It’s important to recognize, and toss, your bad apples


Years ago I joined a company, reporting to one of the vice presidents. I quickly reached the conclusion that he was a terrific interviewer and externally, he represented the company well.

But he had a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. Outside the office, he was funny, charming and friendly. At work he was selfish, lazy and uncommunicative. He was a lousy leader, manager and supervisor.

Later I came to the conclusion that there is almost always someone on every management team like my former boss – a rotten apple.

What are the symptoms and warning signs you have a bad apple working for you?

The first is that this person must have a staff reporting to them. This is more than a security blanket; it provides a cloak of importance and status.

The second is that they do not supervise the people who work for them. Their subordinates never hear praise and rarely get either direction or feedback. Performance appraisals are never done on time — if they are done at all.

Appraisals are done simply because the bad apple has been told to do them, “or else.” Minus the “or else,” performance appraisals would not be done at all. When they are done, minimal effort goes into the finished product.

If, as a business owner, you suspect someone is a bad apple, ask your suspect’s subordinates to see the latest performance appraisals they received.

Third, the bad apple is full of advice for everyone else. The bad apple never commits to anything in writing; pontification must be verbal. Putting something in writing represents a commitment, a promise, that they will go to extremes to avoid, lest they they’re held accountable for anything.

Fourth, follow-through never happens. So, while always talking a good game, the bad apple does not honor commitments. Chris Berman of ESPN once reminded a colleague worried about an on-air flub that the TV signal was “on its way to Pluto.”

So too the words of a bad apple head out across the universe, remembered by others but not by their source.

Fifth, the bad apple never fires anyone. Yes, they grumble about their subordinates’ mistakes, but only when a subordinate has done something that’s made the bad apple look foolish or stupid in front of others.

Sixth, a bad apple doesn’t believe in training or educating subordinates. This is because it is too much work and too big of a hassle to actually spend more than the minimal required time and energy interacting with subordinates.

The seventh is that this individual is against growing the company. That might be too harsh a characterization. They don’t care if the company grows as long as they don’t have to work any harder or are imposed upon expansion should happen. But, they are certainly not going to go out of their way to help make it happen.

What are they really against? They are against any additional burden, work, effort, paperwork, meetings, business travel, loss of vacation, sick days, or imposition on anything that will prevent them from doing as little as possible for as much salary, bonus, benefits, vacation or sick days that you, the owner, give them.

The bad apple sets a horrible example for others in your company. Some of your other employees quickly grasp the situation for what it is and simply ignore him or her. Others, unfortunately, will see this person as a member of management and emulate their behavior. This will cause a rift in the company and the one thing you don’t need is another human resources issue to deal with.

Bad apples aren’t tolerated in the produce department of your local grocer. Once identified, they’re tossed out. My former boss got fired after I departed. Had he been fired before I resigned, I might have stayed on.

It’s about a month into 2017. It’s time to take into account that sometimes the people that “got you here” won’t “get you there.”

Is it time to toss out any bad apples you have?

Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.

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