Reality-​based Coaching Can Stop the BMW Syndrome in Your Workplace

BY C. Lee Smith
Featured image for “Reality-​based Coaching Can Stop the BMW Syndrome in Your Workplace”

Did you know that the average employee spends 2.5 hours a day engaged in workplace drama? That statistic comes from Cy Wakeman, President and CEO of Reality-​based Leadership. If you want your team to be more productive, you have to show them how to cut out the drama. Specifically, you’ll need them to stop their BMW — bitching, moaning and whining. A dose of reality-​based coaching can help.

Wakeman defines drama as “unproductive thought processes or disruptive behavior at work … including venting, judging, gossiping, scorekeeping, tattling, resisting change, and withholding buy-​in.” In her recent Manage Smarter podcast with us, Wakeman explained how to make productive changes.

The Workplace Drama Problem

First off, you need to admit you’ve got a drama problem at work. No workplace is immune. You should also acknowledge that having a drama operator on your staff means you’ve got an emotionally expensive employee. This employee can be a rock star operationally. This employee could be your chief rainmaker. But, in the end, the employee’s workplace antics will cost you. In Wakeman’s estimation, a high drama employee has a three to one cost ratio when compared to a low drama worker.

One way to reduce the drama is to avoid hiring these types of workers. Make the right decision when you’ve got a choice between a highly skilled dramatic candidate and a moderately skilled candidate who’s clearly not dramatic. Remember that you can always train the moderately skilled employee. Changing an employee’s drama quotient can be a lot more difficult.

Reality-​Based Coaching

A high drama employee can increase workplace dysfunction and kill productivity. Your first step to correcting the problem as a manager is to admit that you have a problem. If you don't address the issue, you risk losing good employees. Our research in the Voice of the Sales Rep survey shows that 80% of sales reps who have encountered toxic bosses or co-​workers leave the organization.

To get an employee’s dramatic act under control, use reality-​based coaching to increase their accountability. This usually means asking your BMW employee to become self-​aware. For example, when someone comes into your office with a complaint about another department or another individual, ask them to look at the situation from the other person’s perspective.

Over time, make it clear that you will not listen to long-​winded “BMW” tirades. As a manager, you’ve got more important things to do. Encourage your employees to come to you with a proposed solution or two to the problem they’ve identified. Developing solutions means they’re becoming more accountable.

Once that behavior starts, reward them with tangible benefits. To make sure the behavior continues, show employees they’re on the right track by giving them the independence to work from home or another desirable perk that also allows them to continue being high achievers. As these employees become highly accountable and solutions-​oriented, they’re less interested in drama and you won't have to employ as much reality-​based coaching.