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More and more we hear of poorly behaving employees getting away with doing  and saying things that would have sent little children off to bed without their suppers. 

As children, we learn rules of etiquette and general manners, but somewhere along the way, some of these same children forget these rules once they’re in the professional world.  If left unchecked by management, this difficult employee can wreak havoc through the company.  Expensive consequences like lawsuits, severances packages, morale issues and loss of production can ensue, not to mention the diminishment and loss of credibility of the manager for their inertia in dealing with the recalcitrant employee.  The corporate world needs clearly defined rules of etiquette and managers who enforce them.

The management of corporate etiquette reminds me of one of my favorite television characters,
Downton Abbey’s inimitable butler Mr. Carson.  Like so many others, I’ve been rabidly watching this remarkable Masterpiece Theater series about the British landed gentry and its impeccably managed estates at the turn of the 20th century.  I love the character of Mr. Carson, the epitome of the well-mannered butler.   He manages the household staff in an old school way, adroitly focusing on protecting people’s privacy and feelings while getting the job done with the highest standards.  Wisely, Mr. Carson privately shares his personnel management concerns with and seeks the advice of a trusted co-manager (usually the head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes).  He then does a bit of research into the problem (confidentially asking other members of the household for their input) and then quickly and directly meets with the employee and clearly and honestly outlines the issue, its remedies and its consequences.  Mr. Carson reminds the employee of his responsibilities and only as a last resort, alerts his boss Mr. Grantham, the lord of the estate, for final action.

Mr. Carson’s direct management style can be difficult for some managers who are adverse to confrontation.  However, although it can be understandably awkward in difficult circumstances, directness is a necessity in good management.  So says, business consultant Pat Lencioni in his useful
Businessweek article entitled The Dilemma of the Difficult Employee.  Once the manager repeatedly makes the employee aware of his bad behavior, it’s then up to the employee to either change or quit.  If neither happens, the employer can either tacitly allow the behavior to continue or give the employee the pink slip.  It’s always disruptive and expensive to terminate an employee but if a manager has communicated directly, effectively and repeatedly with that employee, termination may be the best alternative.  It can send a message to the company that poor behavior will not be tolerated and shows the manager in a decisive light, having high standards of corporate etiquette.  On the other hand, there always remains the risk of alienating the employees who were friends of the difficult employee, and potential lawsuits and
severance packages.  However, these risks can be mitigated by constant communication with the difficult employee and clearly defined corporate standards of behavior.

Perhaps we need an authority role in corporate America who would manage standards of behavior, rules of engagement in the corporate arena.  Heck, if the Little League can have standards of behavior, why can’t corporate America?  We could call the role Chief Etiquette Officer.  If asked, I’d nominate Mr. Carson as the first Chief Etiquette Officer, but since he doesn’t exist, I think Mr. Tom Denham would do quite nicely, thank you very much. Tom Denham of the Timesunion.com is the author of a thoroughly helpful article called
Office Etiquette that’s worthy of our Mr. Carson.  In his article, Mr. Denham is a veritable Emily Post on proper office etiquette.  He claims and I agree that bad manners can hurt your career and your reputation, calling them “CLMs (Career Limiting Moves)”.  

He organizes his office etiquette advice into three categories:   Interpersonal (e.g., “Listen first to others, ask questions and  then comment constructively,”) Communication (e.g., “Be careful with whom and where you hold conversations”,) and Technological, copier/paper (e.g., “Refill the copier or printer if you used the last piece of paper, internet (e.g., “Use of lower case  letters when starting a sentence is just lazy,”) and phone (e.g., “Turn your phone to silent when you are working and give them your full and undivided attention.”)  It’s important to your own career path to practice these common courtesies even if your corporate culture doesn’t embrace them.   Your polite and appropriate words and actions follow you throughout your career, especially with the permanence of social media. 

I still remember fondly my first boss who was the most courteous man I have ever met.  Corporate etiquette really is important to sustain relationships because relationships sustain careers and companies.