The CEO had a great office with a great view and two great secretaries.
The secretaries ensured his diary was efficiently run, he was appropriately briefed and suitably prepared for his next appointment, especially for Board and Shareholder meetings. It was a perfectly tuned machine, always on-time, always prepared for his next high-level meeting. His Board and Shareholder gatherings were meticulously prepared by a formidable team of researchers, writers and editors behind the scenes who produced sensational shiny reports. These reports always glistened in the eyes of the Board and the Shareholders, and the well rehearsed presentations seemingly addressed the salient issues they wanted to hear. Theatre at its best. Applause assured.
What polished performances. Then, one day, he was gone!
It would seem, eventually, reality caught up with the Board who managed to look beyond the camouflaging effect of all those stylish polished reports and well rehearsed presentations. The disturbing financial results that accompanied later meetings rang sufficient bells. So, what went awry?
In one word, TRANSPARENCY.
Naturally, there are many views and answers to this question by whoever was in the organisation at that time. They each would have their own valid opinion as to what went wrong and what could have been done differently. The answers would mostly centre on technical, financial, product related or structural reasons. Indeed, they are all true and have their place.
However, we wish to explore another view of this situation from what we believe is a higher level. The CEO and, as a result, the Board were isolated and insulated from the reality of their business. The focus was pointed the wrong way. What became an endemic problem throughout the organisation was what became a focus on Protection rather than Empowerment. “Bad” news was unwelcome, just in case it accidentally made its way through to the CEO!
Feedback in real time or no time.
The case above is a true story. We have, however, exaggerated the characters, their behaviour and the outcomes to paint the necessary picture for our debate. When this situation typically occurs, it is somehow subliminal, under the radar and between the lines in the reports, emails and communications we are receiving from our teams! So you must be thinking we are suggesting mistrust in our teams? Absolutely not…. In fact, the opposite is true.
We are advocating openness and transparency which must start with us, the Leaders. Are we open to “bad” news (see related article). Do we truly welcome staff feedback (even if it is not what we wish to hear) from any corner of our organisation? Do we protect them from victimisation by their managers, as a result of their sharing? Or are we too busy running the business to be bothered with such pettiness! Or do we operate the ostrich model, “if I do not see it, then it must not be happening”! We do this at our own peril.
How many people who are not your direct reports do you speak with during the day? Do you make it one of your business practices to walk down, or up, to the workshop, warehouse, canteen, coffee machine to engage with any staff member where you do not dominate conversation? Do you listen instead, with interest to what staff have to say, be it chit-chat or business talk? Or do you look-down and somehow demonstrate disdain for these people that “waste company time” chit-chatting at the coffee machine? Do you judge your people’s performance by the number of hours they stay glued to their desks (and if you can stop them using the internet, the better) or do you judge their performance by their output?
Chit-chat at the coffee machine
Unless you believe that people actually turn-up to work to positively contribute, and are able to manage those few that do not, you end-up being a policeman with a very depressed and unproductive non-transparent organisation. Truth is that if your people are spending too much time on personal things like personal email and extensive coffee-breaks, then this tells us more about the organisation than about the people. Since we are at the helm of our organisation and leading it, then it is we who need to take full responsibility.
We challenge you to think this way. Enjoy your people by joining them in their environment and garner information when it is meaningful to them. Should you see a few time-wasters, manage them accordingly. However, if you are sensing an endemic situation, it is time to start working ON the business rather than IN it.
GREAT organisations listen to their staff
It is our experience that GREAT organisations who regularly achieve their objectives have Visionary Leaders. Those Leaders select the Right People to form their teams. They then respect them, welcome their feedback and create an open environment where ideas at the grass-roots are cultivated and explored to ensure that the organisation remains relevant and continues to grow in lock-step with their customers. And, who are the best customer advocates, if not those in our organisation who work closely, day-in, day-out with our customers.
So, go down to the coffee-machine, welcome the insight of your team and celebrate their feedback, especially when it is difficult or “Bad” news! They are offering you the springboards to success.
Certainly, the Board and Shareholders should be presented with clear and professional documents and presentations. Yet, just as importantly, nobody should need to be protected from the truth. In our experience, Great Organisations are led by CEOs and Board of Directors who operate with total transparency by supporting the organisation when most needed, in tough times with difficult results.
If you are feeling “what a load of hog-wash” while reading this article, then you are potentially resisting your biggest transformation opportunity. One that could mean less midnight oil burning for you, while achieving more, with a willing contributing team, feeling positive and achieving what you know you are able to!
Last modified: April 8, 2018