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Talent On-the-Bubble: Addressing Human Behavior at Work

Bring Out Achievement Behavior


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Talent That Is Out-of-Control Brings Organizations Down

Image Copyright Ann Marie Kurtz

One of the great lessons from Talent IQ (compare prices) is that the performance of talent gone awry is very seriously under-addressed in organizational life. Called Talent On-the-Bubble,a pattern of human behavior was identified that can take any organization and its leadership team down if left untended.

Talent on-the-bubble can make a mockery of organizational values, sap creative energy and drive highly talented top performers out. To the extent that positive energies from high achievers create a magnet of hope and achievement, talent on-the-bubble behavior constitutes an anchor of negativism, irresponsibility and contempt.

While leaders want to get to the positive side of the performance equation, to the extent they avoid taking responsibility to address the talent on-the-bubble challenge, they drop an anchor on progress and an evidentiary path of their own on-the-bubble behavior. Here's what human behavior on-the-bubble is and how to correct it.

What Is On-the-Bubble Human Behavior?

On-the-bubble human behavior is the mirror opposite of achievement behavior. Achievement is a process of moving up the ladder of responsibility for one's behavior, moving from achievement to partnership, commitment, optimism and responsibility. On-the-bubble behavior, on the other hand, moves an employee down a treacherous slope from fence-sitting to avoidance, hostility, contempt and irresponsibility.

And, where achievement is expressed through the positive paths of service, innovation and management, on-the-bubble human behavior plants weapons of explosive treachery. Instead of engagement, empathy, generosity and beneficence, guidance and responsibility in service, the on-the-bubble person plays the procrastinator, martyr, critical gossip, manipulator and backstabber. Played down this path, the on-the-bubble person systematically destabilizes the workplace, leaving a path of chaos in their wake.

And, where the Innovator moves up the ladder from seeker to knowledge leader, empowerer, discoverer, and break-through thinker, the on-the-bubble human sink hole moves from narcissist to deer-in-the-headlights, to black hole, fetalist and suicide, sucking the creative energy out of the organization in an ultimately futile act of personal sabotage.

And, perhaps most notoriously, where the fiduciary manager moves from organizing and prioritizing to bring order from confusion, to building relationship clusters to act on those priorities, to serving as a guardian for mission and values, to direct problem-solving in the front-lines to infuse hope and resolve, to heroic leadership where vision is translated into comprehensive practice, the on-the-bubble human moves from stonewalling progress to curmudgeonly avoidance, sadistic bullying, calculated bombing and, ultimately, sociopathic predation.

Examples of On-the-Bubble Human Behavior

What is on-the-bubble human behavior? It's any behavior that can compromise the achievement of an organization's mission. Ten years of research provided these 15 areas of dysfunctional behavior and how they manifest in organizations.

  • Procrastinator - fence sitter; dislikes investing own energy; avoids commitment.
  • Martyr - avoider; accusatory; self-righteous; blames others for own inadequacies.
  • Gossip - hostile; critical of others; spreads lies; intends to harm others.
  • Manipulator - contemptuous; deceives others by inventing/distorting information; convinces others to shun those he or she wishes to harm.
  • Backstabber - irresponsible; fakes relationships and deceives others for a slanderous and surprise attack.
  • Narcissist - fence sitter; outwardly arrogant and self-absorbed; while inwardly insecure and anxious.
  • Deer in the Headlights - avoider who appears to be in a state of paralysis or shock; unwilling/unable to engage others or respond to requests.
  • Black Hole - hostile; unresponsive; unproductive.
  • Fetalist - inwardly contemptuous; severely withdrawn; displays zombie-like demeanor.
  • Suicide - irresponsible and self-destructible; often resigns from position either formally or by failing to show up; may express repressed anger.
  • Stonewaller - fence sitter; obstructionist; challenges legitimacy or need of another party for info or support.
  • Curmudgeon - an avoider; makes others pay for every encounter.
  • Bully - hostile, attacks someone's character or the quality of their work; threatens employees with dismissal if they don't comply with demands.
  • Bomber - contemptuous; destroys others' self-confidence; publicly assaults others; undermines others' value in the eyes of the team.
  • Predator - irresponsible; feeds of others' securities; uses or destroys others to increase personal power; feels confident that he or she can hunt and destroy at will.

Want to know what to do about dysfunctional human behavior at work? Read on ...


Emmett C. Murphy, Ph.D. is the author of, Talent IQ (Adams Media; March 2007). Talent IQ identifies the concepts, skills, and tools individuals, managers and organizations can apply to build a culture of achievement by making the most of talent. The book is fortified with extensive (10-year study of best practices) research in virtually every type of organizational setting.

He has served as faculty and consultant for Harvard School of Medicine, MIT's Sloan School of Management, Booz Allen Hamilton, and London University. Murphy's client list features IBM, Chase Manhattan, Hewlett-Packard, the Department of Defense, and other business, government, and public service organizations. Murphy holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology with postdoctoral studies in organizational development and clinical counseling.

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