This is a guide for CTOs, VPs of Software Engineering and other technology managers responsible for a software engineering organization. The purpose of this checklist is to help the CTO cover the areas of culture, technology and operations in their teams. It is presented in the form of a memo to direct reports.
Dear Tech Management Team Colleagues,
For those of you who have weekly 1:1 meetings with me, this template is a guide for our regular discussions. I value your experience, so please feel free to suggest making this format even better. I’d like us to cover three major areas on a regular basis.
Each of these three major areas is further divided into three sub-categories containing a list of items to consider reviewing.
The first time you see this list, it may seem too long to review in a 30 minute meeting. This is a guideline to structure our conversations. You are not expected to discuss each one of these at every meeting. This checklist will help us review things that are relevant at the time. Managers have successfully used this checklist to review pertinent items in less than 30 minutes.
Tip: Here is one way to effectively use this. Let us both spend 5 to 10 minutes to read this checklist in advance of each of our regular 1:1 meetings. We can even use the first 5 minutes of our meeting to read it. Then we will both have a good idea of which items are relevant for the next discussion from our perspectives.
Culture “people, behaviors & teamwork”
How well are your team members collaborating with each other?
…with their colleagues in other tech teams?
…with their stakeholders, customers and executives?
Are there any tensions that I need to be aware of?
Advocacy: What should we do to be better understood, respected, and appreciated by our stakeholders, customers and executives and vice versa?
Anything in this area that you are waiting on or need from me?
Is there anything non-work-related that you’d like to share?
Are the people in your teams happy with their work? How is team morale?
Is the work intellectually challenging?
Are they learning new things and getting better at existing skills?
Do they feel they are making a positive impact?
Are we taking good care of them?
Are we proactively providing feedback, coaching, and training?
Is anyone considering leaving that you know of?
Has anyone given notice?
Is there anything related to retention that you are waiting on or need from me?
Are you feeling a staffing shortage this week?
Are we thinking ahead and planning for capacity, skills and having some slack for flexibility?
How many open positions do you have in your team this week? How long have they been open?
What are you doing for recruiting?
Is there anything related to recruiting that you are waiting on or need from me?
What new technologies, platforms, products and APIs are we evaluating?
…releasing as open source or making public?
What are we doing to support integrations across teams?
Are you facing any challenges integrations across teams?
In what areas are we implementing temporary hacks?
How are your apps and platforms doing with respect to their goals in Performance & Scalability?
…On calls and P1s?
How are the integrations, process and relationships between the development, infrastructure and security folks?
Operations “projects, sustainability & recycling”
Are there any projects at risk?
Are there any changes to a) due dates, and/or b) delivery dates?
What did we a) accomplish, and b) work on over the past week?
What do we plan to do over the next week?
What projects/work can we decommission?
What was your budget forecast? How are we doing with respect to it? Any budget issues?
Did we recently say “no” to a stakeholder or executive’s project request (or say something would be very hard to do) that I should know about?
… any that we said “yes” to that I should know about? :-)
Did we give any estimates that I should know about?
What can I do to help? What do you need from me?
What did we learn from the past week?
Are we sharing these learnings with others who’d benefit from them?
Did we do any retrospectives? What changes are we making based on retrospectives?
Are there any process changes that you recommend? … for both outside and inside of your teams.
How can I help?
What issues are we facing now or are likely to face in the future?
What prioritization problems are we facing?
What do you suggest are our countermeasures to address those issues?
How can I and/or others help and support you or remove obstacles from your path?
Mixing it up
To prevent our weekly discussions from feeling too structured and getting stale, I suggest mixing it up a bit. Let us try this format for 3 out of every 4 of our regular 1:1s and keep 1 meeting free-form.
We can also break monotony by switching the locations of these meetings and having some of these discussions walking about.
Why discuss this in a meeting and not ask for this information in a weekly status report?
… because no one likes to write a status report, but everyone likes to talk :-)
Let us take a test and learn approach with this and adjust as we go along.
If you are the manager of a team of people at your job, here is a format we suggest for running your staff meetings. We call it the 3-5-7 format because of its convention of giving 3 to 5 minutes per person to answer 7 questions. This system assumes that you have fewer than ten direct reports so that you can complete such a staff meeting in under one hour.
The purpose of a staff meeting need not be to get status reports. If you have excellent collaboration tools at work where statuses, issues and risks are already documented, that’s preferable. Some companies like Automattic (WordPress) make great use of internal blogs for communication. However, face-to-face meetings are continue to be useful because our brains have evolved being wired for being most effective in face-to-face conversations for several things.
An in-person (or via video conference) discussion structured around these questions is likely to be effective in finding solutions, building a more collaborative team and keeping everyone on the same page.
Here are the seven questions we suggest you request each attendee to come prepared to answer.
What did we (you and the team reporting in to you) do over the past week?
What did you learn over the past week?
What do we (you and the team reporting in to you) plan to do over the next week?
What issues are we (you and the team reporting in to you) facing now or are likely to face in the future?
What do you suggest are our countermeasures to address those issues?
What do you need help with from the rest of us in this meeting?
Is there anything non-work-related that you’d like to share?
Each person may answer the seven questions the order of their choice and may also combine the answers to multiple questions. The only requirement is that all seven areas be answered in a focused, efficient, and effective narrative lasting between three to five minutes.
You can post these slides as signs in your meeting rooms and offices or include them at the start of your presentations. You can also open the original Google Slides document to print or leave comments.
Every time someone calls a meeting, they should consider using this simple template.
[ meeting-invitation-template begins ]
The desired outcome of this meeting is:
e.g. Come to agreement on solution for issue X
e.g. Make a decision about Y.
e.g. Share announcements about topic Z.
e.g. Continue to grow a good working relationship with each other by socializing in person.
Note: Explain what this meeting is meant to accomplish, instead of providing a description of the meeting. Focus on the desired result of the meeting. A meeting should accomplish one or more of three things:
Share knowledgeand agree to act on it and/or make it a practice
Knowledge, as in: data –leads-to–> information –leads-to–> knowledge –leads-to–> practice
You should come to this meeting because:
e.g. You are likely to have input into potential solutions for issue X
e.g. You are one of the folks who has a viewpoint on what decision to make regarding Y.
e.g. It would benefit you from hearing the announcements in this meeting.
e.g. This is your opportunity to ask questions about topic Z.
Note: Give the attendees at least one good reason to attend. Sometimes attendees have no idea why they are invited to this meeting. Don’t be seen as a waster of others’ time.
The guidelines for participating in this meeting are:
e.g. Please come prepared having read the document about ChaosMonkey.
e.g. Laptops & mobile communication devices are considered contraband during this meeting. If it is critical for you to have a computer during this meeting, bring a desktop computer :-)
By default, we should only attend meetings where we are active participants, not passive attendees with not much to contribute to the desired outcome of the meeting. There are some exceptions to this like training sessions, educational presentations or others where the purpose for attendees is to learn something.
When I receive a meeting request, I often reply with the following text.
May I please request the following information in advance of this meeting? It will enable me to prepare, participate and be productive in the meeting.
What do you recommend I should prepare in advance of this meeting?
What decisions do we need to make at this meeting?
What problems do we need to solve at this meeting?
Thank you in advance,
Time Management Tip: When you receive an invite for a meeting at work where you believe you may not add much value, reply to the invite with a polite message like:
Thank you for inviting me to this meeting. It seems from the subject, agenda, and attendees list that I’m not a required participant for this meeting. If I’m mistaken and my presence is required in this meeting, please accept my apologies and let me know that I should attend.
This is preferable to ignoring the meeting invite or declining without comment that may come across as rude.
To save time, you can save the above templates as text snippets to be inserted via a keyboard shortcut/macro or in a place from where you can quickly and easily copy and paste.
Companies should, by default, avoid scheduling meetings that start before 10am or end after 5pm. If an employee comes to the office at 8am on some days, it is often to use the two hours of the morning before meetings to catch up and/or get a head start on the day. Meetings that start before 10am are often harmful overall since they put the attendees in reactive catch up mode for the rest of the day. Similarly, meetings that go on beyond 5pm (or worse, start after 5pm) take away valuable time from employees that they use to absorb information and events of the day, catch up with replying to email and get ready for the next work day.
i.e. Companies should consider any time outside the 10am to 5pm window to be not available for meetings and definitely not any weekly recurring meetings.
Preferably, employees who are ‘makers’ should have one 4-hour continuous block of time each day when they are free from meetings. (‘Makers’ differentiated from ‘Managers’)
If you manage a team, value your team members time and want to improve productivity at your workplace with a simple change, consider implementing the 50/25 Meeting Recommendation that some companies are embracing. You can communicate something like the following to your team:
We deeply value your time, your productivity and your comfort at the workplace. As a part of our initiative to make your workday more productive, less hectic and better manageable, we recommend a 50/25 meeting format. It is simple concept: As much as possible, let us take all our meetings that are 1-hour long and shorten them to 50 minutes. For our meetings that are half-hour long, let us limit them to 25 minutes.
You will find that a 50 minute meeting will accomplish no less than a 60 minute meeting did and a 25 minute meeting will be as productive as a 30 minute one was. In fact, by having clear 50 minute and 25 minute deadlines, our meetings are likely to be better focused, on topic and more attentive. (For example: Since you will have time after the meeting to check email, there is likely to be less temptation to check emails during the meeting itself.)
The extra 10 and 5 minutes will give you valuable time back that could be used for many useful activities: Getting in the frame of mind for the next meeting or task; checking your messages to see if there is something urgent that needs your attention; or simply taking a bio break.
Please note that this not a mandate, but a recommendation. We realize that you may not be able to do this for every meeting. What we ask is that you consider doing this for meetings that you organize or can influence. As a result, we will make our great work culture even better, less stressful and even fun.
Further Reading & Thoughts:
NYTimes article about Larry Page, Google’s founder and new CEO instituting the same 50/25 meeting recommendation at Google:
Using smartphones — or worse, laptops — during in-person meetings diminishes productivity, is disrespectful to others and decreases your brainpower. Yes, scientific evidence indicates that multitasking makes people less intelligent.1
When you are doing something unrelated on your phone or laptop in inappropriate situations (e.g. during business meetings), you lose out because you become oblivious to the environment, people, and subtleties around you.
However, there are a few situations where it makes good sense to use a laptop or smartphone during in-person meetings.
When you are the designated note-taker for this meeting.
Taking notes on a computer or smartphone saves time, and is more accurate than taking paper notes and digitizing them later.
Notes on paper can’t be searched easily, pile up as clutter and are less environmentally friendly.
It is more secure than taking notes on paper that can be forgotten and read by others who should not have access to the information.
Meeting notes and action items can be automatically saved in real time and shared quickly after the meeting.
There should be only one person taking notes during a meeting. If it is a negotiation between two opposing sides, then there should be no more than one note-taker per side.
When you need to quickly look something up that is relevant to the discussion and is either necessary or helpful to the meeting in progress.
Entering action items that come up during the meeting into your to-do-list so that you can focus on the meeting. This is useful for people who use the GTD system with a tool like OmniFocus.
Quickly and discreetly asking a question, or sharing an opinion or information over instant message without disturbing others in the meeting.
The distractions on the device could be managed if the user is disciplined and remains focussed on the meeting, perhaps even using the laptop to participate more actively in the meeting. After all, even a person using pen and paper can be distracted doodling or daydreaming.
This is the digital age.
Tip: When you bring a laptop to a group meeting or one-on-one meeting, each time respectfully explain to the others beforehand that you will use the laptop for taking notes and recording action items in your to do list only. Inform them that you will be focusing attention on the discussion and that the laptop is simply your digital notepad.
There are also many reasons against using laptops or smartphones during meetings:
It comes across as disrespectful to some other meeting attendees, especially those with traditional styles of working.
The laptop screen creates a “wall” between you and the people sitting across you.
The laptop does make it easy to get distracted into reading your email or other online activities. (A tablet like the iPad that lies flat on the table like a writing pad does not have this problem.)
Tip: At the start of your meeting, announce that if anyone needs to use their phone or laptop, they should step out of the room, use their device outside and return when done. This way, attendees have the freedom and won’t feel constrained.
In most situations, the drawbacks of using a laptop or smartphone during an in-person meeting far outweigh the benefits.
Tip: Provide a mobile phone charging area in your meeting rooms to encourage attendees to put away their mobile phones and participate.
One of the most important lessons that was reinforced to me during the Aug 28th hacking attacks on Melbourne IT, the domain registrar for the Web sites of The New York Times, Twitter and many others was the importance of human relationships, personal networking and real-time communications during an emergency situation.
In this article, I’ll mention some of the human collaboration and technical aspects of the lessons that were reinforced. Minimizing the chances of having outages and getting hacked is beyond the scope of this article. This post is about resilience (i.e. dealing with and recovering) not prevention.
Well that was a fun day… lots of fantastic people in the tech community is a silver lining
I felt so honored, humbled, and happy when my friends and their friends at some of the best known Internet companies went above and beyond to help and spent most of their day in a Google Hangout video conference, helping restore public access to The New York Times’ Web site and other sites for the public on the Internet. They did this because they are good, helpful and tech experts. They took time out of their own jobs to help because they care about a common good cause and fighting against malevolence.
It was inspiring to watch so many brilliant tech people and leaders from multiple companies, many of who met on the video call for the first time, collaborated so well together and overcame the problems together. The combination of multi-participant video conferencing and text chat in Google Hangouts made it feel like we were all working in the same physical room together.
If you run a high profile Web site, it is critically important that your Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity Plan includes dealing with an emergency when your primary systems are unavailable, despite all the safeguards and backups you have in place. The domain registration hijack was one such example. A company can only have one registrar that holds their domain name registration information. There is no concept of a backup or failover registrar for a domain. To deal with this single point of failure, you need a backup Web presence on a separate domain.
Backup Web site on Separate Domain
You should maintain a backup Web site that:
Has a different domain name. For example, if your site is at example.com, your backup domain could be example.net.
Is registered with a different domain name registrar than your primary one. For example, if your primary registrar is MarkMonitor for example.com, then use Network Solutions for the backup domain example.net.
Uses DNS service hosted somewhere else. For example, if you run and host your own DNS servers for example.com, use an outsourced DNS hosting service like CloudFlare for example.net.
Uses a different Content Delivery Network (CDN). For example, if you use Akamai for example.com, use CloudFlare for example.net. You must have a CDN on your backup Web site so that it can handle your traffic.
Is hosted somewhere other than where your primary site is hosted and is implemented using a different (much simpler) technology platform that is highly likely to not have the same vulnerabilities.
Can feed your Mobile apps. Your mobile applications should be designed to be aware of this backup Web site and should be able to switch to it (automatically or via manual intervention) for retrieving content.
Does not share administrative access, logins and passwords with the primary site.
Preferably, this backup domain example.net should be managed by a separate team. This has two benefits: 1. In the situation of the primary team itself being compromised (sysadmin accounts hacked or a rogue employee) 2. The separate team can work on activating the backup site while the primary team focuses on restoring service of the primary site.
What you use your backup Web site for is up to you. If your primary Web site is a news and media Web site, you could use the backup Web site to publish content during an emergency impacting the primary Web site. If it is impractical for the backup Web site to provide similar (or a subset of) functionality, you could use it for providing status updates and communicating what is going on.
When the backup domain is not needed (which will hopefully be the case 99.9% or more of the time), it could simply be used for providing systems status, explaining it is in place for emergencies and linking to the primary Web site.
There’s no evidence that the Times’ internal systems were compromised. Instead, the attackers got control of the NYTimes.com domain name this afternoon through the paper’s domain name registrar, Melbourne IT…
Melbourne IT is the company that manages the domain name registration for The New York Times, Twitter and many other well-known sites. On Aug 28, it was Melbourne IT’s computer systems that were hacked which enabled the perpetrators to hijack The NY Times, Twitter and other companies’ domain names.
Surprisingly, the article on Ars Technica (an otherwise well-respected technology publication) was inaccurate and misleading. It incorrectly stated (quote) “The Times DNS records have been altered, and now point to an Australian hosting company, Melbourne IT.” (end quote) That would lead readers to incorrectly believe that the hackers redirected nytimes.com to DNS or fake Web sites hosted at Melbourne IT.
I’m surprised that the Ars Technica staff did not do their research before writing that post. Melbourne IT is (and has been for years) the official domain name registrar of The New York Times. In addition to being a domain name registrar, Melbourne IT also happens to be a hosting company, but that had nothing to do with the incident. As far as I know, none of the sites impacted that day used Melbourne IT for anything other than domain registration.
What Ars Technica should have said (like their sister publication Wired did) is that the perpetrators hijacked the nytimes.com and other Web sites by hacking Melbourne IT, the company that holds their domain name registration.
The Ars article is also misleading in its claim that The nytimes.com DNS records were altered. It was the domain registration records at Melbourne IT that were altered that then pointed to a whole different set of DNS servers outside of The NY Times’ control.
The Ars Technica article also pointed readers to NY Times’ URL by one of its IP addresses, which was also a mistake. If the Ars Technica folks had tested it themselves, they’d have realized that pointing people to the URL by IP was not the recommended way to access nytimes.com during the incident. Clicking on links on the IP page leads back to www.nytimes.com by name. They should have instead pointed readers to the alternate news.nytco.com URL recommended by The New York Times’ staff, which is what the Wired article did. They could have also suggested other good solutions like switching to using OpenDNS. In fact, I’d have expected a technical publication of Ars Technica’s good reputation to have published a step-by-step guide on switching to OpenDNS, which they wrote about back in 2006.
On the matter of bad behavior of complaining against others behind their backs, Ray Dalio, Randall Munroe and I share the same viewpoint. This article starts with Randall’s cartoon, Ray’s and my quotes on the subject and then discusses the causes of and solutions for this problem. Please note that this article is not about ethical whistleblowers, people who have no choice but to complain secretly about someone in a position of great power and formal authority above them engaged in wrongdoing. Backstabbing (the subject of this article) and whistle-blowing are two completely different things.1 This post is about someone complaining against his peers, those he sees as competition or those who may be in his way.
I learned that I want the people I deal with to say what they really believe and to listen to what others say in reply, in order to find out what is true. I learned that one of the greatest sources of problems in our society arises from people having loads of wrong theories in their heads—often theories that are critical of others—that they won’t test by speaking to the relevant people about them. Instead, they talk behind people’s backs, which leads to pervasive misinformation. I learned to hate this because I could see that making judgments about people so that they are tried and sentenced in your head, without asking them for their perspective, is both unethical and unproductive.2 So I learned to love real integrity (saying the same things as one believes)3 and to despise the lack of it.4
— Ray Dalio, an American businessman and founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates. Bridgewater is the world’s largest hedge fund company with US$122 billion in assets under management (as of 2011). In 2012, Dalio appeared on the annual Time 100 list of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2011 and 2012 he was listed by Bloomberg Markets as one of the 50 Most Influential people. Institutional Investor’s Alpha ranked him No. 2 on their 2012 Rich List.
Quote sourced from Principles by Ray Dalio. Emphasis mine. Brief bio of Ray Dalio from Wikipedia. Thanks to my colleague Leon Shklar for introducing me to Ray’s philosophy.
When someone complains negatively about a problem, person or situation it often indicates a lack of courage, skill, desire & collaboration required to solve it. Worse, it may be for nefarious reasons.
Senior executives should listen to and reward employees who focus on solutions and support their coworkers. People in leadership should be wary of people who habitually complain about others. Since complainers misleadingly pretend to be smart or helpful, you should always question their motives, challenge their statements and let them know you will ask for others’ viewpoints.
Once you know about such behavior, you should strongly discourage it. The first step is to make sure you don’t reward it. When a senior executive simply listens to a complainer and does not challenge their statements and does not tell they will solicit others opinions as well, the complainer may feel rewarded with the executive’s attention and implicit approval. Things an executive hearing the complaints can say:
What did [the target person] say in response when you told them this?
Have you spoken to [the target person] about this clearly, honestly and comprehensively? I will reach out to them to understand their viewpoint. (This makes it clear to the complainer that they can’t get away misrepresenting things behind another’s back.)
Do you have a collaborative solution to offer that makes it a win/win for both you and [the target person]?
Why badmouthing others behind their backs is bad for business…
Its toxicity kills productivity. Robert I. Sutton, Professor of Management science at the Stanford Engineering School and a researcher in the field of Evidence-based management writes: [emphasis mine]
… if you want people to think you are smart, apparently you can feed their stereotypes by demeaning others… I should also warn you that although unleashing your inner asshole may help persuade people of your intellectual superiority, we also show in The Knowing-Doing Gap and Hard Facts that the climate of fear created by such nastiness undermines team and organizational effectiveness. Potential victims become afraid to try (or even mention) new ideas and hesitate to report mistakes or problems out of fear that the resulting anger and humiliation will be aimed at them.
It creates distrust among coworkers which hurts collaboration and productivity. It distracts focus away from productive work to “watching your back”. It lowers morale at work, which is also bad for business.
On the perpetrator’s side, it diverts creative energy away from business innovation, solving problems and achieving greatness. Instead the perpetrator’s talents, time and tricks are applied towards crafty, cunning and cruel behavior that only hurts the organization.
At its worst, when it becomes a rampant problem, it can lead to costly lawsuits against the organization. When you develop a habit of badmouthing someone behind their back thinking your accusations will remain secret, and you keep getting away with it for a while, you are likely to start saying things that cross the line.
Why it happens…
So why do people engage in smear campaigns? Simply because they have found them to be useful for their benefit in the past. There is ample evidence in multiple fields ranging from election campaigns to organizational behavior that despite being immoral, unethical and unfair, smear campaigns can sometimes be highly effective for the perpetrators. At least for the short term. In an organization with a bad culture it benefits the perpetrator every time they do it and there are minimal harmful consequences to the perpetrator.
I asked my friend Professor Jeffery Pfeffer, a well-respected guru of organizational behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business why such behavior exists. He explained that “It persists because it often works, and it often works because negativity and criticism seem more profound than positive statements.” He pointed me to his5 article The Smart-Talk Trap published in Harvard Business Review and the article Brilliant but Cruel by Teresa Amabile, now a professor at Harvard Business School. (The word “brilliant” here alludes to a pretense of brilliance, not the real thing.) Those two articles explain that people who disparage others or the work of others falsely appear to look smart and competent, even when they are not so in reality. Basically, it is a cheap trick that works until it is exposed.
The false feeling of being honest (when in reality they are being dishonest) in supposedly exposing the flaws in others and/or other’s work provides misguided gratification to the perpetrators. When the important person to whom the clandestine complaint is being made to (and it is usually an important person) listens to the complainer in private and engages in that conversation, the complainer sees that as a reward. This encourages more of such bad behavior.
An even bigger mistake a person in a position of power can make after hearing a one-sided complaint is to substantially reward the complainer. By a substantial reward, I mean giving a promotion, power or pleasure of winning. That is not only unjust, unfair and unwise, but a display of poor judgement.
A root cause of this problem is lack of courage. Another is insecurity. It takes courage to walk up to someone you have a problem with, to tell them that on their face with candor especially when you are insecure inside that your accusations will be able to sustain to a fair trial. It is much easier to be a coward and do it hoping the accused will never find out, at least not until it is too late.
Insecurity and an inner lack of confidence in the merits of their accusations are behind complaints that are supposedly backed by unverifiable sources. When someone complains about another and says “others have also complained about [the target person], but they confided in me privately and wish to remain anonymous,” the listeners’ alarm bells should go off. This method of trying to sully someone’s reputation by adding the supposed support of unidentified others is weak at best and disingenuous at worst. There is no way for the leader to know what the unknown people actually said, and if they did complain in what context and what state of mind it happened. Worse, this perpetrator could have baited them unwittingly into speaking negatively about someone they otherwise wouldn’t have. Remember that the complainer is not an unbiased journalist with integrity writing an article citing anonymous sources (and even they have to verify their sources to an Editor), but is most likely an opinionated person with an agenda. If you are a leader, think like a judge or a journalist. Don’t just believe what you hear, especially this type of BS.
On the leader’s side, the one to whom the one-sided complaint is brought, the problem is also a lack of courage. It takes courage to tell someone who is seemingly confiding in you and appears to be trusting you that you do not entertain such bad behavior and that you will put this person and yourself in a deeply uncomfortable position by bringing the accused in to the discussion.
Especially in this day and age of political correctness, being sneaky, disingenuous and cowardly is much easier than being open, honest and courageous.
Unless your organization has a great culture.
…and how to discourage it
So how should executives in an organization discourage such bad behavior? With a culture of continuous and consistent fairness.
In many cases, complaining behind others’ backs also badly backfires. I mentioned earlier that it is cheap trick that works until it is exposed. An effective way to hinder such behavior is to spread awareness about it, for example, by sharing this article. By making it a well-known fact in your organization that such behavior is bad for the business and backfires for the perpetrator, you eliminate its effectiveness.
People for whom such behavior has backfired, causing them harm instead of benefitting them, learn to not do it anymore, provided they quickly realized that it was their bad behavior that hurt them. The human mind learns best when the feedback is immediate or comes soon after.
Therein lies the key to solving this problem in your organization.
Senior executives should build and maintain a culture holds open courts. What does that mean? This:
There are no trials held in private. Both parties must be present when any arguments are made in front of the judges (deciders, people with power). In other words, senior executives never entertain clandestine complaints made secretly behind the accused’s backs.
The accused always gets a fair hearing. If the accused does not have the debating skills to defend their case, the senior executives should assign someone strong to support them in a public-defender-like role. Winners should not be decided on the basis or their ability to win debates, but on the merits of their case.
Senior executives should be careful to never reward this bad behavior, and not even give the complainer the pleasure of indulging them in such a conversation.
Most importantly, senior executives must model good, desirable and fair behavior themselves.
The last point is especially important. People look up to successful, effective senior executives. People copy the behaviors they see emanating from the successful person. If senior executives badmouth other people behind their backs, people who look up to them are likely to emulate that behavior. If they see senior executives as respectful, supportive and caring of others, they will learn that. Mirror neurons in action. Which reminds me:
For whistle-blowing, there are formal established means. For example, speaking with legal authorities, human resources, or journalists, depending on the situation. [↩]
It is unethical because a basic principle of justice is that everyone has the right to face his accuser. And it is unproductive because it does not lead to the exploration of “Is it true?” which can lead to understanding and improvement. — Ray Dalio [↩]
I do not mean that you should say everything you think, just that what you do say matches your thoughts. — Ray Dalio [↩]
The word “integrity” is from the Latin root “integer,” which means “one” i.e., that you are the same inside and out. Most people would be insulted if you told them that they don’t have integrity—but how many people do you know who tell people what they really think? — Ray Dalio [↩]