Stop the Bellyaching: "Eradicating Victim Mindset and Behavior Is Not an Overnight Job. It Takes Real Fortitude on the Part of Leaders to Encourage Candor, Create High Levels of Accountability, and Hold Themselves to the Same Standards as Their Employees."

Article excerpt

GERALD STORCH, chief executive officer of Toys"R"Us, is facing the monumental task of turning around the once leading-edge retailer that has been dethroned by discounters such as Wal-Mart and Target. In speaking with a workforce that has been, according to The New York Times. "badly shaken by its misfortunes," Storch. a former top executive at Target Corp.. uncovered an organizational dynamic that he feels is undermining the company's chances for success if left unchanged. "He crusades against what he calls the company's 'victim culture, that is, the pervasive mentality through out the company which 'blamed others for its problems rather than facing its own mistakes.'" In outlining the many ways in which Toys"R"Us missed the boat, Storch's bottom-line message to employees is, "We did it to ourselves."

The victim mentality is not unique to Toys"R"Us. We all have worked with self-perceived victims. They either are griping constantly--they are overworked and underpaid; no one asks their opinion; the promotion they deserved went to someone else; they could not make their numbers because of the economy, the competition, other departments, etc.--or they pretend that everything is fine, while holding their resentment inside.

Taking responsibility

These self-created victims are frustrated and unhappy with aspects of their job or the company they work for, but they rarely, if ever, voice their grievances in productive ways or to those who can help. Forever disgruntled and grumbling, they wallow in their martyrdom. Whether their grievances are real or, as Storch professes, imagined, such victims have one thing in common: They refuse to take responsibility for their situation and persist in maintaining the mindset that nothing they can do will make a difference, even if they have not ever tried. When they do "try," they make half-hearted attempts that only reinforce their belief that trying yields little or no result.

Victims exist in all types of organizations and at all organizational levels. They are an insidious underground army that has a huge negative impact on productivity, the ability to compete, and morale. There are more underground "victims" in the workplace than you might imagine. To assess the extent of this mentality in various corporate cultures, I looked at a sample of data collected in the last five years from business teams in 12 Fortune 1000 companies with which I have consulted. This sampling of 225 executives completed a questionnaire prior to beginning team development sessions that we facilitated. Two of these questions--"What is the working atmosphere within your team?" and "How are conflicts within the team handled?"--address the victim problem, as they deal with lack of candor and unresolved issues. Responses either will constitute high levels of performance or varying degrees of covert or dysfunctional behavior. The teams ranged from senior-level--the CEO and his or her staff--down to director, manager, and professional levels. Some startling statistics emerged. On question one, 69% provided negative responses. On question two, 80% of the responses revealed problems. All told, three-quarters of all team members exhibited degrees of underground behavior, ranging from mild to predominant, and failed to surface issues that existed between them and their peers. If you multiply the findings by the number of organizations with which our other 17 consultants work, the quantity of "victims" that populate the workplace is astonishing.

Here are some written comments from the employees surveyed:

* "People feel there are hidden agendas, from the VPs on down."

* "We are guarded and wary in large meetings. People are careful of every word they say. Some see it as dangerous and punishing to be candid, as they are seeking [the leader's] approval."

* "We are more concerned with who's right than with what's right for the business." * "The issues between [the two leaders] affect many in the organization--mixed messages, changing priorities, time wasted. …