I am busy preparing for my fall MBA teaching assignments and I tripped across an interesting survey about employees and change (circa 2006) in the excellent text: Managing for Quality and Performance Excellence by Evans and Lindsay. (Note, contrary to my comments regarding some other management texts that I’ve run across, this one has a great deal to offer both the student and the instructor.)
The survey of Fortune 500 employees offered an interesting insight into what your employees might really be thinking while you as a leader are delivering yet again, another of your famous “take risks, innovate, create and you are empowered” pep talks. The survey results said that 79% of respondents understood that they were accountable for “taking initiative and bringing about change,”40% of the respondents indicated: “they do not believe that they can make a personal contribution.”
While employees are often appropriately cynical about the disingenuous cheerleading of many leaders, if you’ve got 4 out of 10 members of your firm “not believing” that they can make a personal difference in the firm’s success, you’ve got a crisis on your hands!
I’ve written in prior posts that a leader should strive to ensure that everyone in a firm can pass the “Walk in the Door” test. Simply stated, everyone in the organization must be able to connect their priorities to a firm’s key objectives and strategies when they walk in or log on to begin their day’s work. Easy to write, hard to realize, but definitely not impossible to achieve. However, if 4 out of 10 employees don’t buy in to the belief that they can and will make a difference to a firm’s performance, my speculation is that “To Do” lists are filled with Urgent but Unimportant tasks that fill time and ultimately come to represent a person’s corporate existence.
Leadership Root Causes of the 40% Malaise Organization:
- Leaders lack credibility to help bring about change. People have heard the same pitches over and over again, but have not seen leaders step up and remove impediments or make the process and structural changes needed to allow people to create.
- The leaders talk change, but the bureaucratic procedures and silo politics serve to flush any hope for change down the drain.
- Leaders have failed to create proper awareness of a galvanizing vision and supporting strategy. Vision and strategy are likely abstract concepts to most employees in a 40% Malaise Organization.
- Communication is likely stilted and tough discussions avoided, or worse, discouraged or even punished.
- Systems and processes fight change and directly contradict the lofty exhortations of the leaders.
- Accountability for results is fuzzy. Malaise prospers and spreads in environment where accountability is kept in the closet, like mildew in a damp basement.
The Cure(s): Apply Some Good Leadership Common Sense Quickly:
- It’s hard to resist the “fire the leaders” that got you here in the first place. If you are the new leader at the top of your organization or team, give this one some strong consideration. Otherwise, keep reading.
- Quit talking and start listening and acting. The problem and the solutions are in your court. Seek to understand the level and depth of the malaise and why your associates believe that they cannot make a difference. What are the impediments? What systems, processes or behaviors confounding attempts at change and creativity? What management practices have ripped the heart out of any desire for people to solve the big problems?
- Provide people with context for the firm’s situation and build widespread awareness of a clear vision for the future. Ask everyone how to realize the vision and begin involving a broad swath of the population in defining strategies and actions. Create and publicize victories for teams and individuals as small changes take root and big changes begin to develop.
- Open communication channels, encourage and reward individuals willing to identify problems and solutions to tough issues. Hold your leadership team accountable to listening to ideas and acting on removing impediments. Eliminate the leaders that are more concerned with politics than results and replace them with leaders that understand what it takes to help a culture evolve at light-speed.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Every leader should spend a few minutes at night staring at the ceiling and pondering whether his or her employees are truly engaged in helping the business advance. If your perception is that the answer is "Yes," ask yourself how you can truly be certain. A company marches forward on attitude, and if the attitude is that “my input doesn’t matter,” you’re in deep trouble. It’s time to quit talking and start asking, listening and acting. How engaged are your employees?