Addressing the Rotten-Apple-People Problem

Rotten apples – negative, destructive, self-absorbed, unethical employees – pollute organizations.

rotten apples

Passive leaders – those who tolerate rotten apples – create rotten environments by default.

Leaders who tolerate rotten apples are rotten themselves.


You don’t need a study to determine if your culture sucks.

  1. People use blind copies in email.
  2. Gossips win.
  3. Territorial managers stake out and protect turf.
  4. Leaders live in ivory towers.
  5. Competition is about winners and losers not performance.
  6. Getting by is the goal.
  7. Smiles and laughs are rare.

Your culture sucks if people don’t love working in it.


Organizational culture is simply the way you do things – how people treat each other. Yesterday, a Leadership Freak contributor suggested social contracts as a tool to create and protect organizational culture.

Social contracts say you’re serious about the way you do things.

Social contract:

We will:

  1. Address issues in the smallest context possible. Dirty laundry is kept in the laundry room.
  2. Expect you to connect with colleagues and teammates.
  3. Take responsibility to improve things we don’t like.
  4. Pursue the best interests of all parties, always.
  5. Call you out if you let others down.
  6. Speak candidly with compassion.
  7. Forgive offenses that are acknowledged and addressed.

We won’t:

  1. Say one thing to your face and another behind your back.
  2. Tolerate posturing and puffing behaviors.
  3. Lie, ever.
  4. Blow up.
  5. Hold grudges.
  6. Have secret agendas.
  7. Complain without bringing solutions.


Violating our social contract is grounds for warnings, corrective action, and dismissal, if necessary. You might be sent to our, “Be Nice,” class for social delinquents.


Everyone is authorized to point out violations of social contracts, regardless of position or tenure.

What would you include in an organizational social contract?