Leaders may not wish to admit it, but not everyone in the business will share their ambition for the organisation, particularly at times of change on the journey when agility, innovation and accountability is required to maintain revenue growth year after year.

A poor attitude to work, previous baggage from another company or a lack of respect for the organisation and everything it stands for can contribute to the one person you don’t want on the journey – the Cultural Assassin.

Although they tend to operate in a minority, they can do a great deal to harm your progress on the journey if you don’t know how to identify and then address them.

The Cultural Assassin is always ‘actively disengaged’ with the organisation on the business growth journey and is easy to recognise in the workplace.

You will find that Cultural Assassins:

  • Are physically present but psychologically absent
  • Are unhappy with their job role and work situation
  • Insist on sharing their unhappiness with others
  • Have often experienced poor leadership in the past
  • Are ‘going through the motions’ in the workplace

The Cultural Assassin is generally speaking a negative individual, inflexible and is prone to blaming others for just about everything that goes wrong in the organisation.

Assassins constantly make excuses for their poor performance and will offer evasive or ‘yes, but….’ responses when challenged.

If not tackled quickly by leaders in the organisation, the Assassin will work to their own agenda, try to enlist a small revolutionary group with similar views to themselves and over time will prove to be a ‘thorn in the side’ of others in the workplace.

Tackling the Cultural Assassin

The natural and understandable reaction of leaders is to act very swiftly and remove any Assassins who are likely to get in the way of the organisation’s progress on the business growth journey.

However from my own experience – and I’ve never quite understood this – firing a destructive Assassin tends to back-fire on the company. Employees often feel intimidated by the decision to remove a fellow colleague – even though they have been destructive – and this in turn affects individuals who previously had been committed on the journey.

In order to manage the Cultural Assassin, leaders should take the following action

  1. Communicate the plans for growth with everyone connected with the business from the outset of the journey
  2. Include in the plans the production of a compelling and inspirational vision for the organisation
  3. Highlight the proposed end-destination on the journey, the timescales involved and the challenges likely to be faced by the organisation
  4. Emphasise the importance of having as many people as possible committed to the journey
  5. Over emphasise the benefits of supporting the organisation on the journey and explain in detail the destructive role and impact of people with the wrong attitude (the Assassin)
  6. Hold regular review sessions and if possible carry out surveys inviting confidential feedback on the role of the leadership team, the performance of the organisation and any improvements needed to help take the business to the next level
  7. Inform operational employees of the results of any review sessions and surveys and explain the practical and positive things the leadership team will put in place to support them on the journey
  8. Publicly recognise that commitment from everyone on the journey takes time and indicate a timescale which you and the leadership team are prepared to be measured against
  9. Organise regular public journey progress review sessions with all employees and recognise any milestones achieved on the journey
  10. Communicate the importance of fairness, personal integrity, team-working, ownership and collective responsibility to the success of the organisation on the journey

By implementing the ten areas highlighted above, a greater degree of trust and confidence will be realised with the leadership team.

More employees will be inspired by the journey and in time will play an ever increasing role in the business.

Never underestimate the power of peer pressure

More importantly, Assassins will feel isolated and as a result of the ‘wave of enthusiasm and commitment’ created on the journey by other colleagues, will leave the organisation and look for new opportunities and targets better suited to their mind-set and demeanour.

Some, although from my own experience not many; will reluctantly change their attitude and commitment towards the organisation on the journey. But don’t hold your breath and better still, don’t concentrate your time and energy addressing the negativity emanating from the Cultural Assassin.

Instead focus on building a stronger nucleus of support from the people who are 100% committed to the journey. Peer pressure will contribute to an increase in energy, performance momentum and focus throughout the business.

Assassins will do the decent thing and leave the business, quietly and quickly, giving you the easier task of signing up new recruits to replace them on your journey.

Finally, successful, growing organisations enjoy high levels of engagement and low levels of Cultural Assassins across all areas of the business.

The most successful businesses do not have a single Cultural Assassin in the workplace.  

Best wishes on your journey, wherever it may take you.