How many faces do you show in public? When visiting our children’s school open days we might show our humble and encouraging face yet while stuck driving in traffic we may show our impatient and agitated face and yet still in the office we might show our aggressive and attentive face.
We all hold different skills, abilities, and emotions that we display to the world under different situations.
However, some people portray an entirely different inaccurate persona to certain people or those holding certain positions.
The late University of California at Berkeley social scientist Erving Goffman first developed the notion that people act out roles in attempts to create and sustain identities they wish to portray whereby they can financially gain. We all know at least one co-worker who might act one way towards management but exceptionally different towards those with no power over them.
Malcom Forbes in the 1970s famously exclaimed that one can easily judge the character of a person by how he or she treats those who can do nothing for them.
Other employees may represent themselves as hard working while truly being slothfully lazy.
Some fake faced examples include an accounting chief who knows the CEO likes to personally review the petty cash reconcile records, so she makes those files perfect and completed on time, but lags in disorder on other accounting documents.
Another example might include a professor encouraging his students to develop new technologies so he can get credit from his university’s management but secretly attempting to coerce his students to give him partial personal ownership in that intellectual property.
Further, a technology programmer might sit at her desk and pretend to type code each time a supervisor walks by but switches to Facebook when no one watches.
The above examples highlight two different types of fake faced individuals. The first acts out of desperate hopes to hide their real shortcomings and the second and third both out of ill intent to deceive.
Unfortunately, corporate cultures typically dictate that we must perform perfectly in all manner of work functions.
However, people’s strengths and weaknesses alike should be identified and celebrated. No one can perform every type of duty perfectly. An extremely organised worker might lack charisma to motivate fellow staff, as an example. Most workers retain deep fears that their superiors will find out their workplace inadequacies.
However, a better approach entails laying out clearly and openly what you are good at and what you struggle with at work. Find colleagues who are opposite from you to compliment your weaknesses.
In dealing with the second type of fake employee, research by Shakti Chaturvedi and AK Srivastava shows that one’s promotability at work relies more on interpersonal relationships and internal politicking than actual job skill and accomplishments.
So, executives should minimise the opportunity for such shenanigans to flourish. Firms must introduce the long-tested tool of 360-degree evaluations for all employees so as to gain perspective of multiple internal stakeholders, not just one’s boss.
Further, companies should conduct staff surveys every six months or at least every year to help identify duplicitous-faced workers. Finally, human resources departments can include “consistency across the organisation” and “reliability of actions” as indicators in performance reviews to drive home the company’s values of being single faced in all internal interactions.
Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor