The “reluctant CEO” called me a few weeks later and invited me to spend the day with his managers and employees. “Listen to them and see if you can tell me what’s wrong,” he said. He repeated his position. “These folks just need to grow up.”
The point of my earlier visit, I offered, was that he needed to listen to his folks. Not me.
“I’m going to listen to you first,” he said.
It is not my general practice to walk around companies with a “shrink hat” on asking people how they feel. But I do sit in on meetings to see how effectively people are using their time.
Listening helped me to learn about employee engagement
My most profound takeaway was that the company had lost its span of emotions. There were no screaming matches but no celebrations, either. No aggressive behaviors—yet plenty of the passive aggressive kind. It seemed that fear was the only emotion left. And that’s not good. Fear freezes out new ideas and grinds away at the gears of daily work.
How fear in the workplace hinders the execution of strategy
I went to the CEO’s office to share that insight.
His initial reaction was disdainful: “I didn’t hire a bunch of scaredy cats. You are not reading the situation correctly.”
“They should be afraid,” he said. “If we don’t start hitting our numbers, it won’t be pretty.”My response was simple, “The fear in your workplace is hindering the execution of your strategy. You either adjust the strategy or you adjust the culture.” (Culture has a longer, more sustainable return and it is much easier to change than attempting to jerry-rig your strategy to a non-engaged workforce.)
I explained that people who are scared make rash decisions. “They need better information and so do you,” I told him. The only thing you should fear is mediocrity; and apparently, you don’t because those are your results.
“Argh! What 12-step plan do you recommend and how much will it cost me?” the still-reluctant CEO asked.
“Test my assessment with your managers,” I replied. “Ask them if people are fearful. If they say I’m full of it, I won’t hear from you. If I’m right, we can talk more.
So, were the employees fearful, just as I suspected? Stay tuned to find out…