How Incivility Impacts New Product Development (NPD)

Rude2A disturbing trend in business today is the increasing incidence of rude behavior in the workplace. You might dismiss incivility and chalk it up to the increased stress level in every organization today that’s a result of the tough, competitive environment we all face. Senior management might take the attitude that it is small price to pay and employees should be grateful just to have a job.  But what is the impact of incivility on the bottom line, and in particular, the effectiveness of new product development (NPD)? That is the subject of this article.

A recent Harvard Business Review (1) article provides much insight and statistics on the rise of incivility and the impact on business. These same authors published a very well written book (2) in 2009 that covers the subject in more depth. I draw on their work heavily in this article, along with my personal experience managing an R&D organization in a mid-sized company.

Incivility is on the rise. Based on surveys of thousands of workers over a 14 year period, the authors of the HBR article found that 98% of employees report experiencing uncivil behavior in their workplace. In 2011 half said they were treated rudely at work at least once a week and that was up from 25% in 1998. While the authors do not address why this is occurring, we all can speculate on the causes from personal experience. I believe it is primarily the result of two factors. One, is certainly the increased stress level in society from financial strains resulting from the economic environment. The second are the dramatic changes in how we communicate. It is easier than ever to communicate, but this communication is not face-to-face, it is through email, text, and social media. It is very easy to hide behind a nasty email or text. It promotes, I believe, bad behavior. Maybe we are losing our ability to communicate effectively. For effective NPD, communication is key (3).

Whatever the reasons, let’s look at how incivility is manifested in the work environment, the cost, and what management can do.

Incivility manifests itself in overt acts and in more subtle ways. Some managers certainly believe that by essentially publicly bullying employees that somehow this motivates them to achieve a higher level of performance. Of course, if you have been on the receiving end of this type behavior by a superior, you know the opposite is true. The HBR article describes a common scenario. If senior management practices and condones in others this behavior, then over time, it will be embedded into the culture and permeate the organization. A person treated badly by a superior is more likely to then turn around and treat others poorly. If those who bully others are rewarded, then that becomes a behavioral norm. It becomes a vicious cycle.

There are more subtle ways that incivility is manifested. It may be as simple as not responding to emails, or responding in a callous, ungrateful way. Again, in today’s busy world full of emails and the need for instant communication, we can all easily forget that our words have consequences. It is extremely easy for emails and texts to be taken out of context. I believe for any individual employee, isolated occurrences of rude behavior is not a significant problem: we all have bad days. For those employees, however, who exhibit an ongoing pattern of incivility both in written communication and in face-to-face interactions, that person can become a disruptive, negative force, Sleeping During Meetingespecially in the context of a team-based environment like NPD. The HBR article points out other examples such as a project leader who takes credit for good news but then criticizes team members when there are problems, or managers who make subtle digs at employees masquerading as teasing, or a manager preoccupied on his mobile phone during a presentation or otherwise preoccupied and not paying attention.

So what about the cost? The HBR article provides some startling statistics applicable to NPD from a poll of 800 managers and workers in 17 industries. For those on the receiving end of incivility:

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort (e.g., lower level of engagement).
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  • 66% said that their performance declined.
  • 78% said that their commitment to the organization declined.

Incivility leads to reduced creativity, deterioration in team spirit and performance, and can impact recruiting. All can have a negative impact on NPD effectiveness, which in turn can impact financial performance. The HBR article cites some studies on the first two, and the impact on recruiting should be self-evident: who wants to work for a company that supports this type of culture?

A recent article in the Journal of Innovation Management (4) helps link internal team dynamics including social cohesion and how individuals identify with the team, to new product creativity, which influences product competitive advantage. Social cohesion is defined as degree to which NPD teams maintain good interpersonal relationships and a spirit of collegiality among the members. It provides an open environment for all team members to contribute without fear of judgment or ridicule for their ideas. Team identity is important so that all members are committed to the team and share in the vision of the overall project goals. The research provides empirical evidence that team-level creativity is an important intangible resource that provides competitive advantage through NPD. Individual employees who are routinely rude and uncivil to their fellow team members can have a negative impact on social cohesion and team dynamics.

360 FeedbackSo what can senior management do? First, senior managers must take a hard look at their own actions, including soliciting feedback from employees. Are you modeling the behavior you want to see in others? Do you believe that the example you are setting is negatively impacting the culture? Are you taking the time to express your appreciation for employees? Sometimes just a simple word of thanks can go a very long way.  It is important that senior management realize that it is not just the right thing to do, but can pay benefits from a financial standpoint. It is also up to the senior manager to recognize that everyone in the organization will take cues from your behavior and those become the cultural norms.

Second, pay attention to the HR implications. There are several areas here. For instance, it is not common to consider incivility during the recruiting and hiring process. During the interview process, focus on signs about whether the person will fit into a culture that only supports civil interactions. Engage the potential employee in multiple forms of communication, including email exchanges.  Another area is to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior through the performance management system. “Star” performers are sometimes treated differently than others, even if they behave badly, but the impact on the rest of the organization can be devastating. Sometimes it is best to move that person out of the organization if you cannot change their behavior. Finally, consider teaching civility. Many today just do not know what it means. Companies such as the Lindenberger Group, who I can recommend highly, offer training in this area.

For project managers especially, it is important to create group norms about acceptable behavior in team meetings and other formal gatherings. One area where I have experienced problems are in formal design reviews. Sometimes those presenting will become defensive and combative to those questioning a specific design aspect, or participants might present their concern to the presenter in a callous or negative way. In either case, it is important to establish the norms of behavior up front so that the team can function at the highest level.

Do you have examples where incivility in the workplace negatively impacted NPD effectiveness? How was the problem addressed? What do you personally do to maintain civil interactions with others? How do you deal personally with incivility?


(1) Porath, Christine and Pearson, Christine. 2013. The Price of Incivility. Harvard Business Review January-February: 115-121.

(2) Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What To Do About It. (New York: Penguin Group, 2009)

(3) See this article entitled “Fostering Inspiration and Creativity in New Product Development (NPD)” for additional thoughts on this subject.

(4) Im, Subin, Montoya, Mitzi M. and Workman, John P. Jr. 2013. Antecedents and Consequences of Creativity in Product Innovation Teams. Journal of Product Innovation Management 30 (1):170-185.

New Product Visions is a consulting company that helps organizations improve the effectiveness of their new product development processes. We specialize in small to mid-sized companies that manufacture highly engineered products. Contact us today about how we might help you!

Specialties: NPD consultants, new product development consulting, developing new products, new product development seminars, small business consulting, new product development expert, product development process, new product development strategies, integrating NPD for mergers & acquisitions, organizing for innovation, management role in NPD, project risk analysis

9 thoughts on “How Incivility Impacts New Product Development (NPD)

  1. Great blog. You are absolutely right. Incivility destroys trust, communication and productivity. We need to practice what our mothers taught us … treat others as they would want to be treated, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and play nice.

  2. The hidden costs of this behavior in the organization has to be astounding. If your organization competes on the basis of innovation this type of culture could destroy your future and cause you to have high turnover where you can least afford it.

    • Pamela, the hidden costs are a real problem. With these types of issues, it if very difficult to measure the impact so I think they tend to be minimized by management. I think once it is embedded into the culture of the organization, it is then very difficult to change. Thanks to both you and Judy for good comments.

  3. Is this type of behaviour now the norm in the front end of some businesses in the supplier/customer interface and especially in commercial relationships? The challenge becomes then of how not to internalise this behaviour within an organisation. If the organisation’s culture supports and falsely values this behaviour, then the outcome is that you have a lot of creative employees thinking about more enjoyable ways to earn their money, usually elsewhere. People don’t leave good companies, they leave bad management.

  4. I totally agree with everything you said. One impact not mentioned was that of the external customer. There is a direct correlation between how we treat each other internally and how we treat our external customers. The rude uncivil internal service has a ripple effect that ultimately impacts the people who have put us into jobs: the paying customer. It is very tough for an employee who has just been ridiculed, blasted, or embarrassed by another employee (co-worker or boss) and then pick up the phone and be friendly and courteous to the customer who is buying the product or service. Poor internal service costs dearly.

    • Teri, you are correct that this spills over into how employees treat customers as well. I did not specifically address that mostly because I was focused on the impact on NPD, but thanks for pointing this out. No matter how you cut it, the consequences of this type of culture is just plain bad for business, let alone the moral and ethical issues.

  5. Very interesting article. I wonder if loyalty is an issue here in that we are told that the days of being a wedded to a particular company for a long period is on the decline and therefore all sides are wary of the various levels of investment they have to make (management and employees) therefore its deemed ok to be rude etc etc…
    Certainly I have seen that mass and ease of communication, rather than making decisions faster and clearer hamper the NPD process and constructive criticism replaced by sarcastic comment. The time frame also in which to deliver a good product/project is not understood at the outset with many who are not versed in the true science of NPD stating “all you simply need to do” without understanding of process and that various gates need to be opened walked thru and then closed! during the journey.

    My approach – NPD is a company process not a specific dept – if your organisation is involved in NPD in any way make sure it is integrated into your organisation and strategy. Allow time for thought prior to action of plans – Allow constructive criticism but come down hard on those who only provide sarcastic feedback by challenging these in a non aggressive way by open ended questions as to why they think a certain way and ask for backup to support this . Celebrate the diversity of the group and make sure the team is aware of this diversity and why it is needed to delivery great product and services – make sure everyone is aware of your part in the process and what strengths and weaknesses you bring to this – Also think about FUN in the workplace do not be afraid to show that you were wrong – and also ask Idiot questions.

    • John, I am not sure company loyalty and the changing employment deal, so to speak, is the root cause, but you may be right. I think something else is at work here, as incivility is not just happening in the business world, but it is all around us in our day-to-day lives. I totally agree that NPD should be viewed as a key business process. Thanks for your comments.

      • Its interesting – as the more I freelance the more I am lead to question the loyalty effect – as a contributing factor. You are right in that its sadly it is all round us.
        Interested to see and hear thoughts

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