4 Types of Organizational Cancer
I’m a cancer survivor. Not the kind of biological cancer that took my mother and some of my friends, but the evil and malicious cancer that mutates and destroys the people and performance within an organization. I’ve learned through my personal battles with “org-cancer” that you have to act quickly and decisively to excise these “org-tumors” the minute they are detected. Early detection and treatment are the only way to keep these beasts from destroying your organization, your product and your company. Here are the four most common types we find in our practice:
The Information Hoarder – This nasty cancerous employee believes that information is power; the more he has relative to everyone else, the more powerful he is. These cancers don’t like to share information unless it makes them look good. Information that makes them look bad gets secreted away, allowing problems to fester and destroy your product or customer relations. This employee will provide or expose information only when it meets his or her own needs. This is an engineer who might not want to share knowledge about a codebase, an executive who only shares metrics that show stellar results and hides those that show problems, or a sales person who refuses to share how he or she has been so successful. Solution: Remove this cancer before it grows. Do not promote this individual and do not allow others in the organization to believe this behavior is acceptable. As a CEO, this cancer is very dangerous for a board of directors.
The Bragging Hero – As Fish has written before, you should be creating a culture that embraces those who keep problems from becoming crises. That said, nearly every business has a crisis from time to time and typically there are a number of heroes who help solve them. You want the type of hero who corrects a situation and moves on without fanfare. Be wary of the hero who repeatedly trumpets his or her accomplishments. Often this person can be seen hanging around the Information Hoarders and sometimes they are the same person; an information hoarder who brags about his or her heroic accomplishments. Solution: Sometimes this cancer can be “treated”. Explain the need to reduce self publicity and if you are unsuccessful, excise.
The Gossiper – With all the talk about how much time a company should spend on new products vs maintaining old products, who has the time to invest in morale destroying gossip? Time spent gossiping by definition steals away from both new product or maintenance time. This cancer often greets people with “Did you hear about John’s affair?” or “Have you heard about Jeanette’s new boyfriend?” Let’s be honest – most of us indulge in this behavior from time to time – but I’ve seen people spend an hour plus a day discussing the latest gossip. You can spot this person because they think they know something about everyone and they aren’t afraid to share it. Baseless, third hand rumors can destroy the lives of good employees. This type of cancer shows up in more extroverted professions like project management. Solution: You can try to treat this cancer by explaining the effects of their actions on the lives of others. Most likely you will be unsuccessful and you will need to excise the mass.
The Passive Aggressive Seditionist – This is the cancer upon which the phrase “grin-f&#$er” was based. This person will say “yes” and make you believe he or she is on your side and “fighting the good fight” all while spreading rumors about you and maybe even making up some stories of his or her own. They are often seen in the company of Gossipers and sometimes will be the rare but extremely deadly combination of Passive Aggressive Gossiping Seditionist. Whether of the merged mutant variety or the base type, there is no treating this cancer. It must be irradiated, chemo’d and excised with extreme urgency.
Make no mistake about it, you have no obligation to continue to employ these mutated employees. Very often these employees get a lot done, but as we’ve explained in the past it is critically important to evaluate both behaviors AND performance when building a culture of excellence. “Treating” (counseling) or removing them is the right thing to do, and you can never act too quickly.