It’s starts with a movie and this famous dialogue:
“What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around?
…He will be attractive! He’ll be nice and helpful. He’ll get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation. He’ll never do an evil thing! He’ll never deliberately hurt a living thing… he will just bit by little bit lower our standards where they are important. Just a tiny little bit. Just coax along flash over substance. Just a tiny little bit.”
And from that simple movie quote, we get a story about how it is not the destructive people in our lives that we can see coming from a mile away that we need to worry about; it is the ones that move us just a little bit, slowly and repeatedly, away from our values that will destroy us.
Why is that important for business?
In business, it isn’t so much the employee stealing from you that is going to ruin you – it’s the one that get you to lower your standards just a little bit that truly does the damage. They might even be profitable, but they get you to depart from who you are, and those people are collectively the “devil”.
Often they have a small, almost imperceptible – but very toxic – impact on your business’ culture. They are the quiet spreader of discontent that poke holes in your culture that allow cavities to grow. It might be passive-aggressiveness, which makes it hard to address and therefore insidious. It can become the business version of emotional abuse and gas-lighting.
Because it is subtle and small – there is no distinct contrast – it blurs together and is harder to see. You may not even notice the damage the devil has done until they are gone. And it doesn’t just affect the leaders of these companies, but it undermines the entire culture and can start to dilute core competencies.
So how big of an issue is big enough to address? You don’t want to micromanage, but you also don’t want to create an environment where you send the message that it doesn’t matter. Context matters, as does who the offenses impact. It isn’t the individual incidences that make up a devil, but the ongoing impact and consistency of the action.
And sometimes you need someone outside of you and the business – your very own Albert Brooks – to look at you and say, “he’s the devil”.
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