Question: Our executive team is made up of four people. We meet regularly to discuss company performance and related issues. Outside of these meetings, the president and the vice president of finance and accounting spend the most time together. Here’s the problem: they seem to have a different view of how things should be run than the vice president of operations and me (the vice president of sales and marketing). This plays itself out in many different ways. Here’s an example: at the last management team meeting, we got into the topic of performance appraisal and how we need to identify the poor performers in each work area so we can meet our goal of 6 percent forced turnover this year. It’s not a real popular idea, but one that is financially driven. Here’s the problem: during the discussion, as some people were talking about how hard this policy is to carry out at a personal level, the president said something close to the following, “You have to come to grips with this. It’s time to stop complaining and start acting. If I had to, I could go around this room and identify the poor performers. I could do it right now and eliminate the people I’d identified. That’s what all of you need to do.” This was a bombshell with a lot of fallout. The story got out to a lot of the employees. I think a more sensitive response would have been the right way to go. It would have appeared that he had a heart. Instead, he came across unfeeling and cold. Other issues have to do with his ideas about how things should be run. He said things like, “We need to start acting like leaders and tell people what to do. We’re doing too much hand-holding of these crybaby employees. We’re in charge, they’re not.” These statements directly contradict our mission statement and ongoing process improvement practices. There are so many examples like these that I’ve lost count. The bottom line is that tension is high in the executive team. Morale and trust are very low among the managers. Yet, he walks around like everything is rosy and we’re really doing it. The reality is that most people can’t wait until he leaves. What is your take on this situation?
Answer: This is a very difficult situation. As I have noted in a number of my recent articles, corporate culture is shaped from the top. The tone at the top in your company appears to be one of detachment, conflict and heavy-handedness. This is exacerbated if your actions (i.e., eliminate 6 percent of the employees) are at odds with your words (i.e., a mission statement that emphasizes how important the employees are to the company). In short, these kinds of contradictions erode credibility and trust.
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