Friday, 19 February 2010

The hidden cost of employee commitment.

The cost, especially in economic upturn, is the loss of your best employees: the ones you didn’t make redundant; those that stuck with you despite your anxious, distracted, terse, unreasonableness and slim rewards; those who’ve been quietly observing you and deciding that given opportunity, they’ll leave.

You’re not a bad person. You want to be successful in a successful enterprise. You dream of commanding the committed engaged effort of your people. You actively seek out and use a variety of managerial strategies, tools and methods to get 'buy-in' and thus engineer commitment and engagement.

But in the end you can’t control everything and when you don't deliver on your end of the bargain the integrity of your strategy is clearly compromised. Resulting shock waves of betrayal and disappointment can reflect, refract and reverberate through your organisation and your supply chain reinforcing endemic cynicism in your upstream and downstream markets.

That damaging compromise has its roots in your ‘knowing’ that despite all the bullshit to the contrary, employees can’t be trusted to comply with managers’ designs and demands unless managers get and maintain ‘buy-in’. So you get and maintain buy-in by manipulative management communication processes: by strategically 'positioning' your message to engineer willing compliance.

What most managers either don’t know or don’t really believe is that most ‘reports’ actually want to be committed to and engaged in worthwhile enterprise with other engaged committed people.

The best are so keen to taste the fruit of engagement that, full of hope and despite previous disappointment and betrayals they will risk going to extraordinary lengths to get it. They will buy in: they will ignore selfish, manipulative manager behaviour; go the extra mile; live the espoused values; believe the vision; accentuate the positive; create; collaborate and invest emotion and time.

But in time (usually between 18-30 months) through the course of events and economic (mis)fortune, it becomes increasingly apparent to them that despite the hoopla, what rules in practice is individual self interest and that's what's rewarded. Individual self interest is best served through filtering and limiting communication, through manipulative communication and cultivated dependency.

Cynicism grows, resentment spreads, engagement wanes and from those who gave, more is taken: their satisfactions, hopes, spark, power, and pride eroded; accelerated when they are blamed for their predicament.

Separation follows. Angry, sad, and disappointed they take their knowledge and their potential with them leaving those who precipitated it: kings over their small domains of the cynical and still-hopeful.

The good news for those little kings is that they have another chance to deeply believe that their best bet individually and collectively is to stop manipulating and get out of the way of people who desperately want to be committed to and fully engaged in doing good things together.

If you’re one of those kings, how can you ensure that you will behave differently this time? Clue, you can’t do it on your own. Ask some of those committed ‘serfs’ to help you. Do you have the balls to do that?


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