How executives kill meaning at work

A great article from McKinsey Quarterly: Senior executives routinely undermine creativity, productivity, and commitment by damaging the inner work lives of their employees in four avoidable ways.  As a senior executive, you may think you know what Job Number 1 is: developing a killer strategy. In fact, this is only Job 1a. You have a second, equally important task. Call it Job 1b: enabling the ongoing engagement and everyday progress of the people in the trenches of your organization who strive to execute that strategy. 

Qualitative analysis highlighted four traps that lie in wait for senior executives. Most of these pitfalls showed up in several companies.

Trap 1 Mediocrity Signals

Most likely, your company aspires to greatness, articulating a high purpose for the organization in its corporate mission statement. But are you inadvertently signaling the opposite through your words and actions? Are, for example,  top managers so focused on cost savings that they repeatedly negate teams’ autonomy, dictate cost reduction goals that have to be met before any other priorities, and—as a result— drive new-product innovation into the ground ?

Trap 2 – Strategic deficit disorder

Too many top managers start and abandon initiatives so frequently that they appear to display a kind of attention deficit disorder (ADD) when it comes to strategy and tactics. They don’t allow sufficient time to discover whether initiatives are working, and they communicate insufficient rationales to their employees when they make strategic shifts.

Trap-3 Corporate Keystone Cops

Many executives who think everything is going smoothly in the everyday workings of their organizations are blithely unaware that they preside over their own corporate version of the Keystone Kops .   For example, last-minute changes on [an important customer’s] assortments. Rather than think through the whole process and logically decide which assortments we want to show [the customer], they are instead using a shotgun approach of trying multiple assortments until we find one that works. In the meantime, they are expending a lot of time and effort on potential assortments only to find out later that an assortment has been dropped.

Then there are the shifting priorities.  One day you are working on launching an important new product the next day you find you have to launch a promotional program within 3 weeks because one of your key account people promised it without following a normal process.

Trap-4 Misbegotten goals

So your CEO wants to make an impression with Wall Street and the Board.  The problem however is that such statements are grandiose, containing little relevance or meaning for people in the trenches. They can be so extreme as to seem unattainable and so vague as to seem empty. The result is a meaning vacuum. Cynicism rises and drive plummets. Although we saw this trap clearly in only one of the seven companies we studied, we think it is sufficiently seductive and dangerous to warrant consideration.

Trap-5 We’re caught between being a small organization and growing into a bit one

This is my own trap and I have seen it wreck many companies.  A classic example of this is Microsoft who was once considered one of the best innovators in computer software.  Now they are playing catch up and it’s often hard for customers to get the information they want when they want it without spending a lot of time online.

I have also seen some companies that have so much money in budgets that they just do things for the sake of keeping big customers happy.  I  once worked with a key account salesperson who wanted to launch a promotion for a top retailers that cost over $500,000.  When I did a spreadsheet analysis of the costs and margins on the product we were expected sell we actually were loosing over $150,000 within that retailers portfolio.   You cannot and should not spend money “because it’s in the budget”.  You need to understand both the strategic and tactical impacts of every dollar you spend.

There are a lof of other ways to kill meaning such as trying to get Linchpins to fit your corporate mold rather than embracing what they have learned and asking “what do you think?”.  This is why the drug industry is going through such a rough time right now.  They have laid off so many people that the talent pool is now dry and nobody with talent wants to work for a drug company.

I thought this was an excellent article but will executives and managers learn from these examples ?

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