The Erosive Effect of Leadership’s Failure to Change

"Creating a great place to work is one of the best things a company can do for its bottom line. It’s no accident that the organizations consistently identified as winners also happen to be some of the best places on earth to work.  This occurs not as an afterthought, but as a vital, premeditated element of business strategy."

        Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden, The Contented Cows Partners

I have been associated with Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden since early 2000, just about the time they self-published their first book ‘Contented Cows Give Better Milk.’ Since that time Bill and Richard have remained among the vanguard of voices providing fact based reasoning for why it is a sound business practice to take good care to see that employees have an environment to work in that fosters productivity.; appreciation, training, tools and technology etc. For them and for me it isn’t simply a matter of values,it isn’t just "nice to be nice to the nice", this is dog doo practical stuff and the facts back it up.

As practical but perhaps not as easy to swallow is the notion that leaders/managers must be willing to consider themselves among the environmental factors that affect overall levels of engagement. Much is made of the idea that customers will vote with their feet, highly mobile employees, usually the most highly prized, will do the same thing but maybe faster when faced with disengaged managers.

When it comes to answering the question of whether I am pro-management or pro-employee my answer is always "Yes!" If I am anti anything, I am anti-stupid where by stupid I mean to distinguish thoughtless action, driven by force of habit and justified in some fashion by past success or privilege of position. So no, in case you are wondering, I do not mean to imply or assert that employee engagement is the sole responsibility of leadership or management, as you prefer. Engagement, what it takes to be sufficiently involved to be highly productive is everyone’s responsibility. However, it falls to leaders to recognize, i.e., not be stupid about the fundamental condition in the workplace. There is at worst an imbalance of power in the workplace and at best a perceived imbalance of power. While I would be quick to say to an employee that their engagement is first and foremost their responsibility I would also hurriedly add that perception is fundamentally, in the absence of trans-formative thinking, reality, and leaders who ignore this truth are, for lack of a better phrase, acting stupidly. Oh yes, and as a manager, since your value is added through the actions of those reporting to you…

Is there evidence for this assertion, for I am certainly making one here? Of course there is, you do not ask a question like this unless you already know the answer! Gary Hamel, in a recent posting to his blog in the Wall Street Journal blog “Management’s Dirty Little Secret” cites the recently published Global Workforce Survey from Towers Perrin showing that of the 90,000 people surveyed 21% reported that they are truly engaged with their work! If I am not mistaken this number is lower than that initially reported in the early Gallup surveys similar in nature some years back.

Hamel chides managers in a more polite way than I do. He suggests that managers are heedless of the issue of engagement where I say stupid about. OK, potato/pototo, tomato/tomoto, he has better  street cred than I do, let’s go with heedless for now. Net, net, after Hamel dismisses the possibility that the heedlessness might result from 1) Ignorance-not realizing that employees are emotionally disconnected. (He uses the Dilbert strip as essentially exhibit “A” for the Prosecution in this instance.) He then goes on to check off 2) Impotence– meaning mindless, uninspiring work as a possible source of the disengagement (surprisingly 86% of those participating in the Towers Perrin survey indicated that they loved or liked their work) and finally he arrives at 3) Indifference – managers see engagement as a nice-to-have but not financially important. In his words,

“…if we’re going to improve engagement, we have to start by admitting that the real problem isn’t irksome, monotonous work, but stony-hearted, spirit-deflating managers.”

While he does not say this, I will; by stony hearted, spirit-deflating managers he means at all levels and most importantly, the top where the privileges provide the greatest disconnect between head and heart.

Hamel, like Drucker in his later years, has clearly made a connection that makes him dangerous to the management establishment. He is “the man” when it comes to the “X’s and O’s” of business so he cannot be waved off. In addition, he has come to understand that while the applications in business may be economic, the operating system is social.

As we roll along here, in future postings we will tackle just what an individual manager can do about this sad state we all find ourselves in, among other things.

Thank you for your attention.



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