Employers who boast, "Our employees are our greatest asset!" yet treat their workers as if they are a burden remind me of the fairy tale "The Emperor's New Clothes." The emperor paraded around town so everyone could admire him in what he claimed to be a set of the finest new clothes. The reality, though, did not match his words: he had no clothes on. Not only did no one question his assertion, but everyone admired and praised the non-existent suit - until one little boy in the crowd blurted out the truth: "Look, the emperor has no clothes on!"
If you work for an organization whose leaders don't walk the talk and you are not in a decision-making role, how can you influence them in a respectful way to change their behaviors? Here are two very effective tools that I often suggest to my clients. Both techniques are part of a program called Influencing Options® that I teach and use in my consulting work.
In some cases, managers truly are unaware of the gap between their words and their actions, while others believe that no one sees an inconsistency. In those situations, a simple statement may be all that is needed to point out the discrepancy. For example, "John, I'm a little frustrated. On the one hand, the company tells us that we (employees) are its greatest asset. On the other hand, when I offer suggestions about how to improve our product or better serve our customers, I'm told that things are just fine the way they are." By "owning" your feeling and naming the specific behaviors that are at odds with each other, you can put the issue on the table for discussion without creating a defensive reaction.
If managers are aware that their actions don't match their words, you can use the discrepancy statement or a technique called natural consequences. "Natural" consequences of behaviors are results that occur on their own, without human intervention. They can be positive or negative. For example, some negative natural consequences of not treating employees like they are, in fact, the organization's greatest assets are that employees lose their trust in and respect for management, they become disengaged and cynical, and they have little commitment to the organization. As a result, productivity decreases, customer service is poor, turnover costs are high, and profitability suffers. In other words, everyone loses: management, employees, customers, and stakeholders. Thus this technique allows you to show in a respectful way that it is in management's best interest to change its behavior.
Pointing out positive natural consequences has the same effect. When leaders choose to align their behavior with their words, employees increase their trust in and respect for managers, they become engaged and motivated, and they feel they have a stake in the organization. As a result, productivity increases, customer service is exceptional, turnover costs are very low, and profitability increases. This is a scenario in which everyone wins.
If you are in a situation in which the emperor has no clothes (i.e., management doesn't walk the talk), will you be part of the crowd that goes along with the rhetoric in spite of clear evidence to the contrary, or will you be like the little boy who held the emperor accountable? It's your choice.
For more information about the Influencing Options® program, please contact us.
Special thanks to Mary Agnes Antonopoulos, who provided the inspiration for this article.
Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.
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