A healthy company and organization are like a well-functioning, healthy body where the organs work closely together to continuously repair things if something is off balance.
In this type of company the passionate employees who work side by side to achieve the corporate objectives are acknowledged, promoted and recognized as role models.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are the unhealthy companies and organizations. They can be compared to an unhealthy body where the organs switch off and don’t work well together, where injuries become wounds that cannot be healed in time.
When employees are recognized in an unhealthy organization, it is often those who advance by shouting loudest and pointing out areas for improvement. They point out their colleagues’ and other departments’ shortcomings, and they gain attention, fear and respect at the expense of others.
During my career I have unfortunately seen many examples of the latter types of promotions. Recently, I heard of yet another person who by discrediting others and pointing to the shortcomings of colleagues had gained so much attention that they were promoted to the top management team. People I respect deeply for their professionalism couldn’t explain how this could happen, because after so many years they still hadn’t seen any proof of this person’s abilities and therefore didn’t know how he/she contributed to the company.
These kinds of people are phoney and dangerous. They are dangerous because their methods of self-promotion are at the expense of others, which makes us push healthy boundaries towards the unhealthy. They make us listen intensely, they are persuasive, they occupy a spot even though they don’t have one and they often become popular when an organization, top management or another decision-maker is in a weak position.
I think everyone knows one or several people who are phoney – I certainly do. And for the most part I don’t find the acquaintance good, constructive or rewarding. If anything it’s destructive, both professionally and personally, and intimidating so everyone is afraid of speaking up, and thus the phoney individual is applauded and richly rewarded.
A couple of years ago, I made the big mistake of hiring such an individual. There were many people involved in the hiring process who were captivated by the person, but it was my signature on the contract and therefore my responsibility. It turned out that the new employee managed through fear and by forming alliances with individual people. The person would for example tell employee A that employee B had spoken ill of them. Thereafter they told someone else that employee C had spoken ill of that person, etc. Consequently, a lack of trust formed and people were no longer honest with each other. This caused them one by one to end up in an insecure situation, which they didn’t dare to do anything about. I became suspicious and from the distance I felt that something was wrong. It was somehow easier to look from the outside in and see that something was wrong while close to impossible for the people who were part of the daily manipulation to tell right from wrong.
The phoney individual whose employment I had played a part in was therefore laid off, but the damages and the means used to promote his/her own interests were surprisingly more comprehensive than anyone could have imagined. The short employment had personal consequences for the employees of that individual as they had been harassed, played off against one another and their believe in themselves and their own abilities had been damaged.
As soon as you notice a culture of fear in the making, a culture where an employee is not what the person seems and without real value to the company, everyone has a responsibility to raise the alarm, stand together and stay on the right path. If you keep quiet too long, you become speechless and your conduct becomes a top-down dictate. And in those kinds of cultures opinions, innovation, trust, community, and long-term durability are gradually eliminated.
Founder of the Global Voices project. Belongingness officer and an experienced People Executive.