A cardinal rule in the CEO peer group I facilitate is that you get what you tolerate…in your organization, in your relationships, and in your life. We have a Rule of Three in the group. You get to complain about a situation or a person three times. If, by the third time you raise an issue, you have not taken significant action, you are no longer allowed to talk about it.
When, for example, someone is complaining about the lack of quality in his or her staff, two questions are always asked: 1) who was responsible for hiring mediocrity? and 2) how long are you going to tolerate it?
In 15 years of working with well-intentioned yet dysfunctional teams, the primary source of the dysfunction seems to be the willingness of organizations to tolerate horrendous behavior. When I was leading a major turnaround in Germany, there was an expression that I heard almost daily. Das ist einfach so wie ich bin. (That’s just the way I am.)
Within the leadership team, we had several discussions about this. My German colleagues didn’t see this as a problem. This seemed, in the prevailing company culture, to be a perfectly acceptable explanation for totally aberrant behavior. It was not, however, acceptable (read tolerable) to me. My standard reply became: Sie können auf diese Weise, wohin Sie wollen, außer hier. (You can be that way anywhere you want, except here.)
It took some time, of course, for people to realize that I was serious. A few people ultimately had to go. The beauty, though, was that we gradually created a culture of respect and acceptance that did not permit disruptive behavior.
A study of nearly 400 companies in turnaround situations over a period of 18 years found that, on average, there was a predictable distribution of the workforce:
A–Players – capable of unsupervised activity, self-disciplined, productive — 12%
B-Players – aspiring to become A-Players, contributors — 15%
C-Players – show up, get some things done, go home– 48%
D-Players – actively subtract from the energy of the organization, corporate vampires — 25%
The D-Players show up in many forms. At times they are high producers in one specific area, yet disrupt those around them to such an extent that they are a net negative force. We see many of these in sales and, in high-tech companies, in programming. Frequently, D-Players are simply negative. They often have been wounded at a deep level in some other organization. That is not our fault, and often cannot be corrected.
In working with leadership teams, ExecuVision asks two related questions: What percentage of your time is dedicated to cleaning up the messes your D-Players create? The first answer from the team usually starts at 10-15%. As they discuss the topic and start to get real, it usually increases to 25-40%.
The second, more important, question is what percentage of your energy goes to dealing with your D-Players and the situations they create? This answer is usually accompanied with deep sighs, uncomfortable coughs, and an admission of anywhere from 40-70%!
So ask yourself and your team these questions: What negative behaviors are we tolerating? What would the return on investment be if each of us had 40% more time and 70% more energy? We have created this culture. What part of it are we no longer willing to tolerate?