It’s Time for Business to Focus on Meaningful Performance Standards: Let’s Get Back to Inspiring and Teaching

In recent weeks I’ve heard from a surprisingly large number of you urging me to post a new column. This space is intended to share useful information and insights from my interesting business encounters and experiences; quite frankly I thought I was becoming redundant and not breaking new ground. So I’ve resisted the temptation to write for the sake of it and am now reappearing because I’ve got something worthwhile to share.
As the economy plods along, as adjusted real unemployment figures are estimated at nearly 18%, as companies struggle to compete, the great strains are showing in most insidious ways. Not enough managers are truly leading their organizations by inspiring them, teaching them, better equipping them and it’s creating greater levels of fear and suspicion in the workplace. At a time where organizational strength is an imperative far too many employees are looking to play the hero; freelancing and pushing others away from what they believe is their turf. In many respects this stands to reason: the fear of being unemployed is now so powerful that otherwise capable and rational human beings are determined to prove themselves to be indispensable. It’s happening at alarming rates and these misguided efforts are universally making bad situations worse. I won’t go as far to say we’re approaching organizational anarchy, but there are too many signs of it coming from too many companies to not put a spotlight on this dangerous trend.
Signs of this self-indulgent behavior are evidenced throughout society, whether it’s the Henne’s of Colorado or Salahi’s of Virginia who aspire to fame through outrageous and no-value behavior that will earn them starring roles on (anything but) reality tv. Just as the Salahi’s believe they’re worth a few hundred thousand dollars so a television network can interview them, many in the workforce evidently believe crashing their organizational structure or undermining corporate unity of command will not only guarantee their continued employment doing so will earn them big bonuses. I find the seeds for the twisted logic were sewn well before this diabolical behavior became apparent.

In one case a senior executive had delegated virtually everything in his business to tenured staff, but over time both company staff and their customer base eroded. This is hardly coincidental; employees developed deep resentment for a leader that hadn’t been involved for quite some time but ruled his business as an emporer so they left and took customers with them. His reaction was to further wall off access to his staff and customers as an attempt to be the hero to parent company executives that had lost patience in direct correlation to the control he had lost in his business. Even though steps have been taken to prohibit this senior manager from following a disastrous course of self and turf protection, it will be a constant effort to stay on him and manage the situation that will undoubtedly further drain corporate resources.

Another example is a sales person who recently closed a couple of deals; his first significant sales in roughly 18 months. Between 2007 and ytd 2009 this sales person’s business was off by nearly 60%; of course he attributed this to “the economy” and nothing he had any control over. Emboldened by a couple of new deals he is now attempting to hold his company hostage by demanding no less than a 50% increase in his compensation. His rationale is that he’s owed extra pay to compensate him for the tough couple of years he’s had, never mind his company continues to lose substantial money or that his tough couple of years was a direct reflection of his poor sales performance.
It’s as easy to make this a story of individual behavior as it is for me to cite other examples, but I believe the root cause is deeper. Any system that seems to have replaced merit with entitlement, achievment with grandstanding, is badly broken and must be repaired through compelling leadership and reinforced management. We’ve all let standards devolve over the years and as companies prepare themselves for 2010 I urge them to put an immediate and significant focus on meaningful performance standards.

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