The odds are pretty good that you'll work in a passive-aggressive culture at some point in your career. In 2004 the landmark study (PDF) conducted by Booz & Co. indicated that 30 percent of the managers, employees and executives surveyed believed they worked in unhealthy, passive-aggressive organizations.
Would it surprise anyone if these numbers weren't substantially higher given the Great Recession and workplace dynamics now associated with it?
I've experienced passive-aggressive behavior in corporate settings, but it's an entirely different experience depending on your view of the playing field: employee, supply partner or consultant.
One of my first consulting engagements over a decade ago was leading an "orphaned" team whose leader had bailed four months previously, delaying the launch of their product.
At first blush, team members looked to be one big, happy family. No one disagreed during meetings and members never directly discussed concerns or asserted their needs. Instead, they would come at you from behind or attack in pairs like nimble Velociraptors. If I asked the right question in just the right way (and the stars were aligned), I would get the needed answer, but never from the person who I had asked the question!
One team member divulged the family secret: members were betting how long I would last (I was the third "turnaround consultant" in less than two months.)
Although we successfully launched the product, I'll always remember what the company was leaving on the table by embedding this passive-aggressive behavior into its culture. It doesn't take a math wizard to see how this experience multiplied hundreds of times could negatively impact the business.
Robert Brands and I were discussing his soon-to-be-released book Robert's Rules of Innovation (Wiley, March 2010) and got to chatting about how exponential growth for companies must come from introducing innovative products and services, not cutting spending to the bone or acquiring start-ups as the sole source of innovation.
Corporations need their entire workforce to innovate and not only their R&D, New Product Development teams, or special assignment "innovation pods".
The elephant in the room? Innovation and passive-aggressive behavior don't mesh.
Of course, the process for changing a culture begins by knowing where your organization is in its stage of evolution. Booz & Co. offers a simple online DNA Profiler to get you started.
The Musical Chairs DilemmaThousands upon thousands of unemployed people in the U.S. alone include those who learned how to survive and thrive in passive-aggressive environments. Government, academia and private industry need to partner in retraining people to innovate in healthy environments, otherwise we're just changing the sheet music and slapping a coat of paint on the chairs.
We need gutsy leaders who "get it" and who know how to build effective partnerships both within their organizations and beyond its walls in order to drive deep cultural shifts.
[Are you a leader who's raising the bar in changing your organizational culture? Contact me if you're interested in a guest slot for an upcoming radio segment here.]
The ability to innovate is a career differentiator. Professionals have a chance to rebuild and reinvent on a more solid foundation. Step back and assess your own behavior for signs of "PA creep" and take proactive steps to learn new ways of doing business.
Let's make healthy workplace behavior a required "soft" skill for the new world of work!