The old software selection “how-to” horse may not have been beaten to death yet, but it’s certainly received a few good whacks. As you already know, particularly if you peruse the TEC site or subscribe to TEC’s newsletters, there are myriad articles on the challenges of software selection from various sources, offering advice to everyone from worried delegators at the top of the corporate food chain to beleaguered cubicle-serf managers closer to the bottom.
So maybe by now you know the key steps necessary for a detailed, accurate, and well-planned software selection project (or at least, that software selection is not a haphazard process needing no forethought or plan of action).
But another topic has received less attention. Have you ever considered the importance of your employees’ skills in the successful outcome of a project? Not the just their hard skills—those are inarguably important—but also their “warm-and-fuzzy” soft ones? Believe it or not, these soft skills can make or break a software selection and implementation project.
Sure, sure—we all have to be nice and get along with our colleagues, or our time at work becomes a living nightmare. And anyway, most of us possess some (and maybe in some cases, all) of the personal and interpersonal qualities required to function on the job and more generally in our so-called civilized society.
However, it’s increasingly an issue—even a problem—that some people appear to have missed out on “warm-fuzzy” training sessions somewhere along the way. But rather than slipping into a life of crime, they’re sitting in the next cubicle. The notorious “workplace jerk” is probably doing much more to harm the office ambiance than simply making employees duck down below the cubicle partition when they see him or her coming.
This Jerk, in fact, could be—whether intentionally or not—sabotaging your company’s efforts at project management, including software selection and implementation.
But first: what exactly defines the “workplace jerk”?
Robert Sutton, in “How to Deal with Jerks in the Workplace” (also a professor at Stanford University and the author of The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t) offers two benchmarks for defining a workplace jerk:
The first standard is whether someone consistently leaves people feeling demeaned and belittled and de-energized. The second standard is whether that person targets people who have less power than they do. But there’s also an emotional component—the feeling that you’re being oppressed or pushed around by a bad apple.
And in another article (perhaps citing his book, which I haven’t read) Sutton qualifies his use of the term “a**hole”: in his view, it describes the people whose workplace behavior encompasses “bullying, interpersonal aggression, emotional abuse, abusive supervision, petty tyranny, and incivility.”
Bosses or managers aren’t the only ones guilty of these types of behaviors. “Workplace jerks” can exist at any level in an organization, though they are more likely to be found in positions of power—the higher up the bad apple, the less chance there is a manager will be “pruned” for his or her nasty attitude. And according to a 2007 Employment Law Alliance survey, “nearly 45 percent of US workers have toiled for an office bully”—a disheartening statistic that accounts only for “jerky” managers, and not for jerks at other levels.
And how does the Workplace Jerk put a wrench in the works (no pun intended)? Any number of ways, in Sutton’s view. The 12 offenses of the jerk include:
But undoubtedly, there are scads of others—any of which you may have experienced yourself. Kris Dunn, author of the HR Capitalist blog, cites another type of workplace jerk: the “Information Hoarder,” who aggravates the lives of coworkers by not sharing information and generally resisting collaboration.
It may seem obvious to some readers how these jerks and their actions can ruin workplace morale—especially those of you who’ve had to endure them. There are the minor repercussions, such as workers who are more distracted and less motivated. But some effects are of more seismic proportions.
The “total cost of a**holes” (or “TCA”), according to Sutton, can be extremely deleterious to the ongoing stability and productivity of your organization: “They poison the work environment, decrease productivity, induce qualified employees to quit, and therefore are detrimental to business, regardless of their individual effectiveness” or productivity. And, they can even cost your company well over a hundred thousand dollars annually.
Other effects include (as listed in Sutton’s article for the McKinsey Quarterly)
If it isn’t bad enough that these are the day-to-day effects on employees, just think what a Workplace Jerk can do to more complex initiatives like software selection and implementation.
Scenario #1: You need to get a complete and accurate list of business processes from the shop floor manager. Though not an out-and-out jerk, he is an Information Hoarder, and doesn’t think it’s necessary to document each and every process, no matter how hard you try to persuade him. You either have to then approach his team and ask for their input—an act you’re afraid he’ll think approaches treason—or leave those parts of the definition of requirements blank or incomplete. Just imagine how well the software will fit your needs. You lose sleep worrying about how to solve the problem, and notice your productivity plummets for a couple of weeks.
Scenario #2: You approach your comptroller with a report detailing the ways you think processes could be improved by implementing an automated solution. You’re hesitant to do so in the first place, because he’s a renowned jerk, though he’s never said or done anything to you personally (there’s just something about the way he looks at you that makes you feel like a cattle-prod is being brandished at your ol’ ticker). So, before you meet with him, you read and reread, and edit again, eliminating several of the suggestions you think are useful, but that you anticipate getting flack from him about. The comptroller accepts your report with little comment, and the software project proceeds… but months later, it is discovered that the software lacks the very functionality you had detailed in your first draft, but edited out due to fear of the “jerk’s” incrimination…
Scenario #3: So-and-so is a mid-level manager. You give her a list of the detailed criteria of the modules at which you know she’s an expert, telling her she has a three-week deadline to get back to you. The three-week deadline comes… and then goes. At the end of the fourth week, you decide to follow up with a polite inquiry by e-mail. By the end of the next day, you still haven’t heard from her. So early the next morning, you call her extension. She doesn’t answer. You call one of her employees, just to make sure she’s not sick or on vacation. “No, she’s at her desk,” he whispers. “She just never answers her phone.” You thank him, and hang up, sighing. Then you stroll down to her end of the building.
As luck would have it, she’s on the phone. “That is not the performance I expect from you,” she snarls, “you’re letting me down again. I want it on my desk by 3:00 pm—no ifs, ands, or buts. In other words, get your fat butt into gear.” She hangs up. “Yes?” she barks at you, not looking up. “Yes, ah, I was just wondering if you had a chance to look at those criteria?” “Nope,” she says. And apparently has nothing else to say. “Ah. Okay, well, how about by the end of the week?” “Look,” she growls, still not looking up, “I get enough hassles from my own team and managers, I don’t need someone else marching in here and loading me with their problems. You’ll get the criteria when you get them.”
Taken aback, you can’t think of anything to say. “Are you deaf, or something? Or just stupid?” she asks, raising her voice. All the employees in the vicinity stop talking, look over, and immediately pretend they’ve heard and seen nothing. Your face flaming uncontrollably, it dawns on you that she’s not only a grade-A jerk, she’s a hypocrite. You mutter something like “sorry to bother you” and head back to your desk, wondering how you’re going to explain the delay to your boss.
And finally, exactly one month behind the original deadline, she returns the criteria to you. Very conveniently (for her), she’s indicated “no need” for all the features dealing with transparently, audit, and compliance—features you’d told her were most important to consider. You wonder how quickly you could find another job if you quit today.
Scenario #4: Your company’s customer relationship management (CRM) software selection project was completed almost six months behind schedule. Even now that the CRM system has been implemented, there seems to be an ongoing problem with user adoption. You and another member of the software selection team are sitting back and trying to figure out the cause of these problems, including the delays caused by everything from requirements definitions submitted late, to cancelled meetings, to unnecessary meetings, to absenteeism (especially in the sales department). “Wellll,” you start, “I think a large part of it is because the head of the sales team is, well, ah…”
You hesitate, thinking of a way to phrase your opinion more diplomatically. “A jerk?” she says, a rueful smile on her face. “Yes. I know. We all know. In fact, he’s in the chief’s office as we speak.” You raise your eyebrows. She runs her finger across her throat. You both chuckle. Then sigh. Because although the sales manager evidently won’t be around to cause any more damage, this project has already been rather seriously blemished—though not, hopefully, ruined irreparably.
A Word or Two of Advice
Short of firing the offending jerks—which might not be a bad idea, all things considered—how can you prevent having your software selection project ruined by a workplace jerk? One effective tactic is to hire outside analysts, consultants, or other experts who can help not only by guiding you through the steps of the software selection process, but also by providing a bit of neutrality and objectivity (also known as “jerkicide”? experts in the use of a “jerk-o-meter”?), should any conflicts occur.
(All that about jerks being said, we all have our bad days due to personal stress or other factors, and you shouldn’t jump to the conclusions that because you feel Mr. M “snapped” at you or Ms. N ignored you in the hallway the other day means he’s doing a quick change into the Incredible Jerk or that she’s about to launch a vicious and career-ending e-mail campaign against you. Maybe he’s sleep deprived or she’s worried about the results of a health-related test. Compassion and forgiveness go a long way to making the workplace a sane and productive environment. J)
Thanks to Denis Rousseau for taking the time to help me with the software selection side of the “Workplace Jerk Scenarios” above—much appreciated.
Read more about jerks in the workplace:
Have you ever worked with a jerk? Tell us about how it affected your work environment—and what you did about it.
Funny but true
Fantastic. I have started my own company and is having this problem. Now I am better equipped to go to the root cause and may be can take some corrective actions in time. I have lost money because of jerks.
Excellent post. But i think this is good motivation tech word. Rest all are good.
These workplace jerks are insecure and crazy!
No wonder workplace jerks exist in every organization and cause great damages to the business operations. They are a bad apple and need to be removed once proved guilty to avoid further damages. There are people who are change resistent by nature which is mainly command to old and gaing employees. I work for reputable international organization who failed to implement their selected ERP system for more five years due to resistence from Senior Managers just to protect their positions as the new technology may make them redudant.
Good one for review by HR
good one for HR
hope you like this
Organizations are responsible for making the best hiring decisions and aligning the competencies and advantages each person brings to the organization with those competencies and competitive advantages that organization needs to survive in today’s economy. When the “jerk syndrome” occurs, something obviously went wrong post-hire, the culpability resides possibly with both parties. We all know that the true identity of a personality displays itself when put under stress. Thus, responsability resides with management to review the pressure points its organization is causing as well as provide counseling to the “guilty” person. Should the corrective action taken as well as a “business process analysis” to pinpoint the pressure point(s) not resolve the problem, then, yes, a decision to find a replacement is warranted. And certainly, these key issues should be reviewed in the hiring process.
We lost a deal yesterday where we were the best solution by far. Why, because the new IT person wants to rewrite and reinvent the wheel with the package he worked with at his old company. The boss wants to buy from a company sells systems to much bigger companies to boost his ego.
I have dealt with many of the people mentioned. By far the most dangerous to a company and its workforce is the power freak. He/she usually comes from a very low position either at the company or outside of it and when they have any higher position, they are complete jerks. One day I looked over and saw one of these people looking at the list of people he was responsible for and instead of brainstorming to create progress, he was grinding his teeth-had a strange look on his face, stating “I want to fire somebody”. He had just been given some responsibilty and the very first taste of power warped his mind. That very moment was the beginning of my departure and ultimate failure of a fairly large company.
The consultants can, and should, play a role in dealing with the jerk. But unless they are given firing authority by the client (an absolute rarity), then the responsible person is the jerk’s boss. The boss cannot claim to be blind to these issues if s/he is in touch. Consultants can confirm objectively what others see; it’s then up to management to do the right thing.
[…] As the beleaguered user, what’ in it for me is the feeling that my voice has been heard, which means I’ll be more likely to adopt the new system and less likely to turn into the office jerk. […]
[…] Software selection lesson: No lesson here. It’s just funny, that’s all. Tangentially related, though: How a Jerk at Work Can Put the Kibosh on Your ERP Software Selection Project. […]
Glad I dont have to deal with anyone like that!
Sometimes the problem is that upper management allows the jerk to thrive within the company.
Take the case of a contract manufacturing company who’s purchasing manager gets paid a bonus on acheiving PPV (Purchase Price Variance- buying parts cheaper than the standards). Even though a clean handoff is given to materials from the quoting group, everything starts over. The suppliers, who bid the materials and helped win the job do not get orders. Nor do the materials do not get ordered in a timely manner. The ramp up is very slow and any request for expedience is formally ignored. The customer is angry. The customer finds a new CM. The customer is lost.
But, at the next QBR, the purchasing manager is applauded for the good work on acheiving the corporate PPV objective and bolstering profits. Now the Sales manager gets up and has to explain why he is not hitting his forecast!
This gives the jerk diplomatic immunity unitl the next QBR, which will just be more of the same.
REMEMBER- COMPENSATION DICTATES BEHAVIOR!
(from- “Supply Chain Brutalization, The Handbook for Contract Manufacturing”)
These are most often people in power who feel highly insecure in the work environment
Long time ago I’ve had a pair of them.
I was presenting a R&D project that would provide a unique advantage in the market.
It goes like this:
Jerk A: Nobody needs it
Jerk B: Yes, everybody already have it
Jerk A: Every one can do it
Jerk B: Yes, we have no resources
I’ve ended up in structuring an external “start up” that developed the project. Needless to say that we have been the first customer.
The second one was our major competitor
Excellent article; the experiences are real; however the pity is little seems to be done to mitigate the real pain caused by jerks; what is the way out?? Imdustry ombudsman?? Penalties for infringements? Industry blackball of habitual offenders? Possibly the only way out is for all os to subscribe to a voluntary code of behavior with well defined dos and donts; reward - individual and organizational for adherence and censure - individual and organizational for non-adherence
For an alterntive view check out this research from New Scientist magazine that suggests that promoting people beyond their level of competence is actually a good thing…
I would like to suggest that it can also work the other way around…..that the IT people responsible for helping with a software installation may be the ‘jerks’ a company has to deal with. What does one do when IT is out to sabatoge the efforts of a software company with good intentions and displaying good faith in an attempt to install their software as part of a negotiated project. How does one deal with this issue…..I guess this is for a future article.
[…] funny, sometimes sad, but almost always in appalling and disastrous ways? Well, here’s a lighthearted guide to dealing with your company’s office jerks during the software selection process, and how you can emerge—hopefully—with your sanity […]
Excellent article indeed
Good food for though!