How to Discourage Rats, Stool Pigeons and Informants in the Workplace

A few years ago, I called my boss on his cell phone.  After a few pleasantries, I said,”You have created a culture of informants in this organization.”

Tough conversation.  Probably should have had the conversation face-to-face, but it was hard to get a word in edgewise in person.

It took a lot of courage to call him out on his culture of informants.  Especially since I had to do this twice because the call dropped off.

A little background.  I worked in a company in the publishing business as a manager for fourteen years.  Up until the last few years, it was a good place to work.  The last few years were tough because our company was bought by our biggest competitor.  The other company competed with us in some of the same markets with a very similar looking product.  The products were even called the same thing.

The culture of the other company was shocking.  There was a culture of talking a lot about the truth, but lying.  We used to say that when we had a conversation with any of the new management staff, we would get to listen to them go over their resumes-every time they talked.  And, boy could they talk.

I had the conversation, telling him, “You have created a culture of informants in this organization.”

His response was, “John, I don’t know how you can say that.  I hate people informing on each other.”

Then I asked, “If you hate it why do you support it?”

He said, “I don’t support it.  What makes you think I support it?”

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I said, “You support the culture of informants by responding to the informers.  You support the culture of informants by supporting a culture where people get ahead by catching people out, rather than catching the problem, or catching people doing things right.”

There was a long pause.  If hadn’t had 37 quarters of uninterrupted growth in sales I don’t think he would have heard me out.  Nor, would he have asked the next few questions.

President of the company-“How can I ignore it when people bring something wrong to my attention?”

John-“I don’t expect you to ignore it.  I simply want you not to support it.  If something is illegal or contrary to company policy, then you have to act.”

I didn’t have a specific script for him to use when responding to informers, like I do now.  I should have provided him with the below script, which you now have in your tool box.

“Joe, thanks for bringing this to my attention.  I’ll look into it.  I am going to change the culture of this organization from one where a lot of people, and I’m not saying you are one of them, try to curry favor by ratting out their fellow employees.  You, and I and everyone else will support this change by catching people doing things right with the same fervor that some in the organization try to catch people out. How can you support me in this?”

Can you guess what happened?  The company paid lip service to creating a new culture while continuing to reward rats and stool pigeons, thereby reinforcing this culture of informants.

Action Items:

  1. Give loud and public support to people doing things right.  Catch people doing things right.
  2. Let everyone in your organization know that you want to promote a culture of catching people doing things right, not trying to catch people out.
  3. Let everyone know that they will not curry favor with you by ratting people out.
  4. Let people know they can curry favor with you by catching people doing things right.
  5. Use this phrase with individuals.  “Joe, thanks for bringing this to my attention.  I’ll look into it.  I am changing the culture of this organization from one where a lot of people, and I’m not saying you are one of them, try to curry favor by ratting out their fellow employees.  You, I, and everyone else will support this change by catching people doing things right with the same fervor that some in the organization try to catch people out. How can you support me in this?”
  6. Enjoy a much happier and more productive work force.

About jcameron

People don't avoid tough conversations or tough actions because they are stupid or or lazy or don't care. People don't take on the tough things because they aren't confident and comfortable with a process to take them on. Confidence builds courage and courage leads to action. Through consulting, speaking, training and resources, using humor and great process, John Cameron helps teams and leaders own the skills, the plan and the courage to do what they must do to increase the wealth of their clients, themselves and their organizations. Before he became an energetic and powerful speaker and trainer, John Cameron was a proud member of the 1st of the 509th Airborne Battalion Combat team. After military service, he earned a business degree and worked as a stockbroker in Carmel and Sacramento, California.  John moved into the advertising field, leading his growing sales teams to 37 uninterrupted quarters of growth. During three of those quarters he was project manager during replacement of a legacy advertising system. While managing the project he led his team to double digit growth and found savings of $750K a year-without sacrificing people! When he became a speaker and trainer, John already possessed a wealth of life and workplace experiences to draw upon for his presentations. Add to this John's experience as a top trainer for major national training orgainizations and the result is consulting, training and speaking filled with strategies and techniques that have been tested and proven to work in the real world.
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