Don’t Let the Boss’s Eccentricities Drive the Employee Experience
It goes without saying that an organization’s employee experience is heavily influenced by a founder and those key individuals who are at the organization’s helm. From a cultural perspective, it’s natural to adapt workplace customs to meet the needs (but mostly demands) of those who were, or are, driving the organization towards success.
An organization’s customs and values, however, need to be intentional rather than reactive. Here are a few amusing stories to help illustrate how crazy life can be when the boss’s eccentricities dominate the employee experience.
Who Needs Them Anyway
I have a colleague who worked for a successful software company that had been built into a juggernaut by a founder who preferred a three-days-on/three-days-off approach to working. So, during the three days the founder was engaged in his work, the entire team was expected to be available 24/7. Obviously, this type of culture was unsustainable over the long-term, and many talented people left because they were not wired to work that way. The founder’s response was, “Who needs them anyway?”
Ain’t No Rest…
Another anecdote to which some might relate comes from a high-ranking executive who was very impatient. Many hard-charging leaders are. This leader, however, wanted everyone to be available whenever he picked up the phone, even if the matter wasn’t urgent. One poor employee learned to sleep with his cell phone on vibrate under his pillow so his wife wouldn’t be disturbed by the 3 a.m. phone calls.
What Does She Expect?
Many of us can relate to a supervisor who uses Email not only as a communication tool, but also as a way to capture assignments and to-do lists. For one particular leader I know, sending an Email at 1 a.m. was a convenient way to record her thoughts and simultaneously make assignments. It truly was a matter of convenience to this woman, and she didn’t necessarily expect a response.
The challenge, however, was that her subordinates had no idea how to handle her Emails because she had not communicated her expectations. Were these Emails urgent? Should the employees respond right away? Does the fact that employees received Emails at 11:30 p.m. mean they were expected to answer Emails all night?
Screeneth Not My Calls
One of my partners joked that he once lost all credibility at a prior job because he went to bed one night at 10:30 p.m. and his wife had the “audacity” to screen a call from an unknown number. Of course, it turned out to be his boss. The conversation was not urgent, it’s just that his CEO was impatient, and he never quite forgave my partner for what was a minor faux pas, at worst.
Yeah, Uh huh, I’m Not Listening
Another friend told me of a founder she worked for who loved meetings. She would joke that, “Her boss never met a meeting he didn’t love.” The challenge was that his meetings would last for hours, sometimes taking up the whole workday. Her boss was the type of person that did his thinking out loud, and meetings gave him a way to process things.
This, of course, meant that my friend either worked late to keep up with her regular duties, or she learned to take her laptop to every meeting where she handled her real work while nodding occasionally to give the impression she was listening – all while her boss worked through things in his mind.
Help Cure Expectation Alignment Disorder (EAD)
What about the supervisor who sent an Email whenever something “popped” into her head? Had she unexpectedly created a “bed-time” for her team? As explained, she wasn’t necessarily looking for an immediate response, and much of the team’s angst could have been avoided by aligning expectations and explaining that she was fine if she received a response within a few days. Her team suffered from expectation alignment disorder.
The cure: A few conversations and maybe a team-wide Email clarifying what she would like to see when it came to late-night Emails. Simple stuff!
Leaders Should Forge Partnerships with Employees
What about the founder who wanted his way and said, “good riddance” to anyone who didn’t want to conform to his work habits? That sentiment works until you realize maybe one of those who left was the software engineer who was ready to discover the organization’s next big breakthrough.
At some point, founders and executives need to understand they have a partnership with their employees. The workforce does not exist to serve management’s needs. The workforce exists to move the organization’s objectives forward. By demonstrating a willingness to be reasonable with one’s demands, a leader can forge a partnership with her subordinates that will pay dividends in higher retention and increased engagement.
Let’s unpack some of these stories to see how the Employee Experience might be improved by making a few changes. As start-ups, companies need to be responsive and nimble. Time is of the essence, and employees are expected to wear a variety of hats.
While this culture is important to launching the organization, its long-term effect can be problematic. So, at some point, leaders need to match their organizations’ needs against what is in the best interests of both the leaders and the employees. Otherwise, they may continue to attract talent, but may have a hard time retaining and engaging their workforce.
The point to these stories? The Employee Experience should be intentional rather than reactive. Effective leaders should occasionally survey their people to see whether eccentricities have crept into the culture that hurt employee engagement and sabotage the organization.