Company culture is one of the most widely discussed parts of the recruiting process, and takes strong leadership from the top to course-correct when things have gone astray.
Today’s post is by Vicki Brackett.
I recently spoke with Greg, an Executive Vice President who runs global operations for a multi-billion-dollar, multinational company. During our video conference, when I asked what challenges he was facing he responded, “Employee sourcing, recruiting and training costs.”
Next, I asked Greg about his employee attrition and absenteeism. Reluctantly, he shared that the organization had over 100 percent annualized employee attrition and over 20 percent absenteeism. It wasn’t hard to do the math and see that the organization was bleeding money off its bottom line and eroding emotional stability within the company. I thanked him for being so honest and upfront with me and mentioned that a lot of organizations struggle with the very same issue.
At this point, I felt like I knew what the answer to my next question would be, but I asked it to confirm my suspicions. I asked Greg to tell me about his organization’s culture. Very enthusiastically he said, “We have a great culture! People like working here!”. I wasn’t surprised by his response. Business leaders are often mesmerized with their company culture and wear their definition of that culture as a badge of honor. However, what they seldom realize is that their own ego is tied to how they define their culture.
I looked squarely into the camera and said quietly, and with sincerity, “With all due respect Greg, with over 100 percent annualized attrition and 20 percent employee absenteeism, help me understand why your employees aren’t showing up for work every day and why they are leaving your company if your culture is so great?” He just stared back at me, not knowing what to say. There was a long pause. When he finally spoke, he started down a path of vigorously defending his company culture. He even boasted that the company had won numerous international awards.
There was quantitative data proving that something was wrong. Yet, Greg hadn’t even asked himself if there was a connection between his perceived culture and the high employee attrition and absenteeism. For an outsider, it was obvious that the company was losing millions of dollars on sourcing, recruiting, and training costs, not to mention the wear and tear on recruiting and leadership teams, due to a culture problem. Greg had also clearly not thought about how the high attrition rate looked to the current employee base.
Employee perception of the company culture was clearly very different than management’s view. Some executives blame the company’s sourcing and recruiting organization, or even low compensation, for attrition and absenteeism problems. However, study after study tells us that money is not the top motivator for staying with a company. And, with such high attrition rates, who was being hired was not the only issue at play here.
Sometimes leaders’ egos prevent them from seeing the truth, and in some cases, from even asking the right questions. Egos can act like rose-colored glasses, altering the reality of what is really happening within the organization. In these situations, it can become too painful for leaders to ask if the gaps in the organization are connected to the way they lead because they fear the answer may ultimately be yes.
Leaders who are afraid to admit they made a mistake or overlooked something, who are afraid of losing creditability within the company, not knowing how to fix problems, not getting promoted, or ultimately losing their jobs can paralyze the organization. These fears can cause leaders to blame someone else or, worse yet, pretend there really isn’t anything wrong. In these scenarios, leaders will continuously ignore the challenges within the organization until someone else notices a metric sliding and starts investigating.
Friends, family and close colleagues can perpetuate the problem by helping leaders keep that cozy feeling of the “ego blanket” by jumping onboard and blaming someone or something else, like market conditions, bad suppliers, the board’s decision, and a range of other things. While these might all be contributing to the challenge, in the end it’s about leaders taking responsibility and asking themselves how the way they lead contributes to challenges inside the company.
If leaders are not consciously asking how they are contributing to the overall challenges inside their company, they can sometimes play the blame game or not see the negative side of the culture that has been created, either on purpose or by chance. In these situations, I always advise leaders to “ask the people”. I challenge them to ask their frontne employees who interface with the customer or client every day how they feel about things. When front-line employees are finally asked where the gaps are, leaders are usually amazed at the information they receive.
Take the question one step further and next ask employees how those gaps may be plugged. Doing this will instantly improve employee engagement and great ideas and solutions will dramatically increase. When given the power to be included in the decision-making process, front-line employees will not only be thoroughly engaged and show up to work, they will be vested in the outcome. This engagement impacts performance, attrition, and ultimately revenue and profit.
It can take guts to look in the “leadership mirror”. Leaders have to face their fears and insecurities. The result, however, can be gains in the level of employee engagement, better employee performance, and all around feeling of wellness in culture – all which affect the bottom line and create a leadership legacy that will impact people, customers and the destiny of the organization.
Vicki Brackett has spent her entire career leading small, medium and Fortune 500 organizations through start up, turnaround and rapid growth scenarios. Brackett speaks, trains, consults and mentors leadership inside companies to help them with strategic planning, employee engagement, process re-engineering and moving key performance indicators in the right direction. For more information visit www.theleadershiptoolbox.com
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