…too many organisations tolerate bad behaviour from their ‘stars’ but this can have a corrosive impact on morale
Oscar winner sets an example
Joaquim Phoenix’s speech at the Oscars made headlines with his attack on the exploitation of animals and his rousing plea for selflessness, forgiveness and respect. But it was another part of the speech that caught my attention. Phoenix admitted that he had a track record of behaving badly. What’s more, he made this admission In front of his fellow actors, the world’s leading directors and producers, and a global television audience.
“I have been a scoundrel all my life, I’ve been selfish. I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance.”
Phoenix isn’t the first movie star or artiste to have made outrageous demands on the people he has worked with, but I can’t think of another who has confessed to this so publicly. Given the number of major roles he has played in recent years, it’s obvious that not only had his bad behaviour been tolerated, but it also hadn’t hindered his career. Indeed, Phoenix expresses his gratitude to those who had given him ‘a second chance’.
Bad behaviour gets rewarded
All too often I’ve seen this pattern mirrored in the corporate world where a company’s ‘star performers’ are allowed to flout the rules because they continue to deliver the goods. Far from being castigated for not conforming to the standards of behaviour expected of others, the ‘stars’ get rewarded with plum assignments, promotion or high bonuses. They’re seen as too valuable to upset. This re-enforces their sense of being above the rules, and exacerbates the problems caused by their unacceptable conduct. It also sets a very bad example to other ambitious staff who may start to model the bad behaviour as they see it as one of the attributes of success.
When I was running BBC 1, the Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, brought in a culture change programme called ‘Making it Happen’. This was led by senior staff inside the organisation rather than by external consultants, and included wide ranging internal consultation so that we could hear directly from our staff what changes they would like to see. I was present at one of the groups when somebody said “I’m fed up with the Bafta Bastards”. They went on to describe a small group of producers who were seen as successful because they won awards but who often overspent their budgets and treated their team badly, shouting and screaming at them and expecting them to work crazy hours. Far from being punished, they had praise heaped upon them and were given high budgets for their next project where they continued to drive their teams into the ground and overspend etc.
Message from the top
Greg decreed that this behaviour would no longer be tolerated and that conversations must be had with the ‘Bafta Bastards’ who would be told they had to change or there would no longer be a place for them at the BBC. This approval from the highest level gave executives the license to tackle this issue and staff at every level permission to speak out. Some people changed their behaviour and others left. The working culture improved – and the BBC continued to win Baftas – after all you can still win awards if you treat your team well and stay on budget!