Magazine article Management Today

Manners Maketh Management

Magazine article Management Today

Manners Maketh Management

Article excerpt

Rudeness and ritual humiliation on the job make for great TV, as viewing stats for The Apprentice and Kitchen Nightmares prove. But cowed employees perform badly and a high staff 'churn' drains your company Politeness is best all round for business, says Philip Delves Broughton.

Manners matter. For anyone on the inside of a particular culture, they are simply assumed. Barristers know how to deal with other barristers, investment bankers with investment bankers, clerics with clerics. But for anyone trying to enter these worlds, manners can seem like a secret code barring entry to an elite. They help define the lines between 'them' and 'us'.

A recent government-commissioned report, written by former minister Alan Milburn, argued that access to the professions was often confined to those who understood the social codes of business. It was not enough for a candidate to have the right education; they also had to possess social skills such as articulacy, the ability to work in a team, and tact. If one wasn't from this class, one had to figure out how to understand its members and to behave like them. An affluent class defined 'manners' in the professions and expected others to adhere to their code. Yet in the UK, members of lower social or economic classes or new immigrants are given little help trying to crack the social codes required to succeed.

In Britain and in the US, many business executives have been taught to eschew manners, in the sense of politeness, as a waste of time. Manners are often seen as grit in the machinery of capitalism. Those who practise or demand them are regarded as soft. The tough-talking CEO with no time for niceties has become a heroic figure. Bluntness is considered a virtue. And in the US - a society that prizes classlessness - manners are seen as a way of reinforcing class distinctions.

Television seems to love the boss who borders on the psychopathic. The chef Gordon Ramsay may now be more famous for his expletive-laden tirades against quailing underlings than he is for his food. Alan Sugar has built a media brand as the blunt, impatient boss in The Apprentice - a reflection, one assumes, of his off-camera persona. 'There's only room for one bigmouth in my organisation, and that's me,' he has said. He seems to relish the power to fire hapless contestants.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary is another boss who has made rudeness an entrepreneurial art form. He has called the Irish government 'spineless retards'. He has said of the media: 'Most of them hate me because I'm a loud-mouthed, arrogant, rich bullyboy. Some of them think I'm great because I'm a loud-mouthed, arrogant, rich bullyboy.' Sugar and O'Leary have each amassed fortunes worth hundreds of millions of pounds. In financial terms, their rudeness, bluntness, honesty - call it what you will - has been highly effective. The lasting consequences of this bullying culture, however, may be more than a just a few raw feelings. US professors Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, co-authors of The Cost of Bad Behavior: How incivility is damaging your business and what to do about it (Portfolio, 2009), believe incivility wreaks havoc in the business world, increasing employee dissatisfaction and 'churn', and piling on costs.

Pearson and Porath began their research by looking at incidents where workers murdered colleagues. From this extreme, they worked back to examine every kind of workplace slight to understand why some forms of incivility, such as sexual harassment, are taken seriously, while others are not. Common examples of incivility, they found, included taking credit for other people's work, passing blame, checking e-mail during meetings, talking down to or not listening to others, making derogatory remarks, and avoiding people.

Once they began their research, examples came pouring in from every corner of the business world. There was Bob Nardelli, who served successively, and disastrously, as CEO of Home Depot and Chrysler. …

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