A mentor of mine used to investigate corruption in the ranks. According to her, it was never the complainers who were the problem -- although it would be easy for management to see them as trouble.
Rather it was the quiet ones who tended to commit fraud. The ones who showed up on time, did everything they were told (seemingly), put in the extra effort to fit right in.
If you think about it, this makes total sense. The normal employee exhibits normal ups and downs in their behavior, successes and frustrations individually and with the team. Sometimes they are late. Sometimes loud.
But the "sniper" is there only to take, and from their perspective the richness of the organization is like gold to be plundered. They want that gold for themselves.
The more exclusively a "sniper" is after one of the following, the more circumspect their behavior will be -- and they will not want to operate in the open:
- Money: They want to take as much as they can while actually working as little as possible.
- Power: They get satisfaction from pulling the strings -- they want the power "of life and death."
- Policy: They want to institutionalize their vision of the organization. You're either on board or you get thrown off the train.
- You feel bad after dealing with them. You get a bad vibe, you feel somehow "taken," you sense they do not listen to what you are saying.
- They strongly resist sharing information. Their world is closed, and they will drop you a line.
- They trade in gossip. A normal person goes to work to get work done. A sniper avoids focusing on work and instead tries to manipulate the system to their advantage.
- They stay excessively late. The idea is to gain influence by obtaining an audience with people who are normally in meetings during the day.
- They restrict their social circles tightly. The sniper wants to control information as well as their exposure to risk. Thus they have at most 2 confidantes and the rest are "outside the circle of trust."
- Snipers manage up, not sideways or down. If you are below their grade level, do not bother approaching them.
- They are extremely nice, when they want something. They will smile and kindly engage you, but then if you cannot or will not give them what they want, they will just as easily act as though you are not there.
- Excessive or minimal attention to dress. It's usually either one or the other, but it's deliberate. They use outward appearance to lull others into complacency.
At the individual level, there are two ways to handle a sniper. One is to confront them, which can be dangerous but necessary if you work in the same group. The other is to stay very far away.
From a leadership and management perspective, these employees are absolutely toxic, all the more so because they tend to find their way into leadership and management positions!
You might think that a good "coaching" program can help them, but this is to miss the point. They are sociopathic thieves of organizational resources. They cannot be helped -- this only enables them.
Rather, the commitment has to be from the leadership team itself to recognize the symptoms of a sniper -- someone who acts only and primarily in self-interest -- to isolate them, and eventually to remove them from the organization.
There should be a registry.
* All opinions my own.