4 Ways to Put Your Employees on a Fast Track Out the Door
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
The following excerpt is from Benjamin Gilad and Mark Chussil’s book The New Employee Manual: A No-Holds-Barred Look at Corporate Life. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound
Are there behaviors you or your managers are exhibiting that can harm your employees’ careers at your company? Let’s take a quick spin through some of the behaviors that might indicate your relationship or your managers’ relationship with your employees is headed for the rocks or, at the very least, a counseling session or two.
“Contempt, a virulent mix of anger and disgust,” according to a relationship study, “is far more toxic than simple frustration or negativity. It involves seeing [someone] as beneath you, rather than as an equal.”
We’ve known managers who were promoted to directors and overnight developed contempt for anyone who wasn’t a director. Peers who were equal-thinkers yesterday became inferior-thinkers today, saboteurs in their slow and incompetent work, and just not up to par!
“If you constantly feel smarter than . . . [someone else],” says psychologist John Gottman of the University of Washington, “you’re not only less likely to see his or her opinions as valid, but, more important, you’re far less willing to try to put yourself in his or her shoes to try to see a situation from his or her perspective.”
One recent example involves Olive Garden (OG), whose parent company Darden was taken over by an activist investment firm (Starboard). A story in CNN’s Money in 2015 reported that the investment firm mocked OG’s strategy of unlimited breadsticks prior to dinner. Darden’s top management naturally defended the practice since that formula had worked for years. Once Starboard took over and stopped serving endless breadsticks, patrons spent more on alcohol and desserts since they didn’t fill up on breadsticks. Sales and profit went up. When managers at lower levels in the company had presented the same logic, they had been ignored by top management who “knew better.”
In businesses, criticism is officially endorsed when it flows in the approved direction: from the top down. After all, if one allows for a free exchange of honest perspectives, one may get into heated debate that involves criticizing strategy or execution, and heated debate interferes with do something (also known as the “corporate cultural imperative”). This is a huge no-no in business. Middle management is not to question top management’s strategic thinking, and newbies are told by their middle-manager bosses to “shut up and go back to work; this is how things are done here.” That trickle-down conformity kills independent thinking.
In a strategy workshop at a famous consumer products company, a group of idealistic, company-minded young managers made a damning presentation of the division’s strategy. The three executives in the room ordered them, in so many words, to shut up. But the company’s problem was that the role of the younger managers was to play devil’s advocate and point to potential blindspots in the division’s strategy. The division’s performance continued to slide against the competition. A year later, the senior executives who ordered the warnings to stop were themselves ordered to go.
The Cover Your Ass (CYA) routine is familiar to every employee and manager (except first-day novices). The whole idea behind CYA is practicing the art of defensiveness. In theory, the ability to admit a mistake is one of the most-admired leadership qualities, but if it’s practiced anywhere, it’s the best-hidden secret on Earth. In an often-quoted 2014 study from Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib of the Catalyst Research Center, humility is hailed as the quintessential trait of good leadership. Humility creates the right nurturing environment for innovation and inclusiveness. Alas, this goal doesn’t match reality.
There’s a reason why the CYA mentality is so prevalent. It’s a chain reaction: If the boss uses CYA to protect themselves, their subordinate managers are all but forced to do the same. You may find it hard to break this cycle, but owning your mistakes will save your integrity, and in the long run, you’ll win respect from your employees.
While CYA classically characterizes defensive culture, it’s also often accompanied by...
The relationship study noted above found that “blocking off conversation can be just as toxic for a relationship as contempt because it keeps you from addressing an underlying issue.”
According to a 2015 Harvard Business Review article, which reported on a survey of 8,000 executives and managers in 250 firms worldwide, less than one third of those surveyed reported they could have an open and honest discussion about sensitive issues. In the 1994 book Business Blindspots, this is called “Corporate Taboos.” Corporate taboos are well-known issues associated with strong top-executive beliefs, and everyone knows they’re too sensitive to be mentioned or discussed. IBM’s famous taboo in the 1980s kept anyone from daring to challenge the thinking that IBM’s future profits were in mainframes only. In a world moving at warp speed, it’s comforting to know that nothing has changed in the two decades since Business Blindspots released. Blocking off conversations is management’s red line in the sand: When an employee crosses it, they’re fried.
Good executives, however, fight dysfunctional culture and the other behaviors that lead to good employees heading for the door. Examine your workplace, and begin to fix the behaviors that could cause you to lose some of your best staff.