We were working with a group of participants recently on a development programme and we started by asking them about the people challenges they were dealing with. Some of the usual issues you might expect came out of this conversation, things like – bad attitudes, people not taking responsibility, people struggling to accept change etc… However at one point one person, let’s call him Frank, came up with a new one on us, which we thought was very descriptive. He said: ‘my people challenge is the dinosaurs rule!’
Frank then went on to explain that he was fairly new to the department he was working in, but had quickly noticed that the long standing employees held all the power and were a driving force in how things got done. Not an issue in itself, but the real problem was the way they behaved, as at times it was completely inappropriate, with remarks been made that could offend other people working in the same area or refusing to accept new ways of working, creating a real them and us situation between the management and the employees. Once Frank had told us all this, he then admitted that these ‘Dinosaurs’ were able to influence most of the people in the department and the managers, including himself, were fearful of tackling them because of their levels of experience and knowledge, believing that quite simply the department wouldn’t be able to function without them.
However by the end of the programme we were delivering, Frank knew something needed to be done about the situation, as the department morale was at rock bottom and their productivity was in freefall. He’d had the realisation, that even though the ‘Dinosaur’s’ experience and knowledge was important, it didn’t outweigh the destructive nature of their behaviour. The exact phrase he used was: ‘actually it’s not a case of we can’t afford to tackle them, the reverse is true, we can’t afford to let them carry on; it’s not fair on the rest of the team’.
Frank’s story reminded us both of times when we have also either had to manage or be in a team with this type of individual. His description of them as ‘Dinosaurs’ really resonated with us, as they will often demonstrate many of the same characteristics, namely scary, strong, powerful, aggressive and vicious when challenged etc. Unfortunately you can find them in most organisations; very often they are the star performer in terms of results, but are nightmare to deal with and have a terrible attitude.
Have you ever come across one?
What typically happens is the ‘Dinosaurs’ are treated with kid gloves so as not to upset them in fear they will stop delivering the results, just as in Frank’s department. Perhaps even more worryingly, they are usually held up as examples for others to follow and receive the highest rewards for their performance. What sort of message does that send to everyone else? We might just as well say to people – act aggressively, show little or no regard for your colleagues and do whatever it takes to win and we’ll reward you well.
What many leaders fail to realise, or don’t want to deal with, is in fact the ‘Dinosaur’s’ behaviour and attitude are having a huge negative impact on everybody else’s results, not to mention their credibility as a leader!
Often they openly break all the team’s ‘behavioural expectations’ and then consciously or unconsciously dare the leader to challenge them on it. At the same time they create a climate of fear, mistrust and unhealthy competition in the team, with others tip toeing around them for fear of upsetting them. Eventually team members lose faith in the leader for not dealing with these people or worse still start to adopt the same behaviour themselves.
We hear so many leaders say “But in the real world I need to get the results, I can’t risk it”. But just as Frank came to realise, it’s actually more of a risk if you don’t deal with it.
Take it from us, with first-hand experience, when you have the courage to tackle the ‘Dinosaur’, the increase in performance of the whole team will more than make up for the loss of one individual.
It might just be worth taking a moment to step back and consider if the ‘Dinosaurs Rule’ in your team. Is their behaviour being encouraged and rewarded and what impact might they be having.
If you continue to ignore it, take it from us it will only get worse…..
Til next time
Martin & Elizabeth