Leaders need to nip ‘em in the bud

| February 2, 2017

When we see a spot fire we grab some water and put it out, right? We know it could turn ugly pretty quickly and the costs can be immeasurable. Georgia Murch explains why the same goes for having difficult conversations.

How many conversations with people, friends, colleagues and customers become bigger than they need to be because you don’t ‘nip them in the bud’ in the early days? That is, when you first noticed the issue or problem and/or when something felt not quite right.

The scenarios vary widely from observing others speak rudely or aggressively, observing someone arrive too late, a team member missing a deadline, an inappropriate outfit being worn, the second Monday being taken as a ‘sick’ day or your employee cancelling your weekly catch up – and the list goes on.

It can be anything that may seem small, at the time. You might decide it’s not worth worrying about so you let it go because you ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’; or you are too nervous to approach the person as it is only once or twice it has happened; or you deny it will become something bigger; or you just don’t want the conflict. There are plenty of reasons as to why we don’t have the conversations but the point is… we don’t.

There is a downside.

Ignoring these issues can be the difference between a spot fire and a raging bush fire. The longer we leave them the greater the costs to the business and ourselves.

When we see a spot fire we grab some water and put it out, right? We know it could turn ugly pretty quickly and the costs can be immeasurable. This is the same for when we don’t nip those conversations in the bud.

Management Consulting firm McKinsey put out a white paper called ‘Bad to Great: The path to scaling up excellence’. They cited that the most important factor in obtaining leadership excellence was their ability to ‘Nip It In The Bud’. Yep… Number 1! Leaders who are focused on improving behavior improve organisational performance. Eliminating the negative is the first step in the process. Destructive behaviour—selfishness, nastiness, fear, laziness, dishonesty—packs a far bigger wallop than constructive behaviour and it hurts the bottom line.

One of the studies McKinsey cited was Charles O’Reilly and Barton Weitz who observed supervisors in a large retail chain. They focused on how supervisors handled salespeople who were tardy, unhelpful, uncooperative, discourteous to customers, or unproductive. They found that supervisors of the most productive units confronted problems more directly and quickly, issued more warnings, used formal punishments more often, and promptly fired employees when warnings failed. This isn’t an argument for striking fear among employees. The best bosses nip bad behaviours in the bud but treat people with dignity.

To further support this (aside from googling the cost of bad behaviours in the workplace for a plethora of evidence) Andrew Marty from SACS published an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014; ‘Australia’s Productivity Problem Begins with Bad Behaviour’. He discussed the study of over 1000 public and private sector professionals to find a staggering two thirds of employees can be intentionally rude, more than half stole from their employer and three quarters were taking sickies when they were not sick. While a dollar figure hasn’t been placed on it here, in the US it’s estimated that counter-productive work behaviours cost about $4.2 billion each year.

So what we know is that:

  • If you do nothing…. nothing will change
  • It is highly likely that the action will repeat itself or get worse
  • It costs the organisation and the individual avoiding the issue(s)
  • A remarkable conversation is likely to influence

Imagine not having to ruminate on the conversation over and over and over again in your head.  Imagine the sleep you’ll get, the reduced stress and anxiety, the time you’ll have to process other issues and how impressed with yourself you will be once you have done it. Not to mention the improved effects for the business.

So do yourself and your team a favour and put out the spot fire by ‘nipping it in the bud’.