The Dangers of “I”

Human behavior is one of the most enthralling facets to observe, study, comprehend… in organizations. Observation of human behavior has lead us to the perception that although many organizations are strong in developing and maintaining technical skill sets, they struggle with understanding and addressing human behavior.  And not only struggle, but at times dismiss or reduce its value and impact on the organization.  It has also been observed that some organizations are faced with a particular behavior that causes significant impact both internally and externally – what we will call the “I” syndrome for our discussion today.

Past research and our mental models drive us toward the perceived need for teamwork in an organization and the demonstration of “we” behaviors and “we” speak.  Even with all of the efforts expended by organizations to produce “we” cultures, there are some individuals who see themselves as the “I” of the organization.  It is our hypothesis that the “I” syndrome leads to degradation of the stability or the organization.  When we say degradation, we mean the following:

The “I” syndrome can lead to:

  • Reduced loyalty by those who interact with the “I” possibly leading to turnover
  • Reduced communication with the “I” possibly leading to missed opportunities and rework
  • Reduced team work possibly leading to reduced participation, idea generation, and impact; and poor results
  • Increased frustration with the “I” by the internal customer, employee or co-worker possibly leading to refusal to work together and breakdown of teams
  • Increased frustration with the “I” by the external customers possibly leading to lost sales and refusal to work together
  • Decreased trust in the “I” possibly leading to rework and refusal to work together
  • Passover of the “I” for promotions and job enhancement opportunities possibly leading to missed growth opportunities and turnover
  • Credit taken where credit is not due possibly leading to misdirection of efforts/reward; and all bullets above

While we need to understand the potential impact of the “I” syndrome, we also need to understand what the “I” may be feeling/perceiving and what is driving this behavior?  Is the driver related to the actions of the organization or someone/some group, or related to an internal driver?  Let’s think about the possibilities for a minute.  The “I” might think or feel/perceive:

  • No one respects me
  • Someone is trying to take my job/credit for my work
  • I need to be recognized
  • I’m the leader
  • They can’t do it without me
  • I carry everyone
  • I’m the boss
  • This is my company
  • I’m the only one here who cares
  • I’m the only one here who does anything or knows how to do anything
  • I’m going to make myself look good no matter how my company looks
  • I need to showcase to ensure I have career security
  • I’ll show them
  • I’m proud
  • They work for me, so essentially, I did the work, so I’ll take credit for the work

What the “I” person is feeling/perceiving is a factor that should be considered in the determination of the root cause and the approach to address and remove the behavior.  Our premise is that no matter what the “I” person is feeling/perceiving, a need exists to thoroughly investigate to identify the driver of the behavior to ensure the “I” syndrome does not lead to degradation of the organization and become a systemic issue.

Our recommendation is it that is best to not assume that this is just that person’s personality, and to not assume this is an isolated incident that will have no impact beyond that person and ourselves at this point in time.  We recommend identifying the root cause(s) of the behavior by investigating both quantitative and qualitative data – asking questions to identify the what, when, where, how, why, who; while maintaining sensitivity.  We also recommend creating an action plan once identification of the root cause(s) has occurred.  An action plan should at least include the following components: conversation/discussion with everyone involved in the situation; revision/creation of new procedures, processes, and/or systems if necessary; reinforcement of desired behavior; evaluation; and assignment of consequences applicable to those involved for cases of non-alignment by employees; and documentation.

Addressing such a behavioral issue is sometimes difficult, but we’ve seen (with much diligence and wiliness of the “I” to improve) abolishment of the “I” syndrome.  We’ve also seen plans fail mainly due to poor approach by leadership,  improper identification of the root cause, lack of desire to work together to improve from the “I,” or lack of desire of other employees to accept the changed behavior of the “I.”  Remember, Lewin said we need to “unfreeze, change, and re-freeze.”  In these situations, the leadership, the “I” employee, and the co-workers/team members all need to participate in the behavioral change effort and contribute to the “unfreezing, changing, and refreezing.”

Where do we go from here?

We understand the impact of the “I” syndrome to our organization’s success. We keep an eye out for the “I” syndrome, and we recognize the importance of removing this behavior immediately.  We develop a plan to address the cause(s) of the behavior, and to evaluate the impact of our actions.

© 2013 Heather Williams-Cavaretta

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