In the iconic 1992 film, “A Few Good Men,” Tom Cruise’s character, Navy JAG Lt. Daniel Kaffee challenged the combat-hardened and highly decorated Marine Col. Nathan Jessup, aptly portrayed by Jack Nicholson. Their spirited courtroom dialogue concluded with Jessup adamantly telling Kaffee: “You can’t handle the truth!”
If you are in a leadership role in any type of organization you must know the truth. Given your authority and responsibility for employee productivity and welfare you should consider two questions:
- Do you know how your employees really feel about your company? and
- Why should you care?
Let’s assume that you really don’t know how they really feel, and explore why you should care. We have found (and the research supports) that performance is directly linked to the effectiveness of people and processes. We believe most organizations, including yours, try to hire the best people – who do the best job they can – with the tools they are given. Further, you probably think your people have everything they need to perform at optimum levels.
So if the right people and processes are in place, why is it that gaps continue to persist between expected and actual performance? And, why are leaders so often confronted with unpleasant surprises?
Gaps persist and issues are overlooked because “We’ve always done it that way” or “It’s good enough”. And sometimes we place too much trust in certain people. Today’s organizations are typically short-staffed, pursuing multiple projects and competing priorities. The consequence is that problems are not recognized until it’s too late. Consider these examples:
The comptroller of Dixon, Illinois, was arrested for embezzling $30 million dollars in public funds over the past 6 years to finance a horse breeding operation and opulent lifestyle. Now you might say, “That could never happen in my organization! – We have controls”. Well great – just be sure to examine the books while your comptroller is on vacation.
Another example: In October, 2011, a disgruntled employee walked into a meeting at the Lehigh Cement plant in Cupertino, California and shot and killed 3 of his co-workers and wounded 7 others. It was reported that the shooter didn’t like the way his manager and Union Steward talked to him about his attendance and work performance.
And I learned recently about a project manager at a construction firm who financed the remodeling of his home with a company credit card to the tune of over $100K.
Consider also Employment Practices Liability (EPL). During the recession there has been a huge rise in lawsuits against employers for age, gender, disability, and racial discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination and retaliation (for reporting discrimination!). According to an Inc. guide, “While American firms were downsizing in 2010, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) saw a record 99,922 discrimination claims filed in the fiscal year ending September 30. It was the highest number of cases brought in the agency’s 45-year history.” The report further states that “EPL cases can be a drain on time and monetary resources for a small or mid-sized business. The average tally for a discrimination case exceeded $235,000, according to the EEOC”. [i]
The economic and human costs in these examples are huge. So if you don’t know how your employees really feel about your company, and you now realize that you must care, what steps should you take to prevent catastrophes in your organization?
Start by learning your employees’ views and feelings about their workplace, their leaders and their co-workers. Then you can take steps to correct deficiencies, remove performance barriers and create a more productive, supportive and healthy work environment. You should have policies in place to prevent the most egregious situations. EPL insurance and training can also help. However, you can’t fix everything at once – and we have the tools to help you find out where to start.
When leaders don’t recognize problems, or know why gaps exist, they actually create barriers to performance. This demoralizes the people who work hard – don’t feel they’re being heard. They don’t feel they are appreciated, so they leave – or worse, they return – too often with a gun.
If you think you can handle the truth, (It should be clear that you can’t afford not to) conduct a survey to learn the truth. But don’t do it unless you are prepared to respond to the results. To create hope and raise expectations and not act on the data – is worse than doing nothing. We’ll help you figure things out, analyze performance gaps, identify the potential for improved performance and design interventions to enable you to implement solutions that stick. Consider this quote from Simon Sinek: “Success always takes help. Failure we can do alone.”
Eric Doner is the Founder and President of AchieveCorp. His firm provides assessments, guidance, and training to enable improved organizational, team and individual performance. Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.