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how to deal with bad apples

How To Deal With Bad Apples

In the last few posts, I have been talking about what it takes to be a Great Place to Work. It’s all about trust and purpose. One of the questions I had recently at a speaking engagement is very relevant ‘What if you have a rotten apple inside your organization– someone who is not just disengaged but subversive…’ Every leader needs to learn how to deal with bad apples.

We are pretty close to our people at RedBalloon – as a leadership team we are all committed to the team and we listen and recognise contribution. But engagement is a journey. It is many many ongoing activities. It has taken an amazing commitment from everyone in the business to want to be a part of a Great Place to Work.

I responded to the question ‘Act quickly. Cynicism and anti social behaviour cannot be tolerated – there is a place for these people but not inside your business – if someone is not living the values and contributing, they need to be somewhere else. As a leadership team if we don’t act quickly then the trust and values we have worked so hard to nurture will begin to look like lip service. It might be unpleasant – but our people expect us to be forthright and make the tough decisions.’

Many years ago we recruited someone who was in a very autonomous role. After just a few months I was beginning to hear whispers from his team that all was not right. There were a few resignations in that team, which seemed odd. One of those employees in the exit interview outlined that this colleague had in fact been using company resources to run his own business – during work hours. When challenged by his colleagues he had said ‘that I knew about it – and had condoned it’. The employees were confused. It looked as if I was saying one thing but turning a blind eye. So they went to find jobs else where.

His actions and words completely undermined our values and the trust in the leadership team.

Listening to Stuart King, Managing Director of Risk to Business at a recent HR conference. His business looks at bad apples. According to Stuart ‘Essentially bad stuff happens in the community, and workplaces are a microcosm of that….. so bad people exist in workplaces. Sometimes the culture puts controls over them, on other occasions it gives them license – it is our job to weed them out.’

RedBalloon didn’t use outside services to investigate our problem. But in some cases, it would be much better to have experts support in such an investigation.

Our ‘bad apple’ chose to disappear quickly and quietly when confronted. Our culture would not allow such behaviour to go unnoticed for long.

So my advice is – if you think you have a problem, don’t ignore it, it won’t go away. Get external help if needed. Act quickly! Otherwise, all your hard engagement work will be a complete waste of energy. However, we as employers have a responsibility, we cannot just pass the problem on to some other employer, if unlawful activities have taken place then the appropriate actions must be taken – no matter how unpleasant – your people will respect you for it. We cannot have the bad apple upsetting someone else’s apple cart.

Reader Interactions


  1. Hi Naomi

    This makes sense. I’ve discussed this with another manager though and it brings up the question for us in relation to communication of such decisions internally. If we just let people know that someone moved on, how do other staff know that it is because the person wasn’t working in alignment with our values and that it was our decision? Do they need to know that? In light of what you have said it seems it would be good to be transparent about such decisions – however there may be issues around confidentiality? The difficulty in not advising staff what happened though is that word/gossip spreads anyway, whether true or not.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Warm regards

  2. Thanks Erin – and it is a very good point you raise… Authentic communication and leading by example are key to trust. What I will do is turn your question into a full blog post – and not only answer from the RedBalloon perspective – but also get some insight from other businesses and professionals. I will write a blog post on it… imminently as soon as I have some other points of view.

    Transparency doesn’t mean sharing every detail, it means always providing the context for your decisions.

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