“You can’t handle the truth!”
I took the next few days to internalize the scores, define my strategy for the employee focus groups, and prepare the initial meeting message for the employees. My strategy was to meet with the whole group to review any concerns they may have with my line managers and then I would have either HR or my boss to talk with the employees about concerns with me. After meeting with HR and my boss it was agreed that the best approach was for me to talk with the whole group and then HR would meet with the groups broke out by job class. My message would be around promoting the survey results as being truthful, their intent for wanting to improve the team, and my desire for specific feedback.
On the day of the meeting I had prepared a few PowerPoint slides with a little bit of data around the top 10 strengths and top 10 opportunities. The last thing that I wanted to happen in this meeting was to get caught up in the data and not get “with the people”. It reminds me of the saying “paralysis by analysis” and leaving this meeting without some feedback was not an option. As the employees filed into the conference room there was an uncomfortable tension in the room and I am sure they could read my body language that I was anxious also.
After everyone was in the room and signed in, I started the meeting talking about our strengths. All the strengths were focused around our mission and work group strengths without any indications of strengths in the leadership team. It was a pretty quite room without any smiles or indications that the employees were happy with our strengths and it seemed that they were waiting to talk about the opportunities. I then started talking through our opportunities and I could visually see my people starting to sit up in their chairs or shift around uncomfortably.
I explained the structure of the meeting and this was the time to talk to me about any concerns that they have around the line managers. The room was almost silent and no one was attempting to talk or was sending me any body language to confirm that they wanted to be asked to talk. After a few minutes of coercion, the dams broke and I was in the middle of feedback central. The employees stated that they did not have any issues with me but all there issues were with the line managers. I made sure to “manage down” immediately by letting then know that there was no way that they could be happy with me and unhappy with my leaders. They were very confused as if they didn’t think that I was listening to them until I explained that a failure by the line managers was a failure by me because I was hired to lead them. They understood my point but wasn’t 100% satisfied that I was taking the heat for the line managers.
So as I continued to pull back the layers it was apparent that there had been lots of trust issues from a great deal of the staff around one of the line managers from the time the manager was a staff member through their entire time as a line manager. The staff had concern for all three managers in the areas of communication, recognition, and participation. I received feedback that two of the managers had been hired for reasons other than their aptitude for management or their love of working with people. One was hired because he was told by previous management that the job was 80% technical and 20% managerial, imagine that, a manager that was told he only had to be a manager 20% of the time. The other was told she could have the job if she was willing to work a specific schedule so that she could be present to interact with difficult stakeholders and situations.
Of all these concerns being mentioned, some were new to me and some were not. The trust issue was not a new issue but the trouble with that situation was that I didn’t know who was the cause. There were a few “bad eggs” among the staff and I could see a few undesirable characteristics in the line manager but nothing that could not be worked on. It seemed to be a lot of she said / he said types of moments between her group and her. The communication, recognition, and participation issues were ones that I took to heart because I knew that they were areas that I had room to improve on and that I felt strongly about. I took these on specifically so that I could make some personal changes and then I could champion the line managers to do the same. Seeing the data and talking to group prepared me for my meeting with senior leadership.
On the day of the senior leadership meeting we met in the conference room next to the CEO’s office (never good). Besides myself in attendance there was the CEO, VP of HR, VP of my section, VP of Operations, HR consultant, VP of an unrelated section, and my boss. Just to be clear this was not only for me, any leader that scored under the 50th%tile of the survey had a similar meeting but knowing I was not alone did not make it any less intimidating. I took full responsibility for the scores and conveyed that it was a complete failure on my part but with their support I could turn it around before the next survey. My VP and the VP or operations was supportive in talking about the multiple projects that I had been working on and their suspicion that my line leaders were “soft” in their ability to manage. The outcome was exactly what I thought it would be, and that was to “Fix It”! The leadership team would meet back monthly to hear reports on progress and to review monthly results from an internal home-grown survey so that we would have a leading indicator before next years survey.
Although it was never said, I knew what failure would result in. Some people might think that my senior leaders were very cold in their expectations but they are great leaders that live the mission and love their people but with that said, you still have to win. Like I have said previously, management is about results and without results there is a lack of management / leadership.
Upcoming on Part 3: I will talk about the feedback I received from HR after talking with the employees regarding concerns for me, the tough love meeting my boss and I had with the line managers, and the action plan for a culture change.
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