HR Anti-Patterns or How to Ruin Company Morale in 10 Easy Steps

Over the course of my career, I have been able to work with a variety of companies in a variety of industries as a worker bee, manager, and consultant.

In any rapidly growing organization, the rate limiting factor for growth can often be limitations on how fast you can find high quality people.  Losing a good team member just makes this a little bit harder.  If you are a manager, it is your PRIMARY responsibility to keep your team motivated.  Remember, you have already read Joel’s Guerrila Guide to Hiring, you have great team players, now the key is to keep them.

So in the spirit of Anti-Patterns, here is what not to do to keep your team intact drawing from my years of experience in the startup technology game.

Pattern Name Description
Public Insult The manager makes sure that their person is dressed down in a public setting.  The more public and the smaller the employee feels the better.  Classic anti-pattern.
Everyone Else Knows Drawing on the Public Insult pattern is this pattern where you insult someone in a public setting, but ensure that they are not there.  If this can be done in a mixed group with the employees peers as well as other managers, even better.  Bonus points if you can bring in a senior manager who does not know the employee you are criticizing, but now thinks they have an attitude problem.  Added bonus points if the criticisms are about bad decisions the employee makes in their personal lives.
Thanks for Nothing Never, under any circumstances, recognize the effort that goes into a task.  When people say something is hard, it just means they are lazy and do not want to work.  After a big release, make sure that you point out all of the bugs and features that you want with no regard for their current accomplishment
Cone of Irresponsibility Although you demand Accountability (with a capital A) from all of your subordinates, make sure that it is impossible to ever get stuck with failure.  If your team does not produce, it must be that you are understaffed or that someone is not performing.  It could not be that their manager gave them an impossible task with no mentoring about how to get it done.
Ignorance is Bliss Why learn about the cause of a problem when you can just lash out.  You are in management, its your job to SOLVE PROBLEMS by ordering your team what to do.  Why hear out the intricate details of the problem.  Just order them to fix it.
Ridiculous Promotion Put someone in a position that they have neither the experience, training, and/or desire to do.  Do not explain to anyone, including the person in the new position, what you expect from them.  When they fail to meet your expectations, use Public Insult and Everyone Else Knows anti-patterns to sabotage their credibility.
The Amorphous Position Hire people into positions with no real job description.  Let them figure out what they should do.  Best done if you hire multiple people in with different but similar sounding job titles.  For example, you can hire a Project Manager, a Product Manager, and a Program Manager all at the same time and watch them fight it out to see who does what.
Bait and Switch Tell a candidate that they are applying for one position and then when they show up on their first day, put them in a completely different position in a different department.  If they are young, naive, and/or well compensated, what does it matter if they hate their job?  If hiring into a management position, tell them you expect phenomenal growth on their team and then cut their budget.
King of the Hill Make sure that everyone knows that you are the boss.  Get a nicer chair, nicer furniture, nicer computer, God knows you’ve earned it.  Couple this anti-pattern with the Public Insult to make sure no one gets too big for their britches.
Random Hiring Somewhat related to The Amorphous Position and the Ridiculous Promotion, make hiring decisions that do not make sense.  Why bother with consensus as long as you (and maybe your boss) like a candidate, that’s good enough.  You did not get to such a high ranking position without having a sixth sense for people’s nature.

I’m sure that there are more I can come up with, but dwelling on Anti-Patterns for too long is unhealthy.

Side Note:  Speaking of Anti-Patterns and losing good people, here is a great article on Java Exception Handling Anti-Patterns from a developer who used to work for me and who I drove out :), Tim McCune.

4 thoughts on “HR Anti-Patterns or How to Ruin Company Morale in 10 Easy Steps


  1. I was waiting for the one about letting your new employee sit next to your most disgruntled employee and wondering why they never came back for their 2nd day… 😉


  2. Yeah, that was not the best of ideas. The anti-pattern there was keeping the disgruntled employee around.

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