It's been awhile since I've been in a large corporate environment, but I was reminded of what it's like last week when I was listening to a conference call from a friend's office. To be fair, I was trying to get work done, but I was in someone else's office and they insisted on keeping the conference call on speaker (muted), while I worked.
The VP of this company was trying to talk to the "troops" about moving forward, sharing information, and in general how business should proceed going forward. It reminded me of similar calls I've been on, an executive setting the expectations about how people should work, using a combination of the carrot (rewards for high performers) and stick (those who don't follow the system will be penalized) on the call.
At the end of his speech, the VP asked for questioned and feedback, getting very little. I think 2 people asked questions and I think over 100 were on the call. My friend was laughing (after making sure we were muted), sure that no one was going to really say what they thought.
As someone that's spent a good amount of time as both the manager and the employee, I can understand how valuable feedback can be. It's hard to know if the decisions you're making are positively or negatively affecting your people. Or how you might better change your decisions to gain more support and buy-in from your employees.
However in order for your employees to really give you honest feedback, they have to trust you. They have to trust that you're not going to hold their words against them. That if they disagree or think you've implemented a "stupid" policy, that it won't get them marked for boring projects, or worse, on the short list if there are layoffs.
And the reality is that I think most employees don't trust their management, especially as they are more and more removed from it. It's rare that I have trusted people 2 or more levels above me, and I almost never trust a C-level executive. I have a few reasons, but the biggest one is that most of them aren't really leaders. But there's also another one.
In the movie Apocalypse Now, there's a great scene where one of the officers leads his troops into battle. Whatever the motivations and other issues the officer has, the troops know that the officer will lead them and share the danger with them. He doesn't put their lives on the line without putting his on as well.
Something I don't think many corporate executives will do.
Too often I think that today's corporate management would sacrifice an employee, not for the good of the company, but for their own personal gain. With that kind of attitude, can you expect employees to act any different?
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