I have had conversations with a number of people recently who have been frustrated by the senior leaders in their companies. Their leaders are killing the geese that lay the golden eggs, shooting themselves in the feet, biting the hands that feed them (you get the picture).
My contacts in question are high performers, bringing in multiple times the expected revenue (and profits) for their divisions. They are highly ethical and performing to very high standards for clients and their employers. (This is not a case of Wall Street traders making money by ripping people and governments off), but the higher-ups are quashing them and their desire to further improve their performance. Here’s what the leaders are doing:
- Squashing initiatives and proposals for improvement
- Failing to listen to their high performers’ needs
- Giving nominal responsibility (i.e. a title) without authority and resources (discretionary budget, time, personnel decisions, strategic authority, freedom to implement initiatives, etc.)
- Treating all divisions and people “the same” in the interest of fairness and simplicity, while actually promoting dysfunction
- Bringing in external initiatives without discussing the high performers’ own preferred solutions
- Not even seeking buy-in for initiatives
- Summary decisions on budgets without discussion
- Closing off routes for personal development and growth
- Not allowing people to learn from their own mistakes and successes
- And more and more …
This is Management/Leadership 101: Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs!
You can see the lack of understanding in the kinds of initiatives that the leaders are pushing down: no buy-in, no conversations, no examination of what works best and making it better all round. (The only thing worse is endless rounds of debate and discussion … it’s called western democratic government [Just kidding - a bit]. At least when there’s action there’s something to work with.)
My wife frequently exclaims that “People just don’t think about whether something is working, figure out why and what’s not working, and then make it better!” She has to frequently exclaim it because we see it all the time. Unfortunately, management and leadership is all too prone to ego, vanity and ignorance. We see this when people, who contend that they are well-meaning, start “disruptive” programs and “innovation cycles” that are merely repositories of their own pet theories and ideas that are intended to ultimately boost their own cache.
Equally unfortunately, there are too many management consultants who engage in this same round of faddism. They are there to promote another buy, not to create results everyone can be proud of. This is why consultants often have a bad reputation. As one person recently said to me, “I’ve always thought consultants are people who can’t do it and never have and just decide to tell everybody else what they should already know”. I understand the frustration – it’s part of the reason I became a consultant: to correct the insanity “out there.” (Just to plug myself a bit: The person had just met me, by the way, and said that he was impressed with what he was hearing from me Great performance consultant, executive coach and speaker available – “I’m here till Thursday!”)
What these higher-ups are doing is not wise counsel from above. It not only doesn’t cut the mustard, it’s leaving the royal cheese out on the bench to cultivate Listeria!
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: If you have a high performer, don’t dictate performance terms to them, instead ask how you can support him or her to do even better. If they’re good, then you would be wise to discuss how to partner together, not retreat to peremptory authority.