I was talking to an executive at a client of mine about the changes the organization was going through and how he felt about them. He just shrugged. He told me he had seen it all before: He had been there twenty years and dealt with more consultants, leadership changes, and workplace and marketplace initiatives than he could count. And while he had seen the marketplace and his customers evolve, he had not seen his organization change and evolve with them.
I asked the executive if he had held himself accountable to share what he thought needed to happen and he just shook his head. “I've shared my thoughts numerous times about what I think should be happening. But leadership is a revolving door here. I expressed my concerns with one leader and he was gone soon after. I've tried to be heard for 20 years. Now, I’m just doing whatever they ask. Because I am tired of it all. I still care about the organization, but I can't say I care as much as I did. I just don't see people responding to me and others to understand what the real needs are here. There’s a huge disconnect as leaders come and go and try and execute another grand plan for what our brand should be. But they never asked the question if these changes are what we should do – and whether we have the right talent, resources, and mindset to execute these changes. They don't see that their people and the customers we talk to aren’t moving with them. It’s exhausting.”
This conversation stuck with me the rest of the day: Here was a committed, loyal employee who after twenty years of “been there, done that” -- change is just playing it safe. He’s seen all these changes before and he is tired.
And he is not alone.
Change is essential but constant change without strategy leads to substitution rather than evolution and that change can exhaust even our most loyal employees. Here are five warning signs your company is tired of change for change’s sake:
1. Employees are ignored and left on the outside.
At a dinner after a keynote to a multinational consumer packaged goods company, a group of midlevel executives inquired about my work with other businesses. They wanted to know what the trends were, the common threads I saw, and especially what leaders needed to be more focused on. It took me a moment to realize they weren’t asking for clarification of what they had heard me say. They were looking for deeper connection to what they were doing and from their leaders. They weren’t looking for a way out; they were looking for a way in. And their leader was not providing that. He engaged them to do their work but didn’t care enough to evolve and do more for one simple reason: He feared the level of accountability an intimate relationship like that might bring.
That’s exactly how that executive I spoke to felt: on the outside. As a result, he had stopped taking any risks on behalf of the company. That is catastrophic in an age when the only thing certain in business today is uncertainty. Leaders must embrace risk as the new normal that requires them to have the trust of and engagement with their people to pull them along. Without that how will your people trust you and themselves enough to take risks and anticipate the unexpected to deal with that uncertainty? If they don’t, they will default to linear thinking: Better to play it safe than take a risk and lose my job!
2. Leadership has stopped listening.
In 2015, Google released an employee survey called “Project Aristotle” through The New York Times which showed the importance of all people on every team just want to speak and be heard: “Project Aristotle is a reminder that when companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences—like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel—that can’t really be optimized.”
In today’s new normal, people want to be heard. They want to be part of a workplace that allows them to be their authentic selves—one that supports their efforts to be more purposeful, responsible, and accountable. And many organizations have encouraged their employees to freely speak-up. But has leadership followed suit and stopped talking long enough to listen to what they are saying? Is that leadership open-minded enough to allow their employees to influence their decisions?
3. Leaders don't understand the real needs of the business.
Recently I worked with a newly hired Fortune 100 who had taken over the most influential department in his division in the organization. And he knew his people did not trust him. He didn't speak their language. He didn't have the exact background that their prior leader had who they were so comfortable with and felt so connected to. So what did the new leader do? Instead of bringing in his own ideas first --- he sought to understand and buy into the thinking that was already successful within the department. He tried to understand where the alignment of competency and influence existed within the departments and bought into what the department was doing well so that he could find the most responsible ways of integrating his ideas and ideals.
New leaders who come in with their way of thinking and force that thinking on the team are approaching the business based upon their experience in the past not the opportunities in front of them. That exhausts people and forces them to retreat even deeper into the existing silos. Breaking down those silos is so important to understand the needs of the business and engaging your people.
4. Diversity and Inclusion remains a cost center.
When it comes to understanding the entire marketplace and attracting and retaining “diverse” talent, too many businesses and leaders find themselves unprepared for real evolution. That’s why diversity training, corporate social responsibility, employee resource groups, and similar initiatives are usually viewed as cost centers (expenses) to comply with mandated diversity initiatives, rather than as profit centers (investments) to drive influence in the workplace and growth in the marketplace.
Much to my surprise, even relatively young high-tech companies, often called the most progressive, have not evolved to understand this. Facebook, one of the most dynamic companies in America, has repeatedly struggled to improve workforce diversity using the traditional approaches of diversity programs. Real change requires more than simply repackaging and repeating the same approaches that have failed in the past. That’s how you end up with tactical “diversity and inclusion” initiatives that are fail to generate results because they fail to see people as a profit center. Nothing is more exhausting than that! It’s time to place people and their diversity of thought at the center of an organization’s change management strategy – to grow and evolve.
5. Lack of trust is constant.
Trust in the workplace is more than just the belief that our employees, leaders, company, and brand(s) are reliable, good, honest, effective, and able. Trust must be the foundation upon which our leaders, employees, and customers have clarity and shared beliefs around a company’s evolution. Trust means that perceptions and expectations between employees, leaders, company, and brand(s) are aligned and strengthen that belief in a company’s mission in the workplace and marketplace. Trust comes from the actions that we take, but they must be felt by others in order to resonate – from the c-suite on down.
That kind of trust requires transparency from leadership. Leadership should know the wisdom behind having each other’s backs and employees must know they work in a place where everyone’s best interests are taken to heart. When the corporate culture values transparency and promotes honest and direct feedback, it empowers people to break down silos and build bridges to strengthen communication, clarity, and understanding. That energizes people instead of smothering them.
After all, isn’t that the reason most relationships fail? We’re smothering people in the workplace instead of engaging them and letting them be who they are. And it’s just exhausting pretending to be someone else all the time.
Change should reactivate and rejuvenate the organization. When it’s not, you are not welcoming people to embrace change in order for both the organization and its people to evolve. Stop complicating the change management process. This is why your people are tired. Give them the truth and they will respond. Stop hiding underneath the uncertainty change tends to bring. Be courageous enough to lead through it.