How to ID and Deal with Jerks in the Workplace

Viral Wannabe? Here’s How and Why Things Catch on

Why do some ideas, products, brands and people “go viral,” attracting attention and gaining pop culture status while others don’t?

In his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, examines the science of popularity and attempts to explain why things catch on. According to Berger, one element of popularity is “social currency;” People want to know about cool things, and they want others to know they know.

Another key to contagion, Berger says, is emotion; whether it’s positive or negative, any high-arousal emotion will drive people to talk and share. Highly visual content also tends to spread. In our celebrity culture, content often goes viral because a celeb uses it, wears it, mentions it or endorses it. “He says/she says” stories also play well. And while person-to-person contact works, social media has accelerated and expanded the spread of information. For viral wannabes, here are a few tips for making it happen:

  • Focus on current issues
  • Be visual; post videos and photos
  • Stay in touch with cool trends
  • Provide value by offering information, instructional content, advice or even warnings
  • Post content on more than one site
  • Use keywords and tags so your content is near the top of search results
  • Be shocking. If you don’t mind being ridiculed, criticized or even slammed, you can attract attention by taking an outrageous stand or addressing a controversial issue.

Innovation is the Key to Our New Manufacturing Economy

The North American manufacturing sector – until recently considered anachronistic and irretrievable – has made some sea changes; no longer is manufacturing an assembly-line process where thousands of people perform repetitive, low-skilled jobs.

Now, we have the new manufacturing economy (NME), which involves information-rich processes that are enabled by digital technologies, advanced systems and a knowledgeable workforce. And it just may be driving our economy.

Advanced manufacturing calls for continuous innovation, investment and modernization in all areas, including workforce development, automation and supply chain management. In view of this, some NME companies have sought to achieve a competitive advantage by locating their manufacturing plants near their R&D facilities in order to facilitate the free flow of information between employees in various design, development and production functions.

Rather than designing products in one location and then outsourcing manufacturing to distant, low-wage countries, these firms put thinkers and makers together so that ideas can flow naturally back and forth. As workers meet, network and exchange ideas, solutions and further innovations emerge.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the strategy is sound, especially for companies with early life-cycle products and those that make complicated or advanced goods. The approach appears to have greatest potential in industries such as alternative energy, software development, biotechnology and pharma.

Many NME companies are niche businesses with specialized product lines and fairly limited markets. These firms stay on top by keeping their product pipelines fresh and relevant.

Such firms are totally in sync with the NME philosophy. For them, continuous innovation is critical.

How to ID and Deal with Jerks in the Workplace

We all know them: Employees who make life miserable for their colleagues – an organization’s adult bullies.

It’s a fact that one workplace “jerk” can wreak havoc on morale and generate employment claims that can cost thousands to defend. This jerk and his or her wingmen can also bring a regulatory scrutiny you’d prefer to avoid.

One study published in McKinsey Quarterly found that one particular workplace jerk -unfortunately, the company’s star salesperson – cost his organization more than $150,000 in one year in terms of legal costs, anger management programs, overtime and burned-out assistants, thanks to his toxic tactics. Was he worth it? And are you prepared to expose your organization to that kind of loss?

Studies show that intimidation, verbal abuse and bullying are increasing in the American work force. Partly driven by increased recognition of the problem, and possibly by increased regulatory pressure, some companies are starting to consider the TJC (Total Cost of Jerks, as described in the McKinsey Quarterly) in the work force.

These companies are listening to a host of voices – consumers, regulators, academics and the media – telling them that they need to do something about the proliferation of bullies in the work environment.

Robert Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering in Stanford University’s School of Engineering, authored a bestseller that took readers through the steps required to quantify the cost of jerks, and eliminate them. Sutton lists the “dirty dozen” top actions by those who use organizational power against weaker coworkers or subordinates. Here are some of the top jerky behaviors:

  • Throwing tantrums and yelling.
  • Publicly disparaging employees.
  • Physically intimidating employees by invading their personal space, throwing items or hitting inanimate objects.
  • Making demeaning and denigrating comments.
  • Staring, glaring, or other inappropriate behavior.

If you want to prevent jerks from damaging your carefully nurtured work environment, here are some steps you can take, as recommended by the experts:

  • Develop a policy that institutes a “no-jerk” rule.
  • Consider a zero-tolerance policy so that offenders get one chance to change their ways, or they’re shown the door.
  • Nip jerky behavior in the bud. By delaying dealing with bad behavior, you’re making it more difficult to confront, thus causing more collateral damage to your organization and other employees.
  • Institute 360-degree performance reviews where employees are encouraged to honestly assess their bosses and coworkers.
  • When there are serious conflicts, assign employees to new supervisors as appropriate. But beware of transferring subordinates, because Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigators may perceive this as an adverse employment action.
  • Institute an exit interview that is meaningful and take action when exiting employees report problems.

It’s not just workers who are directly affected by jerky behavior; studies show that employees who merely witness the behavior are also deeply troubled. And eliminating toxic employees can improve more than morale. After all, if an employee treats coworkers badly, how is he or she treating your customers?