Get your knobs out

I am lucky enough to be holidaying in the country of my birth at present and had lunch the other day with a couple of experienced HR thought leaders in David D’Souza and Simon Heath. Discussions were wide ranging from the true meaning of disruption to the likely impact of K pop on the average HR professional.

Then, as men often do when they get together, we got talking about knobs. Not in any medical or sexual way you understand but inspired by a well known case study of a guy working in a professional services firm who, while exhibiting the worst elements of a knob, was also cornering a particular industry sector and amongst the firm’s top revenue earners.

IMG_0872We’ve all worked with or for the company knobs, perhaps we’ve even been one ourselves at some point in our career. Companies are full of them. You know a knob when you see one. If you aren’t sure what a knob looks like, just go and spend some time with your sales team. Or watch The Office.

Knob: a widely used technical HR term meaning an employee exhibiting political, aggressive, greedy, backstabbing, power hungry, bullying, narcissistic, arrogant behaviors. Can also be known as a knobhead or dick.

This gets right to the heart of the discussion about what organizations are in business to do. Is it to be good corporate citizens who do business in an ethical way with a good culture who put back into the community, or is it simply to make money? Do you tolerate your knobs and do your best to accommodate their style or do you make a statement and rid yourselves of them regardless of the financial or political consequences?

Many organizations who would claim to be good corporate citizens and employers of choice are also riddled with knobs. The larger the organisation the greater the knob factor is likely to be. At its worst extreme of course, you sacrifice many good employees who leave rather than have to put up with a knob’s or group of knobs’ behaviour.

Knobs will tend to employ other knobs and avoid regular contact with HR if they can help it. The company processes don’t apply to them. From “I don’t need to assess candidates, my gut feel is always right” to “I don’t need to do performance reviews, my team are all motivated high performers.” They have an answer for everything and don’t like to be challenged. They are never wrong. They can be successful in the short to medium term, but the cost is often brand, reputational and relationship damage.

Fortunately, the times they are a changing. A combination of the transparency and accountability businesses are now faced with, compliance requirements and a massive shift away from the “greed is good” philosophy and behaviors of old means that it is becoming harder for knobs to flourish, although no matter how many times they get moved out of organizations they seem to find another knob willing to employ them. Hey, they’ve got an impressive CV so they can’t be all bad, right?

The good news is the new generation of companies don’t tend to tolerate knobs for long, if at all. Similarly, the new breed of people professionals should also have a zero tolerance for knobs and knob-like behaviour. Get them out of your organizations.

In other good news, title aside, I have got through this whole piece without a single penis joke or a double entendre. How long will it be (no pun intended) I wonder now the film is out before someone writes the “what HR can learn about dominant behaviour from 50 Shades of Grey” post. Any takers?