How You Demean Employees and the Key to Stopping it

I hate riding exercise bikes. In fact, I consider all machine-based cardio to be evil. It’s boring, even with a TV in place, to be working so hard to get nowhere. No one associates the word “engaging” with cardio equipment.

Gallup’s engagement data is often quoted for it’s mind-numbing finding that 87% of employees are not engaged at work. Leaders scratch their heads wondering how this could be! It’s because they are all in a spin class they didn’t sign up for.

While there are still managers that seem to delight in publicly ‘dressing down’ their employees, driving out all sense of motivation and commitment, most leaders suck the energy out of the team in more subtle ways:

  • Giving lip service to good ideas without taking action
  • Failing to recognize extra effort
  • Over-recognizing conformity
  • Playing favorites (spending disproportionate time with a few team members)
  • Pouring concrete on existing job descriptions…no change, no enrichment over time
  • Keeping people with aspirations in the same role because “they are too good to give up”
  • Saying ‘yes’ to new initiatives that demand an investment of time, but forcing staff to continue to carry their existing workload as well

Sound familiar? These elements creep in all the time for the ‘good of the organization’, but serve to rob employees of meaning in their career. They “de-mean” the individual. Purpose is extinguished.

Which takes me to the most subtle way to demean your team: Leave a vacuum where the vision should be.

Changing Your Mind

You don’t have to be at the top of the organization to set a vision. In fact, it’s necessary to ensure that your department or team has a clear vision of where they are headed.

When was the last time time you revisited the overarching goal with your employees or engaged them in re-envisioning it? One of the most important things you can do is to connect their everyday efforts with the impact to the customer, no matter how far removed. That produces meaning.

I recently spent a day with a business unit developing their strategy. In the afternoon I challenged them to draft a new vision statement based on the strategic priorities. They first wrote as individuals, then combined ideas in small groups, and finally worked as a team to finalize a new vision in the span of 40 minutes. You could feel how this crystallized the strategy into a single point each person could focus on and convey easily.

With a direction firmly in mind, you can open a discussion of how to improve delivery of products and services to delight the customer.

Every job has its repetitive, dull elements. But tied to a strong, enticing vision of the future, even the dullest tasks can absorb a bit of shine. I still hate the exercise bike, but with eyes firmly fixed on the scale, I like where it’s taking me.

Thoughtfully yours,

Jeff Skipper