ironically, it’s only by taking decisive and concerted action against poor decision-making that you’ll be able to create a Culture of Construction where:

  • People are clear about the level of authority, responsibility and accountability they wield;
  • Decisions are made at the right time by the right people in the right way with the right result;
  • Re-visiting old decisions becomes a thing of the past.

Vultures hover when they spot weakness. They know that when you’re on your knees, it’s time to start praying!

It’s your decision whether you want to become prey, or soar to new heights and by doing so, keep that Vulture Culture at bay.

Sightseeing – Developing Visionary Behaviour

What do you think of when you think of Visionaries?

They are special people with special qualities. They see the writing on the wall. They can  read between the lines and see connections and patterns that others might not see. That’s  why we call them Visionary.

Because of this, they can steer great change, allowing your organisation to get ahead of the  traffic.

 Who do you think of when you think of visionaries? Martin Luther King? Leonardo da Vinci?  Bill Gates?

It’s very tempting to think that Visionaries are some rare breed, a remarkable freak of  nature. We tend to assume that they are exceptional people whom we are only likely to  encounter once or twice in a generation. We might think of them (with grudging grace) as mavericks that play a vital role but need to be contained.

But it really isn’t helpful to think of visionaries in this way. In fact, it can be an excuse for other people not playing their full part in future-gazing and future-shaping.

I have a vision for Your Company.

It might be wild and fanciful. It might be some way down the road. But I believe that at some time in the future, being visionary won’t be an activity denied to the masses. It won’t be the preserve of ‘special’ people, or the power of the few?

I believe that one day all your people will be able to engage in visionary activities, because the benefits of doing so are just too great.

I think that it is highly likely, that your employees already have the visionary streak, but they haven’t yet allowed it free reign.

For now, they’re too comfortable and cosy in the cockpits of their company cars, surrounded by on-board computers and evermore elaborate gadgets that stop them having to think.

Maybe they are closet visionaries. They’re locked in the closet of the present, or even the past and they pay scant regard to the future.

And when they do think of the future they do so only within the narrow confines of their understanding of today. But this doesn’t mean they can’t be visionary, only that they haven’t been visionary so far. They haven’t come out of the closet.

I believe it’s a truism in personal development that the past does not dictate the future…unless we let it. If I am right, then just because we haven’t used our visionary gene before, doesn’t mean we don’t have it or that we can’t use it from now on.

So what’s stopping us? 

Who Put the Brakes On?

The trouble is that some of our corporate behaviours don’t encourage people to be visionary. In fact people can feel actively discouraged. Here’s what I see.

1. Back Seat Drivers. The message we tend to give out is that Visionaries are tolerated as a necessary evil, and the last thing we want to do is create a whole team of them. What on earth would we do if we had a whole team of da Vinci’s? There is a fear that if they outnumber us mere mortals within an organisation, they will permanently upset the status quo; they will always be competing for alternative realities; and they will become a destabilising influence.

So we like to keep them at arm’s length, in the back seat; and put a lid on anyone who starts having visions of a different future.

2.Head in the Clouds. Thinking activities don’t look like real work, so we don’t trust them. They are hard to measure so we don’t reward them. We often preside over (and create) a cult of tangibility where as long as people are moving, shuffling real objects, building something concrete, or exchanging precise information, they are considered to be working.

 But sitting quietly thinking is not considered the done thing. It appears as if they are slacking or shirking or zoning out. It’s hard to explain how this is adding value when they have a 30-item ‘to-do list’ in their in-tray, and 75 emails to open.

 3. Eyes on the Dashboard. Some organisations seem to spend so much time looking in rather than looking-out. Their fascination with gazing at their own dashboard means that they often fail to spot the approaching tornado looming on the horizon.

Too much insularity breeds content. We start to think of ourselves and our company as being at the centre of the universe. We get drawn in to believing that the company is a social infrastructure designed specifically to provide us with work. Energies are spent on internal workings and mechanisms, internal disputes and hiccups, internal practices and configurations, internal systems to manage the internal population.

But as we’re driving along, who’s looking out the window asking, “What are we really here for? Who are our customers? What’s the world like out there? What does it need from us? What are the trends? What’s our future?”

It doesn’t take the few creative visionaries to ask or answer these questions. Everyone can do it if we let them.

We need to make space within our companies so that everyone can become more inquisitive and visionary, if we are to have a fighting chance of managing and creating change more effectively.


We do like neat labels, don’t we? Life is so much easier if we define people (usually rather dismissively) as ‘The Dreamer’ or ‘The Analyst’, as if dreaming or being analytical is the only thing they do.People who have the capacity to be visionary (and exercise it) are not solely defined by this one characteristic.

Just because I have the capacity to identify a number of malt whiskies from a blind tasting, does not mean that I am simply a drunk. I am much more complex than that!

So, perhaps if we were to look at ‘Being Visionary’ from a behavioural competence perspective rather than as a description of a personality type, we might be able to uncover what it is, and stand a chance of replicating it…in each and every one of us.

Getting Hold of the Steering Wheel

So what’s it going to take to develop our innate but dormant visionary capability?

Here are five ideas to start with.

1.      Do the Mystery Tour

 If we don’t see it we don’t think about it. It’s a case of ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’.

And if we don’t think about it, we don’t go looking for it. We don’t even know if it’s there.

There is a danger that we might only see what we want to see, but if we don’t look, we won’t see it at all.

So first of all, we have to force ourselves to look. That means opening our minds to what we might discover and not being afraid of the mystery. Then we have to start dreaming a little.

In essence, we all need to become strategic tourists.

The world is a rich and varied place, and there are many lessons to be learned by extending our area of focus.

The most successful companies don’t just duck and dive, careering this way and that to contend with shocks and surprises. They try to reduce the number and scale of surprises.

They create their own future by:

  •  studying the landscape
  • observing the trends
  • remaining alert to subtle but significant patterns of social and commercial behaviour
  • and being prepared to look, even if they might not like what they see.

2.      Look at the Road Ahead 

When you’re driving along the motorway, you don’t fix your gaze on the car bonnet.

You look at the road ahead. This is the only way you can spot the dangers and warning signs in order to take controlled evasive action.

If the future is a road, we need to have a strong sense of where it is going and what’s in the way.

We live in a time where the pace of change is incredibly fast. We’ve come a long way from the Model T Ford.

Today, we are not so much on a country lane as on a four-lane highway, in rush hour, with a contraflow system in place, emergency vehicles blue-lighting us, a spilt load ahead, speed cameras and wild deer crossing.

We’ve got things coming at us from all directions so we need to be alert. We can’t afford to fall asleep at the wheel. We have to expand our field of vision, check our rear-view mirror, look out for road signs, and check our fuel gauge and where we can next fill up. We do this in a car because we don’t want to end up as a crash statistic.

The world of business isn’t so different.

  •  We now live in a truly global economy – with all its threats and fragilities
  • There are new world powers emerging that have the capacity to destabilise current alliances and regimes
  • The world is changing geographically and meteorologically, borders are being redrawn & landscapes reshaped
  • As people, we have different (and some say more demanding) expectations and needs
  • Technological advances mean that we way we do business and communicate with each other is changing

Just as the driver makes use of all available instruments to help navigate this landscape, business leaders need to encourage their people to use the instruments available to them.

One such instrument is a PESTLE analysis. It offers a way of becoming alert to change (real or anticipated). By assessing the world outside from the perspectives of Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological, Legal & Environmental activity across the medium to long term, we can quickly identify changes that have the capacity to affect us.

I would go further by looking at philosophical changes which define the values, morals and ethics by which we feel it appropriate to conduct ourselves universally or nationally. It may have been considered fair-game for bakers to pad out bread with wood chippings in Victorian times, but these practices are frowned upon today. Who knows what we will consider acceptable at some point in the future.

This process clarifies the huge melting pot of change which we need to contend with. All of which, if we see it coming, we can divert, navigate, protect against and turn to our advantage.

A simple PESTLE analysis helps to answer some of those important questions I posed earlier:

  • What are we really here for?
  • Who are our customers?
  • What’s the world like out there?
  • What does it need from us?
  • What are the trends?
  • What’s our future?”

 Teams need to carry out activities like these regularly and together.

3.      Have a Clear Map

There’s the apocryphal story of JFK visiting NASA headquarters in the 1960’s. He stopped to talk to one of the Janitors and when he asked, “What do you do?” the Janitor replied. “I’m helping to put a man on the moon, sir”.

This man understood the context within which he was operating, and the important role he had to play. He knew why he was there and why what he did was so important. He knew where he fitted into the story. What vision. What great sense of purpose.

Companies must make their vision clear to their employees. And employees must be able to see where they fit. Feeling on the map is hugely liberating. Instead of getting bogged down in the mire and minutiae of our daily tasks (which on the face of it can sometimes seem irrelevant and menial), we start to see how our role actually shapes the route. This is what makes work so motivating.

4.      Give Yourself Room to Manoeuvre

Some companies recognise and value the power of visionary behaviour, dreaming, innovation, creativity, & thinking-time.  They prize it so highly that they make space for it within their work schedule.

Nokia offer an example of this. Teams of ‘Nokia-Creatives’ can often be seem wandering the corridors mulling over interesting ideas that might satisfy our ever-growing thirst for mobile technology. Being visionary is actively encouraged, expected and accommodated. Time is set aside for it, and it isn’t regarded as slacking.

Any company can do this. Setting aside dedicated time for these activities and making space to share the ideas and outputs in a genuinely open forum, can only be a positive thing if it is part of a balanced approach to work. We still need to look in the rear-view mirror and check the dashboard, but not at the expense of looking through the windscreen.

One company I work with built what it called a Creative Room. It was a comfortable place for people to go where they could sit, relax, think, discuss, play, dream, ponder and investigate. It was a place requiring no clear agenda other than to consider the future and how we can prepare for it or shape it. It was a space away from the hurly-burly of business-as-usual activities, interruptions and distractions.

But as pressure on office space increased, slowly the Creative Room became just another meeting room and the impetus was lost. These things only work if you are committed to them and prepared to see them through.

Of course, you don’t necessarily need a Creative Room. We can all be more creative and visionary if we are given the permission to be so. It’s often not the space, but the cultural expectation that counts.

5.      Plan Longer Journeys

Visionaries look not just one month or one year ahead, but five or ten years ahead.

Some look 50 or 100+ years ahead.

Their predictive accuracy might diminish the longer the timescale they look at, but they aren’t afraid to look.

And because they believe they can create their own reality, they draw the outline of the future that they then start to paint, even if they will never see the completed canvas.

So we need to look further ahead than we have become used to doing, and not be afraid to start a journey that we won’t be around long enough to complete or get the credit for starting.


Stimulating visionary behaviour means encouraging people to:

  • build plans for the long term, rather than always reacting to the present
  • recognise the context within which they work and the contribution they make to the final outcome
  • consider gradual evolution rather than rapid growth (which invariably stimulates a cycle of boom and bust)
  • keep their eyes open and on the road
  • force themselves to look

These are just some of the things that visionary people and far-sighted companies do.

And I believe that it’s what everyone will do, one day. Because without clear vision we will never see a brighter and better future.

Reforming the Refuseniks

  • Do you have employees whose faces are so long that if they had a goatee beard they’d be able to brush the floor without a stretch?
  • Are you currently in the grip of employees who can’t see the good in anything?
  • Are you being forced to spend your time at work with people who are so grumpy they’d give Victor Meldrew a run for his money?
  • Do you find yourself having to manage the world’s most unhelpful person?
  •  And do you have to suffer the constant whinging, moaning and mocking of employees who don’t support any idea unless it’s their own?

The really sad thing is that we go along with these people. We tolerate the office grouch, we side-line the misery-guts, and we try to avoid the complaining and cantankerous curmudgeon. But we don’t do much to stop them being so damn miserable.

Let’s be clear. I’m not talking about the person who has an occasional off-day. That would be all of us. And I’m not talking about the person who bravely points out that something is amiss. I’m talking about the person who appears to have made sulking their life’s work.

They seem to defy nature, having no positive electrons surging through them at all. They’ve turned being negative into an art-form.

I’ve met people who’ve worked for 30 years with the same company and have never had a good word to say about it. I’ve had to train some of them, but thankfully that brings us into contact for only a few hours. God only knows what it’s like putting up with them for 40 hours a week, every week, for 30 years!

Why have we tolerated it for so long? Why didn’t someone put them out of their misery and show them the door?


Do You Know This Person?

A consultant I know of calls these people ‘psychic vampires’. I really wish I’d thought of that, because it so perfectly describes the way they suck the life-blood out you with their incessant moaning and groaning.

We come into work on a Monday, fresh and excited after a great weekend. We can’t wait to tell some of our colleagues about it. But before we get to them we are confronted by the company complainer.

We spot him coming some way off, loping along the corridor with that hang-dog expression as if someone has just stolen his sweets and then told him he has two months to live.

We want to avoid him but we feel cornered. Turning around and going in the opposite direction would seem rude. Darting into the stair well might result in injury.

So we steer ourselves and offer a cheery “Good morning, Will”

“Is it?” he replies.

And straightaway, our fabulous weekend becomes a distant memory and the long week of work stretches ahead of us like a life sentence…in the company of Whinging Will. We stagger away, heading towards the kitchen hoping to find a sharp knife with which to slit our wrists.

There are lots of Whinging Will’s & Negative Norma’s. They make themselves very noticeable even if they try to hide. And they cast a very big cloud over us.

If your name is Will or Norma, don’t take offence unless this description is true of you. In which case, you should be offended. But you’d be offended anyway, wouldn’t you?

Fortunately for us there are usually many more Motivated Martins, Positive Peggys, Helpful Helens, and Willing Wilmas.

But one Whinging Will can be enough to bring down even the strongest constitution.


Most of us have a human need to fit in, to belong, to be part of a social group.  This shows itself as a tendency to play down to the lowest common denominator among our peers.

If someone is negative, we temper our natural positivity, fearing that it will offend them. If they are being judgemental, we might side-line our forgiving streak.

We adjust ourselves so that we don’t stand out too much: we start to adopt homogenous behaviours.

If we are surrounded by Whinging Will, Negative Norma and Curmudgeonly Curtis, it takes a very self-assured person to continue being upbeat, positive, lively and jolly.

So over time, the mood of the team starts to change. Maybe people huddle in groups and have a quiet moan about Will. They might even have a laugh about him to start with; but gradually it starts to get to them. Gradually they start to behave and feel miserable themselves.

When you know you are going to have to work with these people, possibly for a long time, you have to find a way to make it bearable. One of the ways is to become more like them.

One refusenik is all it takes, and if no-one does anything about it, the refusenik rot spreads.



We know business is tough and work is hard. In lean times we’re always being asked to do more for less. So we’re all stretched and pressurised and probably doing the work of two people. That’s probably the norm these days.

Most people manage this with fortitude and positive commitment; and still find time to bring a smile to work, despite the demands on them.

But some people, irrespective of being under pressure, even during the good times, just can’t find it in themselves to make a positive contribution.

Take a moment to think about the people you have in your organisation.

Do a quick sort and see if you can distribute them roughly into each of the four employee groups described below: A, B, C & D. Base your assessment on the make-up of your company today. In particular, do you have any C’s or D’s?

 A: Willing & Able

B: Willing but Unable

C: Unwilling but Able

D: Unwilling and Unable

You shouldn’t really have anyone in C or D, because this is the home of Whinging Will and Negative Norma. But it’s shocking to discover that many companies have a liberal spread of them.


When these people went through the recruitment process in order to join the company, they probably presented themselves as quite positive and fired up.

They told us what great team players they were and how passionate they were about delivering results. They said they were up for change, highly motivated, great problem solvers and very accommodating.

And we believed them. That’s why we hired them.

The over time, things changed.

For the first week or more, everything went to plan. Then slowly they metamorphosed into this cross between a tantrum-toddler and a hormonal-teenager. They become the Incredible Sulk!

  • Now whenever we ask anything of them, they throw a wobbly. Even if it’s a totally reasonable request.
  •  Now, when we’re trying to improve something, they’re always the ones who say, “It’ll never work!”
  •  Now when we are all trying desperately to rebuild our companies from the ashes of the recession, they are the ones who drag us down.

Let’s look at how C & D people evolve within our companies.

Here’s a typical employee journey that you might recognise.

  1. Join Company (Employee B)
  2. Develop Skills (Employee A)
  3. Experience Change, Difficulty, Lack of Leadership or Stasis (Employee C)
  4. Give Up, Become Obstinate & Obsolete (Employee D)

But this isn’t inevitable. It could look like this:

  1. Join Company (Employee B)
  2. Develop Skills (Employee A)
  3. Role Changes (Employee B)
  4. Develop new skills & become competent (Employee A)
  5. Role Changes (Employee B)
  6. Develop new skills & become competent (Employee A)
  7. etc.

Here, our employee rises to each new challenge and overcomes it. It takes a mix of their own motivation with the right support mechanisms to make it happen this way.

To understand what’s been going on, we have to look at:

  • What turns some people from A or B into C or D? If they started out Willing and added Capability to this, why did they then become Unable and Unwilling?
  • What was the specific trigger that brought about the behaviour change, and could it have been avoided?
  • Are they ill, in which case why didn’t we spot it earlier?
  • Or were they just very clever at disguising their true selves for long enough to secure the role?

It’s bad enough that we might have been complicit in creating the situation in the first place. It’s even worse that we’ve given C’s and D’s unfettered freedom to drain our emotional well-being and productivity by not intervening.



You’ve got to identify whether you’ve got a genuine refusenik on your hands, or someone who is presenting themselves as one for some other reason.

Typically, there are three types of employee who can look very similar. They are:

  1.  The depressed & mentally ill
  2.  The person who has been switched off by what’s happened at work
  3.  The habitual moaner

Confusing these three can be disastrous, and trying to treat all three the same could only succeed in making matters worse.

Whilst the symptoms might present themselves in a similar way, the root cause and development of the symptoms can be different.

1.      Mental Illness or Depression?

Someone who has become mentally ill or depressed will probably have experienced a slow decline. Their behaviour might be erratic (some good days and some bad), and they could have been changing gradually over time.

People with mental illness can continue to function extremely well at work if they are given the right treatment. Offer support and counselling to get them through, use your occupational health services, and point them in the direction of their doctor.

It’s also possible that someone has experienced a fairly traumatic experience which has temporarily knocked them for six. If you know your employees well, it is likely you will be aware of these events. If this is the case, their behaviour might suddenly change. They need a break and understanding. They might need to talk it through. They will need compassion. They won’t need penalising.

2.      Ground Down?

People might have been ground down over the years by things the company or a manager has done to them.

They may have been made ill by the company expecting more, communicating less, failing to consider the impact of decisions on them, ignoring them, piling more and more seemingly useless bureaucratic tasks on them, taking away key resources, replacing good systems with fiendish ones…the list goes on.

This, if unchecked, can lead to serious depression in some people.

But they started out positive and committed, so their behaviour has changed over time, and we should be able to observe this change.

Other people might have a grievance which for various reasons they choose to air by sulking rather than addressing it through the formal or informal grievance procedures. If this is the case, you need to explore their grievance. Many are the result of simple misunderstandings; although some are legitimate complaints that need to be dealt with.

If you let it fester, it will grow out of all proportion over time and the way back may be almost impossible.

If you deal with it, the chances are the employee will become re-motivated. If they don’t, it’s possible you’re dealing with our third type of employee described below.

3.      A Habitual Moaner?

Sometimes people just slip into the role of being a moaner. They might not actually be unhappy. If anything, they probably enjoy behaving the way they do because they invariably get what they want: people leaving them alone; not having to take on accountability or responsibility; rarely being asked to do things. They’re not so much Whinging Will as Whinging Won’t.

They might have been very clever at disguising this behaviour when they came for the job interview, and they disguised it because they knew it was wrong. But it’s now become a habit.

They are not pathologically miserable: it’s just worked for them in the past and they haven’t been given a good enough reason to change.

Other people just develop bad habits from being around the wrong people for too long, or from never having been giving feedback.

They simply need to know what you’ve seen and how you feel about it. In many cases this is enough to correct their behaviour.


I propose three changes you need to make to improve the situation. Collectively they are our reasons to be Cheerful…One, Two, Three.


  1. Be vigilant & respond immediately
  2. Introduce robust recruitment screening methods
  3. Make unconstructive behaviour a gross misconduct offence

 1.      Vigilance & Quick Response

First, understand why someone is behaving the way they are.This will help to determine whether we have a medical case on our hands or simply a grouch.

  •  Keep a watchful eye on events and activities that might bring about a negative change in an employee’s state of mind and well-being.
  • Look closely at what you are doing that might be making people so unhappy that they lose all interest, motivation and commitment to the company.
  • When you are managing any change initiative that will have an impact on an employee, don’t assume that they will just get on with it and cope. Factor them into your equation and be ready to make the necessary support available.
  • Always be on the lookout for sudden changes in mood, but don’t overlook the slow, almost imperceptible decline that can happen with some people.
  • Then, when you spot the change intervene immediately.

Be sensitive in the way you respond, but find out what triggered the change, and let the employee know that you have spotted it.

You may have been partly responsible for the behaviour being demonstrated by the disgruntled employee. Recognise this and accept that you have a responsibility to create the conditions which will allow the employee to make a positive change. They also have a responsibility to respond appropriately.

2.      Recruitment

It’s hard to pretend you are something you’re not for long. You simply can’t keep it up. The mask begins to fade.

There’s a Viagra equivalent available to Whinging Will, but only if he’s seriously depressed (which, as we have shown, should always be considered a possibility).

If he is simply trying to present a more favourable image of himself because he knows that the real Stan wouldn’t get the job, you need to be much more robust in the way you put him through the recruitment process.

Somehow we have to weed out the serial complainers, malingerers and malcontents.

The best option we have is a multi-faceted assessment process like an Assessment Centre. The individual elements are typically insufficient to properly assess what a candidate is really like, but collectively (especially if they follow each other in quick succession) a fuller picture begins to emerge.

It’s surprising how few companies actually use well-constructed Assessment Centres as part of their recruitment process. Deterred by the upfront costs of setting them up, designing and administering them, many simply opt for an interview process supplemented by an almost useless reference check.

So our job applicant simply has to read any one of the hundreds of books with titles like “Perfect Answers to Interview Questions”, “How to Wow them at Your Job Interview”,  “What They Really Want to Hear”, or “Lie Your Way to Success” and then regurgitate any one of the model answers scripted for him/her. It’s relatively easy to fake.

It’s much less easy to fake when they have to carry out a range of tasks over an extended period of time. Sooner or later the veneer will crack and it’s better to see what’s lurking beneath it before you decide to bring them into your company.

3.      Gross Misconduct

 Well it is gross isn’t it? It contaminates the company

But make sure you know what you’re looking for. You don’t want to stop people being constructively critical or challenging because these are vital activities that help teams make well-judged decisions, and deliver innovative solutions.

And you don’t want to penalise people who are feeling a bit down one day.

However, you do want to tackle the serial offenders who get the balance wrong. This is where their behaviour becomes destructive. It’s wrong when someone:

  •  always say “No”
  • always reminds us that “It’ll never work”
  • consistently undermines efforts to make progress
  • never chooses to participate
  • repeatedly bad-mouths the team and the company
  • refuses every request to help
  • constantly attacks positions without putting forward positive and viable alternatives
  • moans incessantly

So you have to define the type of behaviour that you consider unacceptable, in terms that everyone understands, and then communicate it clearly. It’s part of the contract between you the employer and them the employee.

I came across a company in Germany who introduced a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy for moaning and whinging. They just got fed up with a small group of people demoralising the rest of the workforce.

The disciplinary process exists as a vehicle to correct performance and behaviour. But it also provides a route to the door for those employees who refuse to play ball, and who threaten the stability of a company through inappropriate and unwelcome behaviour.


It’s hard to be motivated every day. Sometimes, we don’t like an idea. Occasionally, we are so overwhelmed by work that we feel the need to retreat. These are normal behaviours and we shouldn’t be afraid to show them at work. But the clue is in the word ‘occasionally’.

It’s much easier to handle an employee who has the odd off day because we know that the next day they’ll be back on again. We give them a bit of space, some support and encouragement, and they re-join the fold fairly quickly.

What’s not so easy is living with the knowledge that Whinging Will is going to come in every morning in exactly the same state as the day before. It doesn’t matter whether the workload is heavy or light; or deadlines are loose or tight. He’s simply out of love with the company, his colleagues, and his work.

Having eliminated mental illness as a primary cause, (or diagnosed and arranged for treatment of it); having considered your own role as a primary root cause of the behaviour; and having been clear about the type of behaviour you require as a condition of employment, you simply need to take action whenever you spot a breach.

Don’t be a refusenik yourselves. Respond & reform!


Bad Eggs! Nothing is as bad as it seems…it’s usually worse!

The positive thinking brigade are having a tough time of it lately. Not much to be positive about. Hard to keep the spirits up. But that’s not such a bad thing.

It can be comforting and strangely liberating to think that no matter how bad things seem at the moment, they are probably much worse than we realise.


I’m not advocating mass suicide or global depression to accompany the global recession. I just think that a new kind of caution is required in these heady days; a caution that urges us to assume the worst and plan to avoid it.

It seems to me that there’s so much more to be revealed about what the banks and governments and newspapers have been up to, and yet we seem to be proceeding on the basis that it’s all out in the open now.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist kind of guy: I’m not sure people are always clever enough to dream up complex global conspiracies.


I do think that the mess is akin to a whole load of bad eggs that fell off a lorry and somehow got scrambled on the main carriageway. It’s impossible to separate them out and we are all skidding about in the glutinous albumen.

The thing about bad eggs is that they stink. So maybe we should take our nose pegs off and get the full olfactory experience. Let’s assume that there’s more to come, and that it’s going to get worse. And then we might just start taking things seriously.