As we move into 2015 with plans for success, I am again reminded of the reasons I began my own career, many years ago, in training and professional development. Sharing what we have learned and the challenges we have faced, helps other professionals build awareness and new skills for their own success.
Years ago, as a part of the management team of Continental Airlines, now re-branded United, we flew into and out of two, and almost a third bankruptcy. At the end of the day, we ranked on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work for list, 6 years in a row. Turning a highly dysfunctional organization or a department around is possible. But, it’s not child’s play and requires deep insight into areas that will challenge you both personally and professionally.
Gordon Bethune, the former illustrious CEO of Continental Airlines, largely responsible for its turnaround and the reason its legacy lives on today as United, said it best. “If you have a booger on your nose and your team says to you, hey boss you look great today, because they are too afraid to tell you the truth, then you have a real problem on your hands.”
The tip of the iceberg is not what sunk the Titanic. It was what was deep beneath the surface of that still water that did the damage. Many times we are too afraid to see, or simply choose to ignore, the true underlying causes of the problems and challenges we experience in our organization.
A dysfunctional corporate culture prevents us from driving any real change when there is fear that we may be opening a can of worms that we can’t neatly recap. Organizations waste time and money by attempting to fix problems in ways that don’t work. For example, we may decide to conduct customer service training for our staff when we are experiencing increasing customer complaint levels and service issues. When what in fact what may be needed is a hard look at overall employee job satisfaction and motivation levels. Remember, happy employees make happy customers? I’ll share a true story. I once went into a large chain grocery store for something I needed. This was not a store I frequented. I noticed after bringing my items up to the checkout a sign that read. “If I fail to greet you with a smile and thank you for your business today, you are entitled to 1 dozen eggs for free!” I commented to the cashier about the sign as I thought it was impressive. Without any hesitation, the girl behind the counter retorted, “Honey, that’s what they say I am going to do, but you can just go get your eggs if you want to.” And she was dead serious. The management in this store has a real problem. One that was not going to be fixed by giving away eggs.
I was recently asked to deliver a keynote speech on employee motivation at a corporate conference. I asked if I could speak to a few staff members to gauge their own feelings about motivation levels at the firm. Management declined the request, as they did not want to unearth any issues that might cause unrest. Of course, the reason for delivering this speech was that trouble already existed. If we simply give our team members an “at a boy” slap on the back, when they and we know that real problems are lurking, it will only lead to higher frustration levels and lower job satisfaction. Team members feel disempowered, when it becomes apparent that no one truly cares or is unwilling to look at and resolve real issues. Eventually, they will give up hope and decide to fend for themselves, just like their own management team has chosen to do. I experienced this directly in the airline business.
When staff members are asked to attend new training programs, there is already the possible stigma of under-performance and a question; why do I have to be here? They may ask, is this a slam session or just another band aide on our problems and a waste of our time? What I have seen as effective over and over again is a leaders ability to be transparent by admitting their own imperfections and need for professional development. When leadership participates in the training endeavors that their own team is asked to attend, success can be exponential. If you really want to know what your team is thinking, all you need to do is be present and listen.
We can look away for a day, a month or maybe even a year, and stay afloat. But, if we choose to ignore real trouble for very long, the ship may eventually go down. When we are bold enough to look deeply at the real challenges that exist, face them and take measures necessary to correct course, new possibilities for success will begin to appear. At Fathom, we call this process, Deep Insight, Direct Results.
John Males is Founder and President of Fathom Corporate Training. With more than 20 years of experience in management, sales and negotiations, he helps clients increase employee satisfaction, lower turnover, increase revenue and raise profit margins.