Power to the People – It’s Not A Generational Gap

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Power to the People – It’s Not A Generational Gap

“To Give Anything Less Than Your Best is to Sacrifice the Gift.” – Steve Prefontaine

Last month we talked about Millennials in the workplace and debunked a few myths.  I also promised to continue the theme and focus on the other workplace generations this month. Since then, I realized that it’s less about generational gaps and more about making ALL employees a central focus because most people want the same thing from work: to be treated well, get paid a decent wage, and have the opportunity to do their best work.

For months, something has been nagging at me about a client “project” from several years ago. It was a reorganization effort that mostly involved shifting people within a specific department. It’s often called a new “flying formation” and, simply put, is a rearranging of deck chairs.

Like many re-orgs, this one came about because a new leader had taken over the department.  And, what is the one thing that most new leaders do when they take the helm? Replace a bunch of the old leaders!. It’s the quickest way (notice I didn’t say best way) to make your mark on an organization and shows everybody that clearly the other guy, or woman, (but let’s face it, more often than not, it’s a guy) had it all wrong.

There is nothing wrong with re-orgs per se. We do a lot of work on them and know that they are often vitally important, even critical to take on. They can be labor-intensive, disruptive and anxiety producing for many. The best and most valuable ones are never about one leader making their mark, they are grounded in a compelling North Star for the future and consider the people, processes, and tools to realize it.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours with other teams since then. Some of those teams are within the same company, some elsewhere, but for some reason, this group of people (and there are well over 1000) are still on my mind. Heck, they even underwent a new re-org recently and have yet another leader. I think about them often, for reasons that were a bit baffling until a few days ago.

If you spend a few months living in someone else’s home (as we did during a recent kitchen remodel) and pay attention, you learn a lot about them. Forget about paying companies thousands of dollars to provide employee engagement surveys. Hire a decent consultant with good people skills to deliver some short-term project (maybe 3 months) of value where they get to interact with all levels of your department. At the end of the engagement, ask them to share their perspective on what’s really needed in your department. If they are good and it feels safe to be candid, you’ll learn heaps!

When I spent a little while thinking about the nagging sense of “incompleteness” for the people in this department, 3 things surfaced:

1) The people feel beaten down by Fake Change. They have seen multiple leaders come in over the last 5-7 years and each time there is some level of upheaval – with very little actual change.

The first time you offer an employee the all-new “Team Zed” people believe it. But once 3 months have gone by, the project deadlines are as intense as ever despite the upheaval, and nothing of real value has changed for them, they put their antenna up the next time change comes around.  That antenna says “hey, is this real change this time or just fake change in a new package?” This team has seen a lot of Fake Change.

2) A re-org isn’t going to fix the problems within the organization. Why? Because it happens under a cloud of secrecy and doesn’t get to the heart of what’s broken.

This department is full of bright, talented, and dedicated people. The people on the ground already hold the key to creating a winning organization, a place that people can be proud of. If leaders involved them in a REAL, deep, and abiding conversation about what needs to change and how to get there, they’d find that people are a lot more resilient and eager to create change than they have been given credit for. They don’t have to “do change” to them. They may need to free up just a little bit of time for individual contributors to participate in this work but the ROI on that is in the double digits!

3) Stop talking about empowerment when you don’t really mean it. The “rotating taps” of leadership talk about empowering people and yet for years have used the excuse that “we are behind the curve from a technology standpoint” to dictate project deadlines rather than create them.

Employees want to feel empowered about their destiny so involve them in poking at that technology myth.  If it’s true, let them create the rallying cry to figure out what to do about it. People want to know how they can maximize their experiences and performance on the job. Virtually all of them want to do a good job. Create an environment that will make the most of their skills and provides the authority, resources, information, and training to perform at their best. Then, stand back and watch them take flight to the North Star!

If I had a magic wand and could get the current leader to have a frank and candid conversation with me, this is what I would say. Do you see your own organization in this in any way?  What steps would you take to make the difference?

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