OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on July 7, 2016

People Matters - The toxic triangle

Dr Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey provide their thoughts on: The dark side of performance management on wellbeing at work. 

How many of us have worked in organisations where workloads are high and we feel under continuous pressure to perform, yet there seems to be little consideration of us as people?

Many organisations faced with pressures from their shareholders for quick results end up by default with an extreme performance culture. Extremely ambitious non-negotiable targets are set from the top, with high rewards for success and correspondingly high penalties for failure. 

Across the organisation there are tight deadlines and relentless time pressures. Immediate results are all that seem to matter.

The best leaders find ways to use these pressures positively to stimulate, energise and inspire those who work with them. They are focused and driven to achieve results, but at the same time respect their people and take their personal circumstances into account. They listen to their staff knowing this will help get sustainable results.

Unfortunately, not all leaders are that enlightened. Some people are primarily attracted to the power and status associated with leadership roles. The pressures of an ‘extreme performance culture’ to get immediate results can reinforce any tendencies they have to be arrogant, manipulative, and bullying. It can also encourage them to cut corners and engage in dubious business practices.

This is the dark side of performance management. In circumstances like these, many employees may not dare to challenge or speak out. Some feel that they don’t have the power to effect change. Some may be afraid, preferring to keep their heads down for career reasons. Others will have low self-esteem. 

And there are always those who secretly admire their dysfunctional leaders for appearing certain and confident – and go along with them whatever they say.

The ‘toxic triangle’ of susceptible followers, over-the top leadership and extreme performance culture is a very dangerous combination. It leads to stress, burnout, inflexibility, lack of innovation, and suboptimal, non-sustainable performance. Enron provides a classic example where it ultimately resulted in the failure of an entire corporation. 

How can it be avoided? All three sides of the toxic triangle need to be addressed:

  • Develop an ethical culture where how things are done matters as well as what is achieved. Use balanced scorecards to measure performance and encourage open dialogue.
  • Keep leaders’ feet on the ground. Watch out for signs of hubristic behaviour and ensure leaders are held to account. Ensure governance checks and balances are in place.
  • Develop courageous followers. Encourage people to be brave, forthright and speak out where necessary – and develop their mental toughness and resilience.

As Anatole France said: “It is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel.”

ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES
ACI World has announced the appointment of Stefano Baronci as director of economics and programme development. He joins from IATA and counts serving as a senior policy manager for ACI Europe and secretary general of Italian airport association, Assaeroporti, among his previous positions. 

Former chief strategy officer of the MAG Group and managing director of Manchester Airport, Andrew Cowan, is the new CEO of London Stansted Airport. Going in the other direction is Andrew Harrison who has left the role of managing director of Stansted to replace Cowan as chief strategy officer at MAG, based in Manchester. 

The Port of Seattle has made two key appointments – Dave Soike has been promoted from aviation director of facilities and capital programs to the recently created position of chief operating officer (COO) and Ron Peck has been taken on as tourism director. Peck’s responsibilities include finding “innovative ways” of boosting visitor numbers. 

According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, new Philadelphia International Airport CEO, Rochelle ‘Chellie’ Cameron, has three priorities –improving customer service and the passenger experience, making best use of the airport’s existing facilities, and continuing with the airport expansion plan.

Martin Langaas is joining Avinor as its new manager for cargo development on June 1. He currently works in project and development manager position with Collicare. Elsewhere, Leslie Fella has been hired as the new marketing and air service director at Evansville Regional Airport in Vanderburgh County, Indiana.

 

About the authors
Dr Richard Plenty is managing director of This Is… and delivers ACI’s ‘Airport Human Resources’ training. Terri Morrissey is chairperson of This Is… and CEO of the Psychological Society of Ireland. 
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