The Crazy Things Tha t People Do

Note:  As promised last week, here is a (true) case history from my work with clients in the last few years. Previous installments of the weekly blog can be found on my website at http://stevemarshallassociates.com/steves-blog/

Yah-dee, yah-dee, yah-dee, yah!

I think we have all seen this image or we have done this ourselves, most of the time in a humorous way. I had a client a few years ago, that almost would perform this very stance when someone would try to tell him something unpleasant. His rule as CEO, was that, any bad news was not welcome and people that disagreed with him or anyone else would not be long for his team. In the course of my work for him, I pointed out this phenomenon one day and asked why he was so adamant about this cultural rule of no conflict. His response was, "Disagreement  and conflict leads to office politics, which have no place in my company." Half seriously, I complimented him on his ability to wield such control over other human beings and then asked him how he he had dealt with the same CEO rule when he had worked for other bosses. He replied that he and his co-workers would just keep their opinions to themselves, their mouths closed and get busy with their work! I offered that, he was probably not getting the full potential and performance from his staff and asked if he was interested to hear what they were really thinking. He said, "Sure, but I think you will find that most of them are fine with the way things are."

Predictably, when offered full confidentiality, all was not well in the company's ranks and morale was very low. Most people were just keeping their heads down and were quietly looking for work elsewhere. The only thing keeping them in their jobs was that they were paid very well and replacing their jobs elsewhere with their current skill-sets was proving to be difficult.

Now.......when I presented this information to him, his first reaction was also predictable; instant anger, denial, and ready to go to war with his staff. I suggested a different approach. Did he agree with my assessment that his staff were very good at they did for him? He agreed, especially when I pointed out the data from Gallup that tallies the true cost of replacing people in an executive position - recruiting costs, lost time while the position is vacant, usually increased compensation for the new person, loss of corporate memory from the person leaving, and the time for a new person to come up to speed in a new position. (It is actually very expensive - the cost of just replacing an employee making $30,000 to $50,000 annually amounts to fully 20 percent of the person's annual salary. For executive positions, it can reach as high as 200% of annual salary!)

Instead, why not come up with some solutions that would be mutually agreeable to both sides? His first question was, "How do we do that?" My response was that it would be a multi-step process, involving building trust between him and his staff, getting true alignment around the company's strategic plan and him changing his behavior toward conflict by working with a coach. His next question, "How much will it cost?" My reply was, "How much will it cost if you do nothing and continue to do what you have been doing?"

I prepared a proposal for him that involved several months of work, assisting him and his staff in creating a new culture of trust and communication and how to have good conflict leading to resolution. He did not accept my proposal - "too expensive" and I continued with my other work with him until the project was done.

Many months later, I heard that several key staff did indeed, leave for other positions, and during the course of their exit interviews the HR VP, they exacted their revenge, by stating the reason why they were leaving - him! This information did eventually get to the Board and he was fired.

Here is what I learned from this experience:

  1. You can't change other people, you can only change yourself, and this person was not willing to change. Either I did not present a strong enough case for the need for change, and/or, he was not willing to change;
  2. Pain is a primary motivator for change and really the main reason people will come to the point where they will make changes in their habits, their workplace or their lives. I believe that I did not effectively facilitate his exposure to pain and then also provide a light at the end of the tunnel for the way out and toward new goals; hopefully, absent the pain.
  3. Finally, I learned that - You can't win them all!

Cheers!

Note: Next week - more crazy things that clients do.