You're probably familiar with the scenario: You call for big ideas, and morale plummets after you reject the vast majority of them.
"Most innovative companies have an impressive ability to generate lots of ideas," writes Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, in Harvard Business Review. "Attached to each idea is someone's dream. But not every idea can be pursued, which can make people grow angry, jealous, or bitter. If left unattended, these negative byproducts can become toxic, killing off projects and discouraging others."
It doesn't have to be that way. Johnson says you can avoid bitterness by tweaking your rejection. Johnson says that instead of flatly saying no or rejecting ideas with palpable enjoyment, you should make sure you convey the message "no to your idea, yes to you."
Still, no matter how well you handle it, some employees may resent the fact that their ideas never get picked. Johnson says there are only two ways to deal with those who can't handle rejection. To avoid their spreading their negativity and killing the company's innovative spirit, you must either reform them or terminate them.
"If you envision that the resentful party can still be a positive contributor, point out the unacceptable behavior while reaffirming your commitment to that individual," she writes. If the employee will not relent and refuses to change his or her behavior, you need to fire the person.
"No scientist would ever endanger the outcome of an experiment by allowing toxins to build up in their cell culture, nor should any organization, manager, or mayor tolerate toxic behavior spoiling the positive effects of an innovative culture," Johnson writes.
Riot Games, the maker of popular video game League of Legends, has an effective tool for rooting out toxic user behavior within its game. Johnson explains that when the company received an influx of new players recently, the longtime players went after them with derogatory comments. "The negative behavior spread, threatening the company's goal of creating a fun, collegial gaming environment and affecting the bottom line," Johnson writes.
Examining its data, Riot found out that new players who were subjected to abusive behavior from other players were 320 percent more likely to quit the game. The company decided to temporarily ban the players who were engaging in inappropriate behavior. Instead of creating a larger backlash, Riot found that when it informed players they were being banned, 50 percent of them reformed. If the company showed a player evidence of his or her negative behavior, the rate jumped to 70 percent.
Riot could easily have ignored the abuse, but eventually its game would have been taken over by the toxic behavior. "When a society (managers, employees, and clients) is silent, deviant behaviors emerge, and they can become the norm," Jeffrey Lin, lead game designer of social systems at Riot, says.
It's important to note that you need to take control when you see negative behaviors. It's not your job to babysit, but it is your job to make sure the environment and culture in your office is welcoming to your employees. And it's in your best interests to make sure employees can collaborate and work together.
"Sometimes we turn a blind eye to this behavior, because the bullies have standing or we just don't want to deal with the upheaval and consequences of reprimanding the offender," Johnson says. "But the danger of toxic behavior destroying what you have built is real and must be addressed."