How to create a toxic work culture in one easy move

Let’s say you were an Evil Manager, and your main goal was create as toxic a culture as possible. You couldn’t be too obvious about it, because people would figure out what you’re up to and push back. You’d need something simple, subtle, and high-leverage.

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What you’d want to do is incentivize them to turn against each other with something like a ranking. You don’t want to use a public ranking- just one that they’re vaguely aware exists. They don’t need to be good if they can make other people look bad, and if they never know exactly where they stand, they’ll play it safe and try really hard to maximize their contributions (or at least the appearance of them) and minimize others. Voluntary collaboration will stop, because now they’re secretly competitors, not teammates. They’ll spend a lot of energy trying to look good, but without being too obvious about their campaign.

There are a lot of ways you can create a ranking. There are overt stack-rankings, but you’re better off going with something subtle. The best way to do it works like this:

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The beauty of this is that you don’t have to tell anyone what their rank on the team is. You could give everyone identical reviews, and they’ll just assume that some slacker on the team got a better score than them. Also, want to fire someone? Just give them low scores, and try to make them prove they deserved a higher “hustle” score. Want to do lay-offs without doing any work? Get rid of everyone with a score of 2 or lower, and say you “went off the numbers”, and that it’s only a place for high-performers.

Pretty soon, they’ll be pointing out other people’s mistakes, hoarding tasks, siloing knowledge, and maybe even intentionally over-complicating their work to make themselves harder to replace. You’ll have created a totally toxic culture, and all you had to do was make them think you were ranking them. An Evil Victory!

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Educator, business dork, software developer. kylecoberly.com

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