By Carol Haig, CPT, and Roger Addison, CPT, EdD

Mitchell Kusy, PhD, and Elizabeth Holloway, PhD, will keynote ISPI’s 50th anniversary conference in Toronto on Sunday, April 22, 2012. Mitch (mitchellkusy@gmail.com) is a Fulbright Scholar in International Organization Development. Elizabeth (elizabethlholloway@gmail.com) is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and Diplomate in Professional Psychology. Both are consultants and professors in Antioch University’s PhD program in Leadership and Change. We are delighted to welcome them to TrendSpotters to discuss their research on incivility in the workplace and what to do about it. They contribute their Everyday Civility© model to the TrendSpotters Open Toolkit.

Genesis of the Everyday Civility© Model
Elizabeth tells us she spent years as a practicing psychotherapist, treating many employees who were emotionally injured at work by the toxic behaviors of supervisors and co-workers. The patterns of uncivil, inappropriate, and disruptive actions that seriously debilitate individuals, teams, and organizations over the long-term take a huge toll on workers and productivity. Elizabeth’s approach had been to help her patients adjust to their toxic work situations and regain their self-esteem. Then she realized rather than asking people to accommodate to dysfunctional behavior at work, it would be more useful to help organizational leaders deal with the toxic workers.

Elizabeth and Mitch met at Antioch University where their shared concerns about workplace toxicity led them to conduct a large national study of toxic behaviors in the U.S. workplace. Their findings revealed difficult people in a range of industries and the inability of leaders to effectively address the problem. Their resulting book, Toxic workplace!: Managing toxic personalities and their systems of power, presents their findings and offers their Everyday Civility© model to organizational leaders as an approach to dealing with toxic employees. This model was originally developed from their research on toxic personalities. It has evolved to incorporate not only toxic behaviors but also the more nuanced behaviors of respectful engagement and their impact on performance. Mitch and Elizabeth define Everyday Civility as “a norm of respect that is modeled, reinforced, and integrated into the daily culture of the organization.”

Incivility in Organizations
Typical forms of incivility we may recognize include three categories: shaming, passive hostility, and team sabotage. Typically, well-meaning leaders protect toxic employees in two ways:

  • Toxic protectors shield high-producing uncivil employees from negative performance reviews or termination
  • Toxic buffers place themselves between the uncivil employee and other team members

Both tactics take a toll on everyone involved and neither approach addresses the real problem. Mitch and Elizabeth tell us the costs of incivility in the workplace are high:

  • 94% of the organizations studied struggled with the effects of uncivil employees, yet only 1-6% of victims report these behaviors
  • 51% of employees affected by toxic supervisors or co-workers stated they were likely to leave their organizations–at a cost of 1.5-2.5 times their salaries to replace them
  • Employees who leave support the findings published in First, break all the rules, including the value of treating employees with respect and the reality that people leave because of their bosses, not because of their organizations

How to Use the Everyday Civility© Model
In keeping with our HPT focus on organizations as complete systems, the Everyday Civility© model reflects a whole-systems view. The model takes a holistic, three-pronged approach that combines Organizational Strategies, Team Strategies, and Individual Strategies. Feedback without a systematic approach using all three will typically not resolve the issues created by an uncivil employee.

The model works best when your client is a leader who wants to change the organization’s culture. Use the model to:

  • Discuss organization strategy and business goals with representative stakeholders
  • Identify the behavioral values that describe how employees will treat each other
  • Incorporate those behavioral values in your performance evaluation system to create a  “performance management process with teeth”
  • Specify consequences for toxic behavior Address toxic behavior at the very first instance of incivility
  • Institute a zero-tolerance policy

Figure 1. Everyday Civility© Model

The Everyday Civility© model continues to evolve. There is more about how to use it here.

Success Story
Mitch and Elizabeth recount one example of the Everyday Civility© model’s success. Their client was a family-owned business composed of union and non-union employees. It had a zero tolerance policy and wanted to address problems of incivility. The CEO worked alone to craft value statements for the organization and was very much attached to what he produced. In particular, he was adamant that social responsibility be one of the values as the company had a history of community involvement and contribution.

Mitch and Elizabeth persuaded the CEO to bring together multiple levels of stakeholders to design the organization’s process for everyday civility. Independent of the CEO’s list, the group identified values, questioned and discussed them, and came to consensus. The CEO was gratified and validated when the group chose social responsibility as one of the core values.

The organization implemented the Everyday Civility© model. One year later, the CEO said that respect in the workplace had increased and the company had one of its best years ever. Leadership attributed much of this success to the work done around civility. Key was developing values all stakeholders could understand and work with.

Advice to Users
Elizabeth and Mitch share this advice with users of their model:

  • Remember to take a systems approach to improving civility in your organization
  • Let behavioral values drive the implementation of the Everyday Civility©model
  • Bringing all stakeholders together in a real-time, large-scale format to establish the values is critical
  • Always use metrics to show the effects of uncivil and civil behaviors on the bottom line

Links to the Performance Technology Landscape
The Everyday Civility© model includes these principles of Performance Technology:

R Focus on Results: Specifies what the absence of toxic behaviors will look like  using a three-pronged systems approach
S Take a System view: Uses a large-scale, holistic approach to addressing uncivil behaviors in a real-time framework
V Add Value: Involves all stakeholders to increase investment and ownership in a civil work environment
P Establish Partnerships: Partners include all stakeholders identifying behavioral values together

Application Exercise
Consider the three prongs of the Everyday Civility© model:

  • How do these apply in your organization?
  • What cultural norms will have to be addressed to eliminate uncivil behaviors?
  • What will YOU do to help key leaders understand the data that demonstrate bottom-line and performance success?

Performance Improvement and the Uncivil Workplace
Mitch and Elizabeth see many parallels with their work on incivility and the approaches we use in performance improvement. They are experiencing an increasing demand in consulting engagements to address toxic workplaces and everyday civility. In response to the recent shooting of U.S. Representative Kathy Giffords, Presidents H.W. Bush and Clinton established the Institute on Civility at the University of Arizona. The challenges of incivility in the workplace exist worldwide, so there is much to be done in organizations to improve the climate for all employees.

Find all the models and tools featured in TrendSpotters at www.ispi.org/archives/perfXpress.htm#trendToolkit

Contact Carol Haig at carolhaig@earthlink.net or at http://home.mindspring.com/~carolhaig
Contact Roger Addison at rogeraddison@earthlink.net