A CEO friend recently told me that he asked three people to leave his company over the last few months. After they were terminated, there was a marked improvement in the overall morale and attitude of the other employees.
I had met these people in the past. Of the three, two were rats and one was a snake. Rats and snakes can wreak havoc with your culture and your strategy.
Introducing The Creatures…
Corporate rats are different from corporate snakes; however, both can be found in all levels of any organization, from significant investors to the rank and file employees.
Rats are Enablers. Even though you may see one or two at a time, there are usually multiple rats living together, many hidden from sight, gnawing and chewing on your culture day in and day out. If your company has rats, the situation has reached a stage where extermination can be difficult, but not impossible. Rats have a direct or indirect role in maintaining the status quo. If you are a change agent and are struggling to make your changes stick, perhaps your rat(s) are the ones resisting or blocking your efforts. Maybe they perceive you to be an intruder; the ‘locals’ don’t fancy having outsiders mess around with their culture.
Snakes Create Havoc. Snakes are not as obvious as rats but they can be more random and destructive. They can hibernate and/or slither around unseen until threatened. You don’t need a lot of snakes to harm a company. Snakes will rear up and do all sorts of nasty things to keep a company Stuck in the Slow Lane or Stuck in a Ditch. Snakes:
- can be deceptive
- are usually very bright
- typically have a lot of influence and power
I took the sign photos used in this blog post while exploring scenic, outdoor areas during the last few months. The Rat photo came from the shoreline of coastal New England; the Snake photo from a rest area in west central Texas. I was a bit surprised to see these signs because I wasn’t expecting them in seemingly peaceful and unspoiled areas. They struck me as being out of place.
There may be a tendency to ignore warning signs about a changing company culture because they may be subtle or unexpected.
Suppose you are the CEO. Ask yourself, how did I end up with rats and snakes?
- You are new to the company and discovered their presence.
- They have been in the company for a while and you are just discovering them (or could it be you’ve known they were around but chose not to acknowledge their presence?)
- You or others hired them and did not do enough checking on their backgrounds or personality. A number of years ago, I was a partner in a rapidly growing professional services company. We hired a very talented senior business development person knowing that he had a ‘challenging’ personality. Big Mistake. He was a venomous snake who created dissension and a hostile climate. Gone, but not forgotten.
- You and the leadership team (investors, board, C-Suite, partners, etc.) have created new conditions that allow them to flourish (i.e. You have not been attentive to the culture). The causes can be varied, but they usually spring from conflict at the top.
- External industry or competitive forces are having a negative impact on the company, creating a challenging environment for all. Rats and Snakes will enter and thrive.
YOU need to take action and get rid of them. Now.
This can be hard, but directly addressing the rat/snake infestation can have huge, immediate benefits on your culture and strategy. A typical non-rat or non-snake employee response is:
- thank you
- what took you so long?
One caveat…sometimes the snakes and rats might be an important shareholder, an influential family member or an investor from a PE/VC group. Sorry, my sympathies. Unfortunately, you the CEO can’t just toss him or her out. However, you can try to convince them that their behavior is a negative influence on the company’s value (hitting them on ‘value’ can strike a chord); you can also be the one who absorbs the snake-like strikes and be a barrier between them and the rest of the company.