The Surprising Truth about "Red Socks" (not the baseball team!)

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The Impact of Negativity on Your Bottom Line 

“…workgroups drained by excessive [negativity] are not only less productive and less profitable, they also have higher turnover, more accidents on the job, lower customer satisfaction, poor quality, less innovation, …negative employees scare off customers for good.” 
Tom Rath, How Full is Your Bucket 

Some years ago I had the good fortune to hear the managing director of a major health fund talk at a conference where I was also to present. 

One of the subjects he covered was around how critical it is to make sure you have the right people in your teams - people who lift a team up, inject it with energy and ideas, share the load and generally leave people in a better head space when they depart – not the kind of people, regardless of their role, seniority or how much income they bring into the company, who bring the team and everyone around it down, regularly, and with serious and costly side effects. 

He used the analogy of what happens when you put a red sock in with your washing by mistake. As most of us will know from experience, it will ‘taint’ everything in the wash, rendering some things damaged beyond use.  

Which regrettably, is exactly what happens if you have a ’red sock’ in a team and fail to deal with the person appropriately. Their negativity, criticism and general bad attitude, infects everyone they come into contact with, and, particularly if they’re in a senior position, the ’infection’ can be widespread and very costly.  

And it will inevitably have a direct impact on your customers and your profits. 

In David Hamilton’s book The Contagious Power of Thinking, he quotes research covering employees of a large retail chain serving some 56,500 customers daily. He notes that “…the moods of leaders are so contagious that they actually affect the bottom line…for each 1 point decrease in a manager’s job satisfaction and general attitude, there was a 5% decrease in customer spending”.  

When you do a few numbers, that’s one big heap of income lost, on a daily basis, for good.  

If you’re in any doubt, you might want to try adding up what this person’s attitude and behaviour has cost in terms of staff turnover, lost productivity, people on sick/stress leave, your time, recruitment time/fees, lost clients, decreased revenue etc. This can be a very useful piece of ‘hard’ information to have at hand if you’ve reached the point where you know you need to deal with your ‘red sock’. 

Too often, people tell me that they see the ‘red sock’ being tolerated, with ‘infectious’ behaviour being condoned, largely because he or she is the biggest income producer, or is in a senior role. Yet, if you do the numbers it should become pretty clear what the real cost is of allowing the ‘red sock’ to continue infecting people left, right and centre. 

Still not sure? David Maister, author of Managing the Professional Services Firm and The Trusted Advisor, suggests you ask yourself the following reality-check questions to help when planning on how to deal with your ‘red socks’. 

  • Does this person inspire and engender enthusiasm in other members of the team? 

  • Does this person keep the other members of the team informed about what they have learned while working with clients that may be of value to others? 

  • Does this person give freely of his or her time to help others handle unexpected client emergencies or tight deadlines? 

  • Does this person make it a point to publicise the superb work done by other team members? 

  • Does this person work with others to set clear goals, make plans, and establish objectives for those projects that he or she leads? 

  • Does this person exhibit technical competence and provide counsel or advice when others ask for assistance with technical questions? 

  • Does this person provide direction to team members on new projects and help them set priorities? 

  • Does this person actively seek new ways to improve what we do as a team? 

  • Does this person treat the other members of the team with respect? 

  • Does this person give recognition to team members for their contribution and efforts? 

  • Does this person follow through to see that (internal or client) problems get solved? 

…..more than two or three ‘no’s’ and there’s clearly a problem to be dealt with, and dealt with quickly. The longer the ‘red sock’ is left to taint others, the more ‘no’s’ you’ll likely get, and the more damage will have been done. 

So, perhaps it’s time to have that ‘fireside chat’…. 

- Penny Nesbitt