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Adam Searcy

Bob -
Amusing analogy, but nowhere near as far off base as some may believe. Some of my family are dairy farmers and the amount of affection and individual care they offer their herd is astounding. Aside from simply naming each and every cow to give them their personalities the recognition they deserve, there is a connection between the farmer and the cows themselves. Trust me, these animals don’t speak English and frequently do not want to cooperate. Reactions of anger, violence or intimidation often has negative implications throughout the animals lives (weight gain, health, milk production, etc.) and certainly is more likely to be transmitted throughout the herd since they are often housed in close quarters. “I’d say how humans treat the animal is 25 percent of it...” the article reads, and I agree this is not far off. Are we really that different from the “herd” in our office environment? Regularly effected by the aggressive behavior of those around us? Of course not.

So when is it time to “put the bad apple out to pasture?”
Thanks for the refreshing perspective.

Adam

wayne

Sometimes life is a lot less complicated than we think. It may cost more time and energy to find a good candidate, but it is far cheaper to to extend the search than settle on an asshole because the costs are continuous and exponential

Pixie Bee

I agree but only to a point since although we are social creatures, we are not herd animals in the same way that cows are. Cattle, after all, do not have have to deal with the constant competition of individual vs the community or put another way: with special interests (individual) vs group interests (community).

More important to me though is the implication here that our own actions/personality are merely a reflection of those around us. Why would I let a rotten apple be responsible for how I behave or for my happiness? If a team falls apart or functions poorly because one team member is a "rotten apple," this says more about the other team members than it does about the rotten apple . . .do team members have their own personalities or are their individual identities so nebulous that one rotten apple causes problems?

Kenneth Bechtel

Bob,

I can see the parallels of this article with humans. A bad temperament or attitude is certainly contagious. If I or a coworker arrive on the job with a bad attitude it affects everyone around.

Jenn W

I thought the HBR post was great. I have had the entire dynamics of a team downward spiral from one unchecked rotten apple. Gives new perspective on the power of eliminating the negative swiftly and directly.

5 good to 1 bad is a good rule of thumb. It seems like it is easier to nip the negative in the bud, but sometimes as a manager, we are the last ones to hear the negative.

The cow study reminded me of the work of Temple Grand with livestock and her efforts to keep them calm and safe so that they would make it safely to the slaughter. And the "Happy Cows make better cheese" commercials.

Next time I eat a cheeseburger, I'll think of how I can keep my staff happy.

Thomas

"Calm Employees More Valuable"

(I don't know, maybe you'll appreciate this. Filed under humor, afterall.)

Recent research has demonstrated the value of employees with calm temperaments and the price employers pay for keeping wilder people in their jobs.

A five-year Stanford University study found that employees with poor temperaments can affect the entire workplace and reduce employers’ bottom lines.

Bob Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford and a Professor of Organizational Behavior, by courtesy, at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, led the study in a Silicon Valley software company.

“We suggest that employers evaluate their workplaces and the employees they hire,” Sutton said. “You don’t want an employee or manager that’s an asshole, but one that’s a bit more docile. They are going to have less sickness, attract clients better, do better in the office and be more productive for the employer throughout their entire career.”

Sutton said the most applicable findings in his research is to cull employees with poor temperaments out of the workplace.
Researchers measured how a trio of employees behaved while in a 12-by-12-foot cubicle and how a single employee behaved while in a private office similar to those occupied by top executives in the most prestigious firms.

In both cases, the employees’ behavior was measured after they were approached by other people. The research also used laser technology to gauge how fast an employee traveled 6 feet after being released from an office.

For each part of the experiment, the employees were given a score on a 5-point scale. The scale ranged from 1, describing employees as not aggressive, docile, walks slowly, easily approachable and not excited by other people to 5, describing employees as very aggressive, excitable, and out of control—in word, assholes.

The cubicle scores and office scores were nearly identical, and the higher-scoring employees almost always exited the offices at accelerated speeds.

"The cubicle score measures aggressiveness, and the exit velocity measures their flight response: how quickly they want to get away from the situation,” Sutton said. “Basically, the more aggressive they are, the quicker they want to get away from the situation.”

Sutton said anxious, aggressive employees, or those with a pen score of 4 or 5, present a host of problems.

“They become sick more often, have more difficulty attracting clients and damage office equipment. Their rowdy behavior rubs off on employees that would otherwise be perfectly calm,” Sutton said. “Employee behavior even affects human tenderness, as certain hormones such as cortisol and enzymes remain at higher levels in stressed-out employees, possibly toughening the soul. All of these problems directly affect an employer’s profit margins.”

Sutton said the primary factor relating to employee behavior is genetics. If a high-strung manager and a wild employee mate, the result will be a high-tempered child.

But genes do not tell the whole story. Sutton said a child’s mother usually influences its behavior more than the father, since the mother raises the person and provides a constant presence.

However, Sutton said that all employees are susceptible to learned behavior.

“I’d say how other people treat the person is 25 percent of it, followed by 10 percent being the environment,” he said. “The rest would be genetics; however, we are still investigating what makes some people more aggressive than others.”

Steve Jobs, the 2009 California Employer of the Year, owns a company in Cupertino and can attest to these findings from experiences with his own workplace.

“Ill-tempered employees have to get antibiotics more often, and they don’t come up to eat with the rest of the employees and get the proper nutrition,” he said.

Jobs said he once sent several employees to a leadership development seminar in Vegas, including one that was irritable.

“When I sent the employees, there was no more than a 5-customer difference between each of them,” Jobs said. “However, when the people returned, the ill-behaved asshole had lost three, while all the others immediately found another 5.”

According to the study, which was published in the Administrative Science Quarterly, employees with high cubicle scores typically incurred higher medical expenses than lower-scoring employees.

In addition, ill-tempered employees typically bring thousands of dollars less per customer than calmer people, Sutton said. An aggressive employee, with twelve clients may net $480,000 less than his non-aggressive counterpart. However, high scorers usually won’t even reach that amount since they have trouble attracting clients.

davidburkus

Odd. Yet interesting. Are herds with a rotten apple more likely to have a heart attack? : )

Thomas

I know this is a knee-jerk (!) reaction but isn't it just plain unworkable to learn (and especially teach) anything about human behavior from the behavior of, specifically, cows? I'm not questioning the science of it, just pointing out the impossible rhetoric:

"Calm Employees Are More Valuable: How to Make Your Office More Like a Paddock"??? Who would want to work in a place that even considers, even tongue-in-cheek, the comparison? Herds of bison, maybe we would listen. Pack of wolves, hell yes! But cows? Please!

Of course, the disturbing thing is that the science is precisely not far off the mark. Human happiness and bovine happinness are increasingly comparable as life (for both cows and people) becomes increasingly "corporate".

Pausing now for thought.

Brandon Jones

Bob,
This is very interesting. Although the excitable people are sometimes necessary to get things moving, the calm people in the world help to maintain the stability. Thanks, Brandon

BryanB

Interesting. At the very least I would think bad apples cause anxiety in other "teammates" as they have to work around them. More likely, they are directly impacted by interaction with that person/cow.

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