Behavior and Brilliant Bastards

Behavior is a funny thing. We usually take it for granted because it seems to be something personal. It seems part of someone’s personality, not to be meddled with. And can we even influence or change it?

But then, on the other hand, it is too important to just let it go. It can be one of the most powerful assets in a company, if the collective behaviors of people work towards a collective ambition and common goals. And if not it can turn into a very destructive instrument.

Another reason why behavior cannot be ignored or in all cases accepted is that there is a clear relation between behavior and Company Culture.  Because of this relation it can influence culture and thereby have an effect on other people’s engagement and performance. This in turn of course has an effect on the chance of implementing your strategy and being successful. A mouthful, of course. But everyone knows this.

Our Qhuba Leadership team had a diner last week and we had asked the twelve participants to do an Erika. Remember Erika? She was the first streaker, throwing off all ballast (more specifically: all her clothes) to focus on her goal (whatever that may have been, probably five minutes of fame).






This was in the eighties so I think she got what she wanted.  The reason I mention her is because of the “Erika Principle”, which might help you focus. It stands for:

  • Erase
  • Reduce
  • Increase
  • Keep
  • Add

So we asked everyone what not to do (or do much less) and what to start doing (or do much more) to implement our Strategy. we expected discussions about focus, markets, services, strategic directions, or activities, but what we noticed was that many of the things people mentioned were behaviors.

The relation between behavior and culture, as mentioned before is a direct one, but not a one-on-one relation. There are many definitions of what a company- or a corporate culture is. They range from “the way we do things around here”, to “the collective attitude of all the people”. I prefer a more specific definition: a Corporate Culture consists of shared ambitions, behaviors, shared values and shared assumptions of all who play a role in the company.

 The tricky thing is that even if some of the ambitions, behaviors, values and assumptions are shared explicitly, a lot remains below the surface. Mental picture: the Iceberg. What is visible is usually in documents that no one reads and in behaviors that everyone sees. That is why I believe that the influence of behaviors is large, which is exactly why as the leader of a company you cannot accept disruptive or destructive behavior and should do everything you can to promote behavior that is in line with your ambitions, values and believes. And sometimes that hurts.

Some people in key positions can be very good at their jobs in the sense that they have all the intellectual capabilities and the experience to succeed, but they can still be unsuccessful and even damaging to the company because of how they behave. We call them Brilliant Jerks. Sorry for the title of this blog, I could not resist the alliteration. Some have limited social skills which might alienate especially those they have a hierarchical relationship with. Even more serious is negativity, sarcasm and disputing as a way of participating in conversations. This behavior is often seen in College fraternities – in fact the Dutch word for Fraternity is Dispuut. It  has no place in a professional environment, though. Still, you will see it everywhere. The colleagues who can not sit and listen to anyone or any presentation without interrupting every few minutes. And when that does not have the desired effect or kickstart a heated argument, they will up the ante and by taking remarks or even words out of context to pin someone down that way.

We do not accept this. Instead we ask them if they are aware they do this, and if they are, why they do it. Explaining how it destroys any exchange of information, as well as cooperation, creative processes and decision-making sometimes helps. If it continues, we confront them, and as a last resort: we remove them.

Of course the best way to influence behavior is by setting the example ourselves,  and expect the same from our (Leadership) team.


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