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Managing Staff

Beware: Psychos at Work

People are a company’s greatest asset, but some may be its biggest threat.

Monique Verduyn




The nature of psychopaths in the workplace has been revealed by psychopathy expert Robert Hare and industrial psychologist Paul Babiak in a riveting read entitled Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. Here we look at some important lessons to be learnt from the book.

Publishing mogul Robert Maxwell rose from poverty to build an extensive empire, which collapsed after his death. His lavish lifestyle and his business had been supported with hundreds of millions of pounds from his employees’ pension funds, leaving thousands of them destitute.

He is just one example of the psychopath that lurks in the world of work – a person without conscience and incapable of empathy, guilt, or loyalty to anyone but themselves. People who are psychopathic prey ruthlessly on others using charm, deceit and even violence to allow them to get what they want.

Robert Hare has devoted most of his academic career to the investigation of psychopathy, its nature, assessment, and implications for mental health and criminal justice. He is the author of several books, including Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, and more than 100 articles on psychopathy. He is the developer of the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised and is also a consultant to the FBI.

Paul Babiak is an industrial and organisational psychologist and president of HRBackOffice, an executive coaching and consulting firm specialising in management development and succession planning. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Harvard Business Review, and Fast Company.

Together, Hare and Babiak have extended the theory and research on psychopathy to the business and corporate world, developing tools to screen for psychopathic traits and behaviours.

In Snakes in Suits they explain how psychopaths manipulate their way into lucrative jobs and promotions, the effects of their presence on colleagues and companies, and the superficial similarities between leadership skills and psychopathic traits. Interlaced with a fictional narrative illustrating how the facts apply to real-life situations, it’s a fascinating and at times terrifying exploration of everyday psychopathy where it’s least expected – in the workplace.

Psychopathic Traits

So how do you spot the psycho among your work colleagues? The most reliable, widely used instrument for assessment is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). It rates a person’s psychopathic or antisocial tendencies. The symptoms include: lack of a conscience or sense of guilt, lack of empathy, egocentricity, pathological lying, repeated violations of social norms, disregard for the law, shallow emotions, and a history of victimising others.

The Hare PCL-R covers two key aspects that help define the psychopath: selfish and unfeeling victimisation of other people, and an unstable and antisocial lifestyle. It scores 20 items that measure central elements of the psychopathic character:

  1. Glib and superficial charm
  2. Grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  3. Need for stimulation
  4. Pathological lying
  5. Cunning and manipulativeness
  6. Lack of remorse or guilt
  7. Shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  8. Callousness and lack of empathy
  9. Parasitic lifestyle
  10. Poor behavioural controls
  11. Sexual promiscuity
  12. Early behaviour problems
  13. Lack of realistic long-term goals
  14. Impulsivity
  15. Irresponsibility
  16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  17. Many short-term marital relationships
  18. Juvenile delinquency
  19. Revocation of conditional release
  20. Criminal versatility

When properly completed by a qualified professional, the PCL-R provides a score that indicates how closely the test subject matches the “perfect” score that a classic psychopath would rate. A prototypical psychopath would receive a maximum score of 40, while someone with absolutely no psychopathic tendencies would score zero.

Lurking Amonst Us

Less reassuring is Hare and Babiak’s estimate that 1% of a population – about 487 000 people in South Africa – are psychopaths. This number suggests that we are likely to come across at least one in the course of a typical day. Worse yet, they found that among high-potential executives psychopaths make up 3,5%.

Modus Operandi

Psychopaths are skilled individuals. According to Hare and Babiak, they have a talent for reading people and for sizing them up quickly. Smooth as silk, they identify a person’s likes and dislikes, motives, needs, weak spots and vulnerabilities. They know exactly what buttons to push, and they’re always ready to push them.

Many seem to have excellent communication skills; they will jump right into a conversation without being held back by social inhibitions. They make up for lack of substance and sincerity by adopting a confident, aggressive delivery style. They believe they deserve whatever they can take and will use the information they glean against the person they are talking to.

They are also masters of impression management and will change personas to suit the situation.

“In the great card game of life,” say Hare and Babiak, “psychopaths know what cards you hold, and they cheat.”

Some will take advantage of almost anyone – from the secretary who runs the boss’s diary, to the CEO of the company.

Because they believe they are superior and that others exist to serve them, they believe that their victims deserve what they get. Typically, they begin by assessing their prey, manipulating them to get what they want, and then abandoning them once they are no longer useful.

Although they will work almost anywhere, psychopaths have a particular predilection for jobs in companies where they can take advantage of others, make a killing, and hide as well. This makes the world of the medium and large business most attractive. Hare and Babiak point out that it’s of great help to the psychopath that the corporate world, with its often questionable norms and behaviours, may well be the perfect hunting ground for the psychopath.

Like all predators, the authors maintain, the psychopath goes where the action is. They commit fraud, steal and abuse co-workers. But first, the initial challenge for any psychopath is to be hired.

Don’t Be Fooled

The face-to-face interview is where the psychopath has an advantage. Their ability to come across as smooth, talented, bright, ambitious, sensitive, self-confident and assertive enables them to present a compelling package to the business owner or department manager – after all, this is what every employer is looking for.

With so many people being hired on the basis of perceptions, the unsuspecting interviewer can quite easily fall for the psychopaths’ technique: their convincing communications style may lead the interviewer to believe that the candidate has leadership potential well beyond the knowledge, skills, and abilities listed on their CV. So skilled are psychopaths at the interview process, that it’s not unusual for them to be hired on the basis of their perceived future contribution to the company. As a result, they will often be hired in the belief that they are “better” than the job they are applying for.

Before You Employ

The hiring process aims to assess the qualifications of candidates and determine who will be best able to do the job. Hare and Babiak suggest following some strict rules.

1. Check the résumé. With the advent of the Internet, a job advertisement can lead to piles of résumés from interested candidates. Snakes in Suits warns against using the résumé as a screening device. It is common knowledge that many contain distortions or even outright lies. While many applicants tailor the information on the CV’s to position themselves more appropriately, the psychopath’s CV will likely contain fake degrees and diplomas, jobs the applicant never held and promotions that never happened. That’s why it’s essential that every piece of information contained in a CV be verified, from education to employment history, to professional memberships. Take nothing
for granted.

2. The first screening interview. Candidates who make it to interview stage are expected to offer examples of work experience and skills that advance their candidacy. Psychopaths, however, will pick up what the interviewers need to hear and will begin to manipulate them accordingly. It’s almost impossible to differentiate them from legitimate candidates at this stage. Do watch out, however for flowery language, inconsistencies, distortions and bad logic.

3. The second screening interview. At this stage, regular applicants will really want to get the job; psychopaths will have a hidden agenda – they want the job so that they can take advantage of the company. And because psychopathy is not a mental illness, but a personality disorder, psychopaths will come across as particularly sane – not even exhibiting the insecurities and neuroses that plague the rest of us.

HR and key staff who conduct face-to-face interviews must be formally trained in interview techniques, and they must prepare for each interview. Draw up a list of questions and ensure you obtain an answers for every question on the list. Failing this, the psychopath will take control of the process.

4. Asking the right questions. A seasoned interviewer will begin by asking questions about the candidate’s background, experience, expertise and education, including a look at career moves. The interviewer will listen out for three levels of responses: the overt answer to the question, the impression the candidate is making, and the underlying competencies, motivations and values reflected by the overt answers. Hare and Babiak point out that many interviewers focus only on overt answers, and the impression the candidates make on them, rather than delving deeper into competencies, motivations and values.

Retain Control of the Interview

Psychopaths avoid answering questions directly and will introduce topics that are of interest to the interviewer to distract them. Because they are not daunted by the interview situation, they will be extremely convincing and know all the jargon. If pressed on a detail, they will simply change gear and divert the conversation.

Hare and Babiak offer these guidelines to prevent this from happening:

Stick to the interview plan

  • Ask for work samples
  • Focus on action and behaviour
  • Clarify details
  • Look for appropriate feelings
  • Take notes
  • Do not decide alone
  • Know thyself

Lying is hard to detect so verify facts. Hare and Babiak caution that casual diagnosis of psychopathy is impossible for the layperson, but the first line of defence lies in hiring and selection.

Here are some examples of the type of overt questions to ask:

  • What did the candidate really do in this job?
  • What role did they play – supportive or leading?
  • How did the candidate handle problems that came up?
  • The answers to the following questions may reveal underlying competencies:
  • Does the person communicate well in a somewhat stressful face-to-face situation?
  • Did the candidate exhibit good judgement in the career choices they made?
  • Did the candidate take on more responsibilities over time or did they just do the same thing over and over?
  • Did the candidate demonstrate leadership, integrity and teamwork?

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Managing Staff

Why Small Teams Get It Done Better, Faster And Under Budget

How is a project delivered four months ahead of schedule and R2 million under budget? Because small teams deliver work within significantly shorter time frames and with smaller budgets. Here’s how.





The challenge

We will focus on teams that are given tasks that must be completed within a specific time frame, for instance a set number of items by close of business or objectives to be reached by a specific date, and we will also investigate the difference in performance between larger and smaller teams. Our case studies are based on client interventions by a management consulting company that co-author Anton Burger worked for. During these client interventions he worked with and managed teams ranging from two to 110 people across various industries.

An interesting truth was revealed during two such client interventions several years apart when two teams, one large and one small, had to deliver the same type of solution. The smaller team delivered the work within a significantly shorter time frame and with a smaller budget.

Over the 19-year period that our co-author Anton Burger worked with and managed teams, the question was often asked, why are smaller teams able to achieve so much more? Let’s look at the following example.

A big life insurance company wanted to computerise their business processes to improve operational efficiencies. This would not only bring down operational cost but also improve customer experience.

Related: Why Small Businesses Are Unable To Pay Staff Salaries

The management team of the organisation approached Victor Pereira (pseudonym), a management consultant, to assist with the selection of suitable software to computerise the business and to put a team together to implement the system. A system was soon selected and a seven-member team was established.

The team consisted of a team leader, a two-man development team, an IT expert and a three-man business analysis (to determine the needs of the business) and testing team. The members of the team were all specialists in their fields and had much experience.

Besides the normal challenges that go with a project of this nature, there was one additional challenge — the version of the software in question had never before been implemented anywhere in the world. The client would be the first.

Adding to this challenge was the fact that, should any software code issues come up, they could only be resolved by the software provider based in the United States. This meant the team needed to be flexible and had to work after hours in South Africa to coincide with the working hours of the software provider.

However, the project team took ownership of the challenges and was determined to solve the issues and implement the system. The relatively small size of the team made communication and decision-making easier.

Large teams heighten complexity

Each team member was adaptable, committed to the project goals, and took ownership. This insured effective and high-quality deliverables. A combination of factors, such as the size of the team, the right people with the right skills and their commitment to the goals, ensured that the project was delivered four months ahead of schedule and R2 million under budget.

After the successful completion of the project, Victor was approached by the life insurance company to salvage a project to replace their outdated and disparate transactional systems (that had already been computerised) with a single modern system. The company had already spent some time and money trying to implement a new transactional system but little progress had been made. As project director, Victor was confronted with the challenge to restart the project and complete it within the original time frame with a smaller budget.

Given the time pressure, the company believed throwing a big team at the problem would help solve it. Up until this point in his career, Victor had predominantly worked with smaller teams and had never experienced the challenges surrounding teamwork in a team of this size.

A mixture of existing and new teams was assigned to the project. This overall team, totalling 110, was made up of multiple sub-teams ranging between four and 12, each with their own team leader. Multiple vendors supplied software components, which had to be integrated with each other and existing interfaces.

The multiple teams and vendors, combined with a highly regulated financial services environment, created an extremely complex project. The size of the greater team posed a significant challenge in terms of communication and co-ordination. Teams started planning their respective deliverables, sometimes without consulting or planning with other teams that were involved. Some team leaders excluded team members from the planning process, which meant that team members could not commit to time frames. This led to a lack of commitment with team members not taking ownership.

Consequently, the project struggled to gain momentum. A project of this scale requires careful planning and coordination between the different teams involved. Teams depended on deliverables from other teams to meet deadlines. For example, the development team could not start development unless the business analysis team had completed their business needs specifications.

The problems were exacerbated by the fact that team leaders did not have the right authority levels to make decisions on the spot and this also hampered progress. One of the key teams started missing critical deliverables, which had a negative impact on all the other teams.

The moment non-delivery becomes a reality, pressure mounts for all parties involved. At times like these the level of trust among team members is the glue that holds things together. However, in this case there was a breakdown in trust among some members of the overall leadership team.

At this point Victor realised that at the current rate of progress the team would not reach the project goals. An intervention was needed. He red-flagged it with the managing director of the company and it was decided that a different approach to coordination was urgently needed.

The project was stopped and the approach reevaluated. The entire project was re-planned but this time with all the team leaders and team members involved. Victor was astounded by the complete about-turn in the team morale. This resulted in more realistic timelines and commitment from all team members, which fostered a sense of ownership.

The project made good progress but sadly, due to the significant delays, the original launch dates could not be achieved and the project was over budget. Surprisingly (or not), the small team that was incorporated into the bigger team made excellent progress and delivered on their scope of work, on time.

Related: 7 Team Building Ideas To Create An Engaged Team

Small teams achieve better teamwork

The value of teamwork, the importance of managing teams well and even the effectiveness of smaller teams have been well documented and developed over the past 70 years. In the 1950s a more scientific approach was introduced to the concept of teamwork when two American engineers, Joseph M. Juran and W. Edwards Deming, took their philosophy on quality to Japan. They were invited by the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers to do something about the perceived poor quality of Japanese products.

Their thinking gave birth to the concept of Quality Circles — a system in which small teams of employees voluntarily come together to define and solve a quality or performance-related problem. Secondly, it led to Total Quality Management — a system of managerial, statistical and technological concepts and techniques aimed at achieving quality objectives throughout an organisation.

This system expanded into teams with the relevant authority (at low levels) to make decisions. During the late 1980s and early 1990s organisations across the globe were dominated by self-managing teams,  relatively small and highly autonomous work teams that take responsibility for a product, project or service, and self-directed teams,  small groups of employees who have day-to-day responsibility for managing themselves and their work.

Another type of team that is often used to improve organisational performance is a mission-directed work team. The aim of mission-directed work teams is to provide leaders and their teams with the skills to:

  • Achieve high and continually improving levels of quality, speed and cost effectiveness
  • Establish goal alignment and business focus
  • Benchmark themselves against best leadership and workplace practices to identify and address high leverage areas for improvement in a systematic manner
  • Create a visual workplace (the use of pictures, graphics and other images to convey information and meaning quickly and simply) to simplify the management
  • of objectives
  • Achieve teamwork, participation and continuous learning.
  • Work teams have gained worldwide acceptance in organisations. However, while teamwork is essential to organisational performance, effective teamwork is often elusive.

A decline in effectiveness is often caused by teams that are too big, teams that do not have a clear purpose or a structured plan or are made up of the wrong members. Teams that are not trusted with great responsibility and are not allowed much freedom to make their own decisions may also fail. Conflict, mistrust and poor leadership are often the leading causes of poor performance by a team.

Professors Martin Hoegl, head of the Institute of Leadership and Organisation at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Hans Georg Gemuenden, of BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo and K. Praveen Parboteeah of University of Wisconsin–Whitewater investigated the effects of team size on teamwork quality among 58 software development projects. They found that the top five teams, in terms of teamwork quality, ranged in size from three to six members and the bottom five from seven to nine members. More significantly, on average, teams of three members achieved 63% of the teamwork quality of the best team, which is in stark contrast to teams of nine members which only achieved 28%.

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Managing Staff

7 Simple Steps To Strategise For 2019’s Success

To make that happen you will need to start strategising soon. So let’s talk about how all of us can create effective team strategies for 2019.

Revel Africa




With the buzz and hoopla in full swing this holiday season, as managers and business owners it’s good to remember that the new year is right around the corner. We all want next year to be better than this one, and you probably have a few improvements in mind that you want to see come to fruition.

To make that happen you will need to start strategising soon. So let’s talk about how all of us can create effective team strategies for 2019.

1. First, clarify your goals

To know what the new year should look like, start by understanding what this year was like. Pull reports now while data is fresh, and look at this year’s performance. Identify the changes you’d like to see in the upcoming year.

Then you can clearly see what you want your team to achieve in the new year:

  • What specific metrics need work?
  • Do you want to see an increase in overall revenues by a certain percentage?
  • How about improving productivity and cutting costs?

2. Time to plan

Once you have an idea of what needs changing you can work out the details of how you will achieve it.

Consider the SMART acronym when putting your plan together. Is your plan:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)

As leaders we need to lead with clarity and decisiveness, but we will do well to gain the input and ideas of those we lead.

Once you have your plan in place, you can bring in your team.

Related: Planning A Year End Function On A Budget? Five Fabulous Tips To Get The Most Bang For Your Buck

3. Book a break-away meeting

Plan your meeting after the holiday season has passed. The start of the year is a good time, as everything has calmed down, minds are fresh, and people are ready for vision. So, early in January, bring your key management team together and let them know you would like to discuss the goals for the upcoming year.

Plan a meeting away from the office so that the usual distractions are eliminated, and you can all focus on the key objectives. Sometimes we need help arranging these things, like finding a great venue, arranging food, including ice-breakers, creative starters and games to get the juices flowing, and so on. This is not your core skill set, so consider hiring an event planner and an MC to keep the day on track, so that you can focus on the main thing – getting the team focused and energised for success in 2019.

4. Setup the meeting agenda

Start the meeting by bringing everyone up to speed by reviewing last year’s stats. Show the results that you reviewed and allow them to see where the areas of success were, as well as the areas that need attention. If you haven’t already, recognise the team members who stood out in various important aspects of the business. This is tremendously motivating and encouraging.

Get a conversation going either in small teams, or around the table where ideas are brainstormed for how to solve the areas that need improvement. Find out from the team why they think the business struggled in these areas, and how they think improvements can be made.

Your agenda could cover these conversation starters:

  1. What are the three most important objectives for this year. Think “big picture” here, things that touch on profit and future achievement.
  2. Who is responsible for each of these?
  • What will you do?
  • How will you do it?
  • By when will you do it?
  1. Break the year up into monthly metrics and put quarterly goal-planning reviews on your calendar. This commits you to pause and measure every 90 days, while keeping a close eye on profits, clients, projects, revenue in 30-day intervals.
  2. Link up. Remember, lone wolves starve to death. Think about who can you partner with in 2019 to reach your goals – who are your advocates, allies, referral sources, and potential joint venture partners who can help you leapfrog over obstacles and who complement your own products and services. Get contact details and build your relationship with them so you can collaborate more closely – starting right now.

Remember to take breaks that are fun and creative in order to unhook from this intense deep dive into strategy. You don’t want to burn out your team right at the start of the year. Keep snacks, water, and activities going so that they have fuel to keep on but start the year motivated and positive.

5. Draw up the final plan

Once done, it is time to go through all of the input you have received to supplement your strategies, and draw up the final plan. When your final plan is ready, bring the remainder of your team together and lay out the plan for 2019. This can be done via a video recording, Skype, an email, a meeting, or one-on-one conversations, depending on the size and locations of your team. Be clear about what they need to bring to the table in 2019 and how it will be measured. Then ask for a commitment from each team member to work toward the improvement in the coming year.

6. Tracking and Measuring

Once the team is committed and bought into the 2019 strategy, you’ve only just begun. Set policies and procedures in place to track progress, provide updates, and hold people accountable to their commitments. Some managers might opt to check the metrics daily and send out weekly updates, while others may check weekly and send out monthly updates. Whatever you decide, consistency is key to ensure you stay on track to achieve your goals in 2019.

7. Invest in resources for success in 2019

As this year winds down, commit yourself to leading, motivating, and inspiring your team to work together towards your common goal. Plan how you can come alongside your managers to ensure their success by offering mentoring, support, training, and whatever resources they need to achieve these goals.Their success is ultimately your success.

Similarly it might be a good time to invest more into your own growth – consider a mentor for the year ahead who can help take you past your own limitations and rutted thinking. Read books on leadership and other’s business successes; plan three mini-holidays in the year to keep you sharp and focused. Remember you can only give to others what you yourself have.

This simple yet effective strategy can be applied to whatever type of business you are in, and can help you gain the buy-in of your vision by your team and make 2019 a year of achievable success.

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Managing Staff

The Value Of Employee Growth

When you’re running a fresh and shiny new business, how do you ensure your employees feel like they have a place to go?

Chris Ogden




Investing into the future of an employee is a complex task at the best of times. Well-established organisations battle to manage employee expectations and growth trajectories so what options does a startup have when it is still finding its feet? While having an agile and energetic young company is often enough of a drawcard for talent, you still need to create pathways that are unique to your business and that allow for employees to grow, both personally and professionally.

Step 01: Embrace difference

Recognise that your business is made up of a variety of different roles and that each one offers different employee pathways. You need to find the pathways and roles that suit an employee’s personality and their idea of where they want to grow.

It’s in seeing these differences and embracing them that you are already providing your employees with a voice and showing them that they are heard.

Related: 5 Benefits Of Turning Your Employee Into An Intrapreneur

Step 02: Be inventive

Find a way of creating growth opportunities even with the few roles you have in your business. For example, you could create a methodology that has tiered levels within a specific role. Then a person has opportunity to expand their skills and responsibilities in that role. This would work for roles that are fixed, like an office admin, or for roles that are flexible.

Step 03: Finance and responsibility

Outline how a person can grow financially and show them the additional objectives and responsibilities their role offers. Some people aren’t just about the money, they want more to do and they don’t want to be bored.

Step 04: Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

It is essential that you measure people so that you can create opportunity for them. Tell them their KPIs so that they have benchmarks and everyone has expectations. This allows you to let people know when they are or are not doing well.

They can assess their performance properly and there is no risk of people having differing expectations that impact on ability or role. You must openly and honestly review employees and yourself.

Related: 6 Ways To Build Your Business With Employee-Entrepreneurs

Step 05: Encourage mentorship

It’s really worth encouraging people to guide or mentor one another. Some people may stay in your business for years, some only for a few months, but you want to see them all grow. By creating an environment that inspires people to mentor and guide one another, you’re ensuring that every person in your business is given a chance to teach and to learn.

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