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  • Sue Morris

An Open Letter to SA CEO's

Updated: Mar 11, 2019

Your staff have cost you a whole heap to recruit and train and you know, because you keep reading it, that they are your “greatest asset”. They started on day one, rearing to go. You may even have made a personal effort to connect with some of them below your management team, but as you walk the landscape – quickly, on your way to another important meeting – you notice what seems to be a lack of energy; screens quickly changed as you approach from some social media site, and no eye contact. Come to think of it, you were concerned about the latest staff turnover figures presented by HR, but their presentation had to be cut short for Finance to present.


I’ve worked in corporate and small businesses, and I have consulted to many businesses in between. I have come across scores of desk-occupiers who attend meetings, never take notes and become excellent deflectors. They are often experienced and knowledgeable, but disillusioned and cynical. It’s a tragic loss of contribution and its hidden almost completely from you. Just like a parental blind spot, where your kids get up to more than you can imagine, these employees can impress where necessary, but stall progress all over the show. That, and their mindset is unfortunately contagious.


Here’s some of what’s behind this:


No Purpose

People are hardwired to make a positive difference in the world. Achieving a financial goal is not it. Nor is selling a lot of stuff. They want to know how they solve important problems for customers or make their lives easier. Actually, they want to also feel this – because they are not just big thinking heads. You probably already know how important it is to emotionally engage your customers, it’s the same with your staff.


Annual Reviews

Annual reviews are demotivating and inaccurate. They are biased to performance in the past few months and are often treated like a task by managers. They also set the structure for one feedback session a year. What staff really want is ongoing input, preferably of the “feed-forward” nature. They want also want recognition and appreciation. And, yes, you might well need to train your managers how to do that!


Psychologically we all need to feel competent and when we do, we feel more motivated. The golden ratio for high performing teams, according to the Harvard Business Review, is six positive comments to every one negative comment. The negative input is however also vitally important to address poor performance and bad behaviour – nobody thrives in a “yes” or “zero” feedback culture.


Parent Child Culture

Some of the management skills taught in business schools have an ugly side-effect. The more you manage, control and command, the more your staff start to act like children. I had a client who was incredibly proud of his micro-managing skills and I watched how the team switched off and did nothing more than tick the boxes and shift blame. Productivity plunged with their sense of ownership. So did any sign of innovation. Workshops became lectures from him with very little contribution from the team. The part he wasn’t aware of, was how much time he wasted measuring and controlling – reviewing daily output reports, spot checking these to ensure nobody cheated, pulling entrance and exit times to the building to make sure everyone worked a full eight-hour day, etc.


Your staff want to have clear responsibilities and to be given accountability for delivery. They want space to show you what they can do (without having to do it your way) and they want to be treated like responsible adults. Take a cue from Netflix and Virgin who have done away with annual leave policies – staff decide when and for how long they will go on leave, no tracking required.



So, what could you do today to begin to address this disengagement in your organisation?


If you are not sure where to start, we have some simple and powerful practices that cost very little to implement and have a big impact. Click through to do our 3-minute Engagement Assessment.

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