Management Can or Management Ban! A reflection of thoughts on bullying and control tactics in organizations

23 Jun

The world is getting more complex and technological change is continually increasing at pace. We also live in an age of unprecedented events. For organizations to continue to compete and differentiate on products, services, capabilities etc they must become highly resilient and reliable in all facets of their business. It takes significant effort and great accomplishment to drive and sustain business growth; we need to consider the type of events which could occur that could have a detrimental and negating impact on our organizations sustainability and survival. One of the least talked about issues for organizations is the event of bullying and/or actor control which impacts on the culture of an organization and costs organizations in terms of de-motivated employees, employee turnover, recruitment costs and so on. White collar bullying/control continues to happen with subsequent negating impact on the organization, and those that carry it out would be the first in line for answers, if their kids were being bullied in school. When organizations experience events that are potentially harmful to the organization, they owe it to their fellow competitors, partners and customers, to share those experiences and to discuss those challenges so that all organizations can increase their resilience by instituting measures to reduce the likelihood of these events – then organizations can continue to compete on what really matters.

Organizations believe they are fully equipped to deal with bullying and control tactics that exist within their organizations – events that are at risk of jeopardizing the entire culture of the organization and the alignment of people dynamics that is expected and required to deliver differentiated capability. Some organizations may be better than others, but it is doubtful if any of them possess true resiliency against bullying/control tactics. Most organizations employ a mix of bullying guidelines, standard procedures, direct reporting to HR/Management and/or ethics committee’s with lots of subjectivity and desire for proof of actions to exist before they can do anything about the issues. At this point, it’s all too late and the damage is done. These measures are just not enough – why? The single biggest risk to every organization exists where there is opportunity for human decisions or actions to be performed less than adequately by actors within an organization and which can have an adverse effect on the organization. Organizations need to get creative and look at the scenario’s which could lead to organizational violence or worse. These are low probability, high risk events that can lead to the destruction of any company.

The following article written by an MBA graduate has pulled information from some of the better resources on corporate bullying and provides a succinct review of the types of behavior and types of actors who execute bullying and control events. It is a must read.

There is a generic set of guidelines which organizations should pursue (and some do not) to protect and improve their resilience against control/bullying events. The measures represent examples of action that are needed to reduce the uncertainty that is brought about by bullying/controlling activity in organizations.

These include,

  • Observing, identifying, detecting and monitoring for weak signals that indicate an issue (instilling mindfulness in the culture so that if an issue does exist, it can be reported without reprimand).
  • Related to above – the first point of mindfulness and first step in keeping your organization bully free is during the interview process. If those doing the interviews are bullies, then other measures we discuss will be required to reduce biased hiring decisions.
  • Build capability to cope with each “imagined” or “realized” bullying/control scenarios
  • Promote transparency to issues and open communication without fear of reprisal.
  • Educate staff with respect to policies and expectations and provide them with the necessary resources to act.
  • Establish resource buffers that act as replacement contingency to protect and enforce containment measures against the occurrence of such events.
  • Ethics committees should be more proactive in addressing such issues and responses such as “we cannot do anything for you, unless you can prove it” are weak signals to employees that suggest the organization is not interested in addressing your concerns. Ethics committees should jump on issues (more examples below) and act as intermediaries as a means of establishing a path to resolution for the issues.
  • HR/Ethics Case Dashboard – dashboard presents status of all HR and Ethics related cases which are visible to CEO and sub-teams and which are monitored and updated. Who owns responsibility when it comes to such issues? HR and Ethics own first line of responsibility and should treat all cases as potentially bigger issues. If HR or Ethics are not deemed to be acting responsibly to protect the operations of the organization, then that responsibility should go direct to the CEO.
  • Extreme: Empower target employees to act against bullying
  • Victims of bullying should never assume that when the issue is reported to local HR representatives or local managers that the problem is being dealt with properly. Having transparency to the actors that are involved in attempting to resolve your issues and the efforts that are being undertaken should be documented, tracked against a path to resolution. Independent committees outside of the local environment should be handling the case.
  • Some organizations document the legal rights of individuals against bullying events etc and will even refer those employees to the correct bodies responsible for governance and guidance. Why do organizations do this? It almost assumes that the organization prefers for an employee to pursue legal responses to bullying events – why do some organizations not adopt a compensation scheme that rewards employees for identifying and reporting undesired behavior within the organization before it gets out of hand and very expensive.
  • Teaching seminars with employees that discuss and brainstorm against the types of activity that can be detrimental to an organization. Educate people on how to identify corporate bullying and also educate new recruits on the type of culture that the organization expects and that which they should expect to operate in – that way, deviances from the expected are more easily identifiable. Do not allow new recruits to enter organizational units on the assumption that they will fit into the organizational culture by observing the behaviors and actions of others – if bullying/control events are significant, the wrong messages may be received and a wrongful picture of culture may influence new actors to behave similarly.
  • There is a natural tendency for people to hire others of similar kind. This is extremely dangerous when bullies are in charge of hiring. Reducing the uncertainty and margin for this kind of error, requires a broad interview selection panel. Candidates should be interviewed for organizational fit by people who will work above, below, and alongside him or her – not just those within the team or site with whom they will work.

Employee attempts to signal issues should not be taken lightly. If VP’s or Executives in your organization participate in bullying tactics or sit by and allow it to happen, your organization has become hugely compromised by individuals who are grossly misbehaving.

Where foreign direct investments (Greenfield sites etc) are established, organizations need to establish definite management reporting lines for transparency purposes. Managers that fail to act in the interest of the organization, by failing to report issues or attempt to hide issues should have a “management ban” applied – requirement that a manager step back from duties for a period of time – only possible if you have buffer resources. When international organizations invest in a new country, they need to look at the cultural/sub-cultural aspects of the locality and understand the gaps that need to be managed so that employees from different regions can be educated appropriately and aligned to the organizational culture. Ex-patriot assignments and the use of sentinel actors within new sites/new locations should be used to encourage, enforce, educate, teach and demonstrate the culture that is desired and to act as monitors for actions or events that are undesirable. However, national enterprise and development agencies should play a role to organizations creating business and employment opportunities in providing them with a profile of the development clusters that exist in the country with cultural profiling. In fact, a transparent competitive forum by regions when new opportunities are offered to a country is one way of reducing corruption such as the use of brown envelopes etc that can sometimes influence investment and location decisions.

It is a recognized perspective, but one that has not yet been enforced – that managers with responsibility for strategic agenda or people management should have completed an MBA and that MBA programmes should act as certification for fully qualified managers. Managers that exist in organizations and have a reluctance to see benefit from an MBA or have a reluctance to pursue one themselves, will always choose a posture that supports the fact that they lack an MBA – this should change – MBA’s should be supported by organizations as a means of advancing and preparing employees for succession into positions of management.

We have composed a set of bully/control events which can have a huge bearing on any organization’s employees that are subjected to such events and which overall aims to reduce the culture of any organization to a regime that befits the actors that execute these events. If bullying is carried out by managers within an organization, organizations should try to adopt a “management ban” on individuals by removing their management responsibility for a period of time. Managers responsible for people and who abuse this responsibility should be denied the right to manage human resources. Compassion and consideration should be shown to organizations when these types of events do happen as they could happen to any organization. More to come…


Tactic Example

Anticipation or Containment

Risks if left unattended

Up to N e.g. 8 employees are involved in carrying out 8 interviews on a candidate over a number of weeks. The candidate turns up, but no one is available to do the interview, or they inform him they hadn’t realized the interview was “today” or had forgotten about the interview. One month after the last interview, the candidate has to call back to find out about job and is told “Oh! Yeah, you got the job, but we have no money!”

  • Envision the “recruitment experience” you want for all potential new employees and put processes and performance indicators in place to track the experience.
  • Observe excessive frequency of interviews
  • Establish policies with respect to what can/cannot be communicated to potential recruits.
  • Track and monitor interviews
    • Dedicated interview rooms with recording capability or policy enforced that requires all interviews record as web conference with invites sent to audit committee for random audits and compliance checks carried out (opportunity for audio stream analysis and compliance here!)
    • Interviewer ranking by new candidates. Treat new candidates as customer and always value their feedback/opinion with respect to “recruitment experience”
    • Feedback questionnaires independent and external to interview, so candidates can respond candidly and honestly to their “recruitment experience”
  • Early stage feedback from interviewers should be formally documented and tracked for compliance.
  • Frequency of poor candidate feedback, or anomalies which suggests biases based on stereotype, gender, nationality, association etc, and generally other types of preference which could highlight a bigger control issue.
  • You always have a 100% satisfaction rating from candidates– this could be self fulfillment measure – nothing is ever perfect.
  • All interviewer feedback for candidate is similar and supportive. There is a need to alternate interviewers and always mix roles for interviews so a 360 degree perspective on candidate is created. This also means that candidate fits organization and not just suited to “groupthink”
  • All responses with respect to progression through recruitment experience should be independent of interviewers and always made in writing to ensure that communication is tracked for compliance purposes.
  • Employ a compliance engine that enforces well defined responses to candidates and avoids ad-hoc actor responses/feedback/biases to tamper with the recruitment experience.


Remember; treat new employee candidates just as you would treat customers. Understand their requirements, and determine if you have the role that meets those requirements. Respect new candidate feedback. New employees could be the next adopter/promoter of your products, they will communicate positively about your organization if the experience is positive and word of mouth will act to attract others of similar caliber to your organization.

  • Social network learns of your organizations lack of money (if it’s true!)– word gets out and the markets have a “field day”
  • People are reluctant to interview at your company because of the bad portrayal of your organization.
  • Candidate is hired, but performs below average because of the recruitment experience and follow up experiences that de-motivate because they contradict organizational cultural mantra.
  • Organization will have major difficulty locating new recruits as an effect of “word of mouth”.

Individuals within the organization are purposely not invited to meetings and may be asked to follow up on agenda items without tacit knowledge to complete assigned tasks.

  • “Open door” policy direct to HR or CEO that promotes a zero tolerance approach to this type of activity.
  • Data storage is getting cheaper, ensure all meetings are recorded (e.g. web conference recording) for compliance and resilience purposes only – if an issue arises, it’s possible to go back and determine participants, assignments and get agreement on assignments during meetings.
  • All meetings should be followed up with minutes and a breakdown of the assignment of “to do” tasks so that it’s all tracked for compliance. Changes to agenda items or assignments of tasks should be documented and all content with respect to meetings should be stored and easily reference-able, by allowing employees to navigate web conference data or compliance tracked data (read-only).
  • Individuals should be encouraged to keep a record book of this type of activity and the individuals involved. This in tandem with recorded meetings will go a long way to demonstrating the issue and allow the organization to respond appropriately.
  • Employees become de-motivated and lose trust of others in the organization.
  • Isolation leads to further exclusion as others believe they can treat employees in the same way.
  • Individual performance is impacted directly due to dirty communications and lack of “big picture” efforts.

Manager’s use performance reviews as a means of keeping individuals in specific ranks, or “boxed-in” as a means of de-motivation or to push them out of the organization.

  • “Open door” policy direct to HR or CEO that promote a zero tolerance approach to the use of performance reviews as a means of keeping employees “boxed in”.
  • Performance reviews and all 1 on 1 meeting with managers should be recorded and tracked for compliance. Recording can be stored as an artifact of ad-hoc meetings to ensure that they can be used in the case of issues that may arise.
  • Establish formal performance review “meta language” that establishes a standards/template approach to performance reviews and permits easier comparisons between candidates for performance appraisals and bonuses etc and avoids ad-hoc commentary and subjective opinion from managers that would support favoritism.
  • Performance review cycles should involve a 3rd Party actor or organization sub-team that will position itself as an independent party in respect of employee rankings and responses during performance – ensuring alignment for standards compliance.
  • Poor performers should not be allowed to float from review cycle to review cycle without active engagement of a mentor or other suitable individual that is independent of the manager reporting the poor candidate performance. This permits employees an opportunity to show their potential were a manager may have impacted on their willingness and trust to work under their current manager.
  • Requests by employees for changes to their roles or activities – especially if activities are highlighted as mundane should be actively managed and addressed. Employees that perceive work they are doing as mundane are at risk of de-motivation and further poor performance, while also probably considering moving to another organization.
  • Subjective performance appraisal can be avoided, so that managers do not get to push their “favorites” to the top of performance rankings.
  • Independent committee could be used to carry out objective performance reviews based on completion of performance reports by managers.
  • Individuals become de-motivated and leave the organization.
  • Upper ranks of the organization are composed of individuals that are supportive of this activity and it leads to negated organizational culture.
  • Poor performance by candidates subjected to such activity as a means of reprisal
  • Conflict relationship is constructed.
  • Organizational gossip about manager impacts on the performance of others.

Managers overlook recognition of individuals at public meetings or events.

  • Formal recognition events should be established and ad-hoc subjective recognition avoided in group scenarios.
  • Managers should be pushed to recognize “Top 3” activities by every employee so that all employees see a response to their activities and feel that their activities are being noticed and valued.
  • Project member lists, mailing lists, etc should be used and pulled into formal presentations that ensure all participants are recognized.
  • Special recognitions – reduce subjective recognition of effort by individual managers, by supporting a broader organizational perspective with respect to recognition by using nomination voting within teams/sub-teams etc.
  • Managers can and should still perform their subjective recognition outside the remit of the organizational recognition events.
  • Employee de-motivation
  • Employee embarrassment that they were left out.
  • Disgruntled employee that over time becomes poor performer because of being overlooked on multiple occasions.
  • Manager actions encourage others on his/her team to use this as a means to exclude the employee that was isolated from recognition.

Employees use low key intimidation techniques to disrupt the concentration of other employees or to support other bullying activity. e.g. an employee that regularly jolts his chair in/out from desk, jumps out of seat, jolting chair back behind him and then sits back down again seconds later – but repeats ever few min over an hour long period , jumps up out his seat, walks behind the target employee and back to seat again repeatedly.

  • “Open door” policy direct to HR or CEO that promotes a zero tolerance approach to this type of activity.
  • Use mediation to bring a complaint or report of the issue forward and allow discussion between employees, so that awareness of escalation exists and resolution or mutual understanding of reasonable behavior is re-established.
  • Employees are encouraged to report this activity and employee is moved from the location where the issue arises if they are comfortable with the move.
  • Extreme Policies: Permit the targeted employee to use video/audio recording or other techniques to capture the activity so that it can be dealt with and removed abruptly.
  • Individuals should be encouraged to keep a record book of this type of activity and the individuals involved.
  • Employee de-motivation
  • Conflict situation
  • Stagnating office environment
  • Employee leaves the organization
  • Employee retaliates with extreme response.
  • Deep Employee frustration and reluctance to participate with wider team.


Verbal threats by other employees that violate corporate bullying and ethics policies e.g. employee A approaches employee B and threatens that if they do not act in a certain way they will be sorry. Or group bully activity, where employee A threatens employee B and uses others to make it look like the threatening action was actually a discussion about an organizational task.

  • “Open door” policy direct to HR or CEO that promotes a zero tolerance approach to this type of activity.
  • Second port of call would be to bring this to the attention of an ethics committee and have a case established to track and come to resolution that meets the individual’s needs/satisfaction. Ethics committees that indicate they need proof do not have the individual’s best interests at heart. Immediate mediation required to get discussion going and to try and extract the detail before the issue escalates.
  • Extreme Policies: Permit the targeted employee to use audio recording to capture verbal threats and have the offending employee dealt with abruptly.
  • Put forward financial reward for individuals who report such activity.
  • Active attempts to catch repeat events should be supported.
  • Individuals should be encouraged to keep a record book of this type of activity and the individuals involved.
  • Organizational violence
  • Employees leaving
  • Retaliation in similar form.
  • Isolation of individuals.
  • Lack of trust and faith in the organizations controls to prevent such activity.

Employees use social networking medium to bully individuals.

  • “Open door” policy direct to HR or CEO that promotes a zero tolerance approach to this type of activity.
  • Ban social networking use in the organization.
  • Develop social networking guidelines and policies and adopt limited sub-set of social networking tools for use in the organization.
  • Adopt a compliance solution e.g. Actiance Vantage that can filter social networking traffic for specific employee activity that does not befit the organization.
  • Adopt software that tracks when employees install/un-install software (opportunity here to prevent an employee from un-installing software until an audit of software activity has been successfully completed). Software installations should be designed to support this type of inspection, but maintaining private activity records and only permitting administrators etc access to such activity records.
  • New recruits and existing employees should be asked to submit a record of social networking sites and affiliations they have and a HR webpage exists that allows employees to update this in accordance with changes – policy should dictate that this must be maintained for audit purposes.
  • Random audits of social networking activity
  • Organizations need visibility to the “small networks” that their employee(s) participate in, and attention should be paid to interconnectedness among individuals along specific ranks or specific sub-cultures etc. – difficult to achieve, but something that needs to be considered – technology can track this easily.
  • Individuals should be encouraged to keep a record book of this type of activity and the individuals involved.
  • Employees leaving
  • Retaliation in similar form.
  • Extreme isolation of individuals.
  • Lack of trust and faith in the organizations controls to prevent such activity.
  • Employees get proof and sue the organization and its respective actors.
  • Social networking activity is leaked to the media and the organization becomes embroiled in media scandal.

Bullying employees that stand near their targets and make snarling remarks or comments against individuals at earshot.

  • Extreme Policies: Permit the targeted employee to use audio recording to capture verbal threats and have the offending employee(s) dealt with abruptly.
  • HR and Ethics should be immediately engaged.
  • Active attempts to catch repeat events should be encouraged.
  • Individuals should be encouraged to keep a record book of this type of activity and the individuals involved and submit to HR/Ethics for follow up.
  • De-motivation
  • Disrupted work flow
  • Retaliation
  • Employees get proof which leads to dismissals of offending employees

Employees that group together and bring a colleague into a meeting room and taunt or bully them in the privacy of the group.

  • Extreme Policies: Permit the targeted employee to use audio recording to capture verbal threats and have the offending employee(s) dealt with abruptly.
  • HR and Ethics should be immediately engaged and monitoring put in place to avoid future activity.
  • All meeting rooms permit recording
  • Active attempts to catch repeat events should be supported.
  • Individuals should be encouraged to keep a record book of this type of activity and the individuals involved.
  • De-motivation
  • Disrupted work flow
  • Retaliation
  • Employees get proof which leads to dismissals of offending employees
  • Organizational violence
  • Lack of trust and faith in the organizations controls to prevent such activity.

Social events are used by bullies to target individuals.

  • Organizations refrain from supporting social events and allow employees to establish their own sports and social group’s in-line with their own social groupings.
  • Organizations should attempt to monitor social groupings and participation as a means of identifying gaps that lead to isolation of others.
  • All social events should be managed to avoid such situations by minimizing the type of social engagement that can lead to bullying. Social bullying can have a detrimental impact on the culture of an organization if allowed to permeate – as poor behavior can flow more freely outside of an organizational context.
  • De-motivation
  • Disrupted work flow
  • Employee leaves the organization
  • Employees get proof which leads to dismissals of offending employees

Employees that repeatedly may not get the support of others within the organization as a means of reducing their effectiveness in collaboration and in achievement of tasks that depend on the other employees.

  • One on One discussion with manager should allow discussion of the lack of support by other organizational members.
  • Manager should act as intermediary to resolve such issues and transparency to communication between individuals within the organization is probably needed.
  • If problem persists, then re-structure the team for subsequent tasks so that problem is alleviated (but issue should not be ignored or hidden – avoiding the issue and not finding resolution to why team members cannot work together can lead to a defunct team culture).
  • De-motivation
  • Isolation within their team.
  • Frustration
  • Employee leaves job
  • Employees desire to move within the organization.

Managers that expect or require their team members to copy them on all business e-mail (micro-management).

  • Managers become overloaded and over-burdened by communication
  • Managers use email communication quality as a means of individual performance measure i.e. ability to communicate.
  • Heavy reliance on email for communication – this leads to a reduction in face to face time by individuals on a team and ultimately stifles team culture.
  • Do not promote an email overload culture.
  • Do not permit managers to expect or require team members to copy them on 90-100% of their email.
  • Promote “relevant” and “summarized” communications as the way to communicate with managers.
  • Educate on good email policy.
  • Allow individuals to own responsibility for communication in achieving tasks and to
    make decisions with respect to what is relevant. Allowing individuals to do this, means they improve in their ability to read communication methods that work to support business operations.
  • De-motivation
  • Frustration
  • Feeling of lack of trust or capability
  • Feeling of control and lack of responsibility
  • Childlike approach to management that fosters dependence or mindset that the manager will act as a “catch all” when things go wrong or when gaps appear in communication.
  • Portrays controlling management that stifles innovation and avoids mistakes which could lead to new opportunities to improve processes and methods.
  • Managers assume candidates that are reluctant to be micro-managed are poor email- communicators
  • Managers that respond to specific “panic” emails, where they have not had time to follow email trail and do not have context to jump into an issue – leading to bad decisions.


The above is not a complete representation of actions that can be taken, but can act as a starting point for discussion of what is appropriate for your organization. Technology integrations can support the measures mentioned above and will offer a base platform on which to build upon in bridging gaps and addressing subsequent issues whether they have been realized or are currently just imagined.

Lastly, most great companies operate innovation events around products, services and processes etc, but what about innovation within business operations and resiliency of operations – often seems overlooked.