I remember this day clearly. I’d been working at IBM for a few years running the KM practice and I decided I should move into the strategy practice in what was called the Business Consulting Services (BCS). Before this move I had a lot of autonomy: I decided the type of work I’d do; I found my own sales opportunities and created and delivered projects. So I continued in this vane at BCS.
Three months into the new strategy consulting role I was summoned to the partner’s office. As I walked into the room the partner slammed some paper on the table and said, “What in the hell is this?” We was holding a proposal letter I’d written that we’d won and I was now delivering. “How dare you just head write up this business without going through me,” he bellowed. In the end I just stood up and told him I wasn’t going to put with this behaviour and not long after that I left to start Anecdote.
The conversation didn’t need to be held that way. We could have just talked and I would have learned that there is a process I needed to follow. I had no idea, but I should have guessed. It just reinforced in me that I can’t stand bullying behaviour and, quite frankly, managers who are arseholes.
As such at Anecdote we have long held the “no arsehole rule” made famous by the Stanford professor, Bob Sutton. Adopting this rule has resulting in us firing a client and vowing to never work with someone who was a partner.
What amazes me however is just how these workplace arseholes continue to thrive in organisations. One view is that they have to work somewhere but surely we can create working environments that reflect a humane and reasonable work ethic.
I feel this mentoring program we designed and are delivering for a client is helping to increase humanity to the workplace. We’ve taken an informal approach to mentoring and have avoided the arranged marriage approach where someone in HR matches mentors and mentees (we’ve called the mentee the kouhai, a Japanese word with a similar meaning but doesn’t sound like the tasty peppermint Mintie). In fact the informality goes further because we are advocating not even asking someone to be your mentor, which can create a rather awkward moment, rather we want people to just ask colleagues they respect and want a mentoring relationship for their view or guidance on a issue. We are focussing on the verb ‘mentoring’ above the noun, ‘mentor.’
This approach fails however unless the potential mentor is mindful that these approaches will happen and when they do they can switch themselves into mentoring mode. We call this 5-minute mentoring and the mentor knows (because they have experienced a range of stories from their workplace illustrating good mentoring behaviour) that they need to focus on the interests of the kouhai above, say, the interests of the company.
If enough people experience narrative-based mentoring program we believe the behaviour of managers changes and humanity increases. We have seen this happen in our narrative leadership programs with simple behaviour changes such as giving someone your full attention when they enter your office.
Let’s rid our workplace of arsehole behaviour. And the quicker we do it the better we will all be for it.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: