In looking through the blog choices for this week, the Work Matters blog stood out to me. I’ve worked since I legally could (and the typical babysitting prior to that) so work for me has always mattered. In clicking this link, I found Bob Sutton’s writing engaging and also gives the reader a bit of a chuckle. His style of writing is almost pointing out the common sense in things, yet somehow these topics might not necessarily seem obvious. His blogging is pretty addictive; I’ve read about five in a row now.
He has covered an array of topics but a similar theme I found is separating the good from the bad. In the blog posting I’m focusing on for this week, Sutton is arguing Bad is Stronger than Good . What I find interesting is he describes the first order of business is to actually eliminate the negative in a working environment prior to even thinking of acknowledging the positive. In bosses providing positive reinforcement and career development for individuals, this seems to create a more productive environment. While bringing in great people and rewarding their efforts is beneficial, Sutton feels ‘bad apples’ will undermine this culture. To make his point that “overwhelming strong bad stuff with lots of weak good stuff,” he refers to the consistency throughout the studies presented in “Bad is Stronger Than Good,” (2001) by Roy Baumeister and three other colleagues. In looking into other research, I came across a sociological experiment demonstrating the effect of bad apples on other people’s behavior. This experiment was conducted by Dr. Will Felps, a Professor in the Department of Organisation and Personnel Management at Rotterdam School of Managemen College. Students were placed into small groups with one member being an actor, playing the bad apple. What they found is the bad apple’s behavior dictated how the group dynamic worked as well as the outcome of their efforts, concluding “It all comes down to what your worst team member is like.” At the end of this article it mentioned that Felps was cited in “The Boss as Human Shield” from the September 2010 Harvard Business Review. Why do I find this interesting? It was Bob Sutton who cited him!
Back to Sutton’s blog post: he proceeds to include excerpts from the study. A point he touches on that relates to my own experiences is removing people. I was included on a large project which many cross-functional partners were involved. The project manager, who is to oversee the operation and make sure things are flowing through the process, is what I would describe at bad apple. In this case I was a co-op, torn between whether I should keep my mouth shut since I was the lowest at the totem pole, or should I express my feelings because things just didn’t seem right. Ultimately, this person was taken off the project and replaced. Things were much smoother with the new project manager, allowing me to see both sides of how the process could be run. Stress levels were down and we plowed forward with our objective. This example I have gone through aligns with Sutton’s solution of dealing with bad behavior and removing people if necessary. By eliminating the bad, you leave the good to prosper.
Bob Sutton is a unique man himself. His writings, as I mentioned in the beginning of my post, are most entertaining in that he ‘tells it like it is’ and doesn’t sugarcoat. He is well known for his book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. The topic of eliminating bad apples is touched upon in his book, as he discusses the damage done. Let’s face it, in college classes we have tons of group work. These groups aren’t always ideal, but they are in attempt for the ‘real world.’ The majority of jobs available include group work, discussions, decisions, and so on. We will deal with an array of different working styles and need to be prepared to adjust and adapt to get the job done, with or without ‘bad apples’ present. The perspective Sutton presents on how ‘bad apples’ negatively effect group performance is worth taking into account. The introduction to this book is available on Amazon; I highly suggest reading it.