How to deal with “toxic gamers” before they ruin your business

Imagine the scene. It’s Christmas in an M&S warehouse. A group of graduates have just been hired to help with the seasonal rush.

The Warehouse Manager brings together all these enthusiastic young people. And that’s what he says. ” Very well. If you work too hard, you are going to be fired. I don’t want any of you showing the rest of my staff who work here all year. I am not joking.

One of those enthusiastic new graduates was me and the Director’s words have stuck in my mind ever since. This guy worked for a branch that made the best part of £ 100million a year. He had risen within the organization despite his negativity and bad attitude. And he was a classic example of a cultural bad fit. He was a “Toxic A-Player”.

What is a “toxic gamer”?

Using Brad Smart’s terminology of Topgrading, an A-Player is the top 10% of talent available for a given job, salary, and location. You can work on your A-Players by creation of job evaluation sheets for all your employees as part of a talent assessment. Most of the time, you enthusiastically rehire those top performers, but occasionally you might have someone who is great at their job but is out of step with it. your values. These are the people who can be toxic.

Toxic Aces often have high levels of social value but are negative, creating an orbit of desperation around them. They might be a senior network engineer with no emotional intelligence, but because they have specific knowledge, they are tolerated and praised for their accomplishments. Or they hit their sales targets but are horrible to everyone. Whatever they are, they can be very destructive.

The dangers of looking elsewhere

Too often, senior leaders will hesitate to face these bad apples. Perhaps because there is a misconception that they are irreplaceable. Because there is no cultural framework in the company, their bad behavior is tolerated. Remember that your culture will always be dictated by the worst behavior you are willing to tolerate.

If these bad behaviors are allowed to continue, they tell other staff members that they can behave this way. Myths can be built around these toxic A-Players. Do they have incriminating evidence about the CEO? Why do they have the right to get out of this?

Impact of negativity on team performance

I have already written about negativity bias. Unfortunately, the human brain is programmed to react more strongly when people say or do negative things. In fact, negative behavior is 4 to 5 times more powerful than positive. Keep this in mind when determining what to do with your Toxic A-Player.

Will Felps, a researcher at the University of Washington, conducted a sociological experiment to study the effects of negativity on team behavior. He took groups of four students and organized them into teams. Each had to compete with the other to solve management problems and were rewarded with a cash prize. Unbeknownst to them, Felps has implanted an actor in some of the teams to play the three personality types that tend to cause major problems:

  1. The depressive pessimist – always complaining that the task they are doing is not pleasant and making statements questioning the group’s ability to succeed.
  2. the jerk – saying that other people’s ideas are garbage, but offering no alternative.
  3. The slacker – which says “whatever” and “I really don’t care”.

Felps had assumed that the team would have the ability to overcome the bad apple. In fact, he found the opposite. All the teams with a bad apple did 30-40% worse than those without. Their ability to get along, share the work and collaborate has fallen like a stone. Worse yet, the groups with the negative team member started to adopt their behavior. The actor was the biggest predictor of the team’s performance. There’s some truth to this age-old cliché: One bad apple can really ruin the whole barrel.

Dealing with bad behavior

This is the perfect time to face and dealing with toxic staff in your organization. We are rushing towards 2022 at breakneck speed, so act now. Evaluate all of your employees against the following criteria:

Ask yourself if you would enthusiastically rehire each of these people? If not, now plan how you are going to deal with your toxic C players and your toxic A players. Don’t wear them until next year. Netflix calls this the “Guardian’s Test”. If they quit, would you fight to keep them?

It is vital to confront negative behaviors, discuss them and ask them to stop. Sit him in a room and make it clear that you are not going to put up with his negativity or bad attitude anymore. As mentioned earlier, be really specific. Check that it is not your compensation system that is causing the toxic behavior. If so, correct it. Then give your Toxic A-Player an option to switch. If they can’t, even though you think they’re going to be difficult to replace, they have to go. You will not be able to drive the cultural change you need if there is a boat anchor lying on the bottom.

This sends a clear message to other staff and ensures that the “fence keepers” get away from the fence. Every time I get rid of a Toxic A, the whole organization heaves a sigh of relief, if not doing a little victory dance. It is obvious to everyone. Suddenly the tension drops from the business and you start moving again. People say, “I can’t believe you didn’t get rid of that jerk quicker.”

Identify great managers

There was a silver lining in Felps’ social experience that I mentioned earlier. One of the teams with a bad apple performed surprisingly well due to good leadership. We know from Gallup research that 85% of staff engagement is motivated by an employee’s interactions with their manager. So, clarify who these great managers are that can help you correct negative sprites.

Our recommendation here is always Friday pulse. It’s the best way to harness team happiness week after week. Indeed, you can stack the ranking of your managers thanks to this tool which will quickly reveal the identity of your best managers.

This, combined with a regular talent assessment (every 90 days minimum) will tell you everything you need to know about the nature of your workforce dynamics. It will also serve as an early warning system if things go wrong due to the behavior of a few toxic staff members.

Use your core values ​​to create new vocabulary

Your core values ​​are bollox if you don’t use them to hire, fire, and promote. They should help you fully understand the behaviors you want to see in each of your employees. If these aren’t obvious, you won’t have any mechanism for sensitive conversations. And by tolerating them before, you allowed these toxic employee behaviors to take hold. The implication is that this behavior is ok. If you’re not careful, it becomes the norm and worst of all, your entire business will know it.

Present a behavioral framework and you will start to struggle against it. This will give you and your managers a new vocabulary for speaking out against negative and destructive behavior and will allow you to be clear that it will no longer be tolerated.

If this framework has been properly communicated, toxic employees will know they are causing a problem. Managers can be very specific in their performance-based discussions, relating to core values ​​and indicating exactly when they have observed negative behavior. Then, they can set specific time frames to review and revisit until they are satisfied the issue is resolved.


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