Walking your talk: when the best intentions go wrong
It’s 10 am on Monday morning and you are looking at the operations dashboard for last week. Your employee attrition rate remains at 26%, you are only attracting qualified candidates for 50% of your current openings, and most of your new hires are remaining with you for fewer than 60 days. You’ve missed your manufacturing targets for the 35th straight week and your back order levels continue to creep up. Like most Mondays, you don’t know whether to scream or cry! You wonder how this could have happened…especially since you have done everything your employees have asked of you.
You think to yourself, “Just three years ago we spent time speaking with our employees to understand their desires and the local labor market. We asked what would make them happy and they told us that flexible working conditions and a compressed work week were critical. After much hand-wringing and navel-gazing, we revised our policies, rolled out a compressed work week of 4 ten-hour work days, Monday through Thursday, for first and second shifts. We also created a weekend shift comprised of 3 twelve-hour days, Friday through Sunday. The employees were thrilled! They shared their good fortune with friends and family. And, for the first time ever, we had a full contingent of enthusiastic employees and things were looking up. We headed off to grow the business, confident that we had everything well in-hand. What happened?”
Unfortunately, we often hear similar stories from our clients. The leaders suggest that employees don’t appreciate the burden that making such shifts can cause, or that the staff doesn’t appreciate how responsive the management team was to their suggestions. Associates are characterized as ungrateful, entitled, or lazy. We hear that it’s the Millennials – they are different than previous generations of workers, or it’s the Baby Boomers who are just tired of working and have retired on the job.
Change can be good, but the thing with change is… it’s constantly evolving.
Truth be told, most frequently two things happen. First, positive changes were made and had the immediate intended effect, but were not followed up on and revisited. And second, the leaders forgot to walk their talk. They drifted away from both the spirit and the intention of the changes they had instituted. This happens without malicious intent; as a matter of fact, it happens without intention at all.
All changes need to be reassessed on a regular basis because what works today may not work tomorrow, and what works tomorrow might not make sense for a future situation. Also, change that is implemented but left to exist on its own without support, runs the risk of reverting back to its old ways. By not being attentive to changes being made, you are setting yourself up for future disasters.
Too often, as in the true story above, life and business happen. In this story, times got tough. The organization drifted away from their competitive stance; salaries, wages, and benefits slipped, employees started to leave and were harder to attract, the local labor market became much more attractive and unemployment rates plummeted. As a result, mandatory overtime became the norm and not the exception, the company’s reputation in the labor market took a dive, and it eventually became a vicious cycle.
It is imperative to constantly take stock of where you stand. Are you living up to your promises? How are you performing against your stated values, principles, performance expectations, and practices? You go through the process of evaluating your employees’ performance consistently, so make it a common practice to review your own performance as well. This is a two-way street and has enormous implications for your employment brand and your organization’s overall ability to meet your objectives. It is much easier to make continual 1 degree course corrections over time than to struggle through a resurrection of your employment practices. Be as intentional about evaluating your own performance as you are about evaluating others. After years of experience dealing with these exact situations, and having seen all too many leaders lose their footing, I can assure you that if you continue to hold yourself accountable for the promises that you make to your employees, you will reap incredible rewards for walking your talk.