The Danger of Keeping Yes Men in Your Inner Circle

The Danger of Keeping Yes Men in Your Inner Circle

It’s nice to be agreed with, to be right, to be validated. Most employees would rather not face opinions that differ from their own. It’s human nature. But at what cost? How does that agreement harm you in the long run? And how much should you fear hiring “yes men” to work with you?

Yes men are common in all types of businesses and organizations. They ingratiate themselves into offices, sales floors, and boardrooms, climbing up the corporate ladder, one yes at a time. And it’s easy to be a yes man. They don’t rock the boat, do most of what they’re told, and take exactly what you’ll let them take, from benefits to lunch hours. But they won’t challenge you and you won’t grow from their collaboration. Yes men don’t actually collaborate.

The Harm in the Yes Man

Corporate culture tends to reward agreement and punish differences of opinion. This mentality extends into small and medium sized businesses as well. The size of the organization doesn’t do much to change human nature, both of executives and those who work under them.

At the outset it is easy to be a yes man. Agreement and passivity are simple enough concepts to master. Co-workers and supervisors tend to respond positively. No harm, no foul. But the longer these yes men spend in your business the more damage they can do.

The work life of a yes man is quite simple and follows a common trajectory. The yes man accepts work as a means to an end. He still has financial goals and a desired career path, but has figured out that they will come largely without additional effort. He nods agreement in meetings and to assignments, and plods along with a smile. As his position grants him more responsibility he continues responding yes to senior staff. This causes a problem as some of the things he agrees to are not the right decisions or are not entirely possible in scope or timeline.

The tenets of the yes man are that he executes tasks blindly, doesn’t think about the big picture, and ultimately stops caring about the company. So long as the paychecks keep coming the nuts and bolts of his workday are largely unimportant. When the buck does need to stop somewhere he is hard pressed to take responsibility, as he can reside in the fact that he was just doing what he was told. He is, in effect, a robot, but one you are required to provide benefits to.

How to Filter Yes Men Out

Removing yes men from the equation in your business is a great idea. But there are more ways than one to accomplish this. The easiest is to stop hiring them. While many interviewees will pander to some extent during an interview, try to pinpoint blind agreement from enthusiasm. You can do this by asking follow up questions that require the interviewee to demonstrate his proactive approach and open-minded thinking.

There are two strong questions to ask in your attempt to weed out yes men. At some point in the interview ask about a time when he disagreed with someone in a senior role. This gives the applicant an opportunity to highlight his thought process and interpersonal skills. It also grants you the opportunity to see his thoughts on conflict through a question that wants him to have had conflict.

In some cases you can actually ask what history the person you’re interviewing has had with yes men and how he’s handle it. The answers to this question are generally pretty interesting and usually garner a good perspective on the applicant’s history with disagreement.

How to Discourage Blind Agreement And Value Discord

It’s important that you make the working environment a positive one for the employees you already have surrounding you. Often times staff members are unwilling to offer a differing opinion for fear of damaging the relationship with a superior who controls their paychecks, careers, and daily workload. Most professional histories are littered with negative reactions to disagreement with superiors.

In your workplace, make differing opinions a valuable part of workflow. Explain to employees that feedback should not be one-sided, that you don’t have all the answers and even if you did have them, being able to defend them would only help your organization in the long run. This especially goes for your inner circle, with whom you are not only coworkers, but oftentimes friends as well. Being clones of each other does neither of you any good.

For your employees to be successful in their careers, within your business or elsewhere, they will need to be competent decision makers. Promoting an environment that values honest opinions – even when they are contrary to senior staff – will make for an organization with stronger, more competent employees; employees who, when left to their devices, will think critically while guiding the company to success. These are the leaders of industry that corporations pay to acquire. Why not build them from within your own walls. Allowing and valuing this type of input into company decision-making will also create a more impassioned workforce with more honest voices, attributes that will do your business well.

About author

Michael Barry
Michael Barry 31 posts

Michael Barry is the Editor-In-Chief at AgeOfTheSmallBusiness.com. Currently living in Boston, Massachusetts, he received his B.A. in Financial Economics from St. Anselm College and his MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine.

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