It Isn’t Them. It’s You.

The other day I retweeted a friend’s blog post before reading it, and I’d like to apologize. Not because it offended anyone: I didn’t receive any complaints, and a few folks even shared it with their networks. No, I’d like to apologize because the post offended me. I let myself down, sharing something that flies in the face of everything I believe in as a leader.

The topic was employee monitoring software. Basically, the article discussed different options out there for companies to spy on their employees; to make sure their workers are doing what they’re tasked with doing, at least when they are using their company computer. The article actually used the term “spying on” without the least hint of irony.

Here’s my thing: if your people are not getting their assigned work done, that is indeed a problem. But if you need to spy on them to see if they’re doing it? There is a far deeper problem indeed. Two, actually.

The first problem is simple: why doesn’t their manager or peer leader know they aren’t doing their work? That’s simple, it seems. If you’re a manager and you don’t know what your people are doing, leave your office and spend some time with them! (Indeed, why are you holed up there in the first place? What is so important in your office that it should take you away from face time with your team?)

The second problem is far deeper, and for this one you’ll need a mirror, not a program: you’re spying on your people! What on earth…? If you run a company where management thinks spying on employees is appropriate, then yes, you probably have employees who cannot be trusted. You see, the ones who can be trusted pick up the vibe that you have a very dysfunctional workplace, and they don’t want to work at your firm in the first place. That leaves you with the leftovers.

Early in my career, I picked up a bit of insight I’ve carried near and dear to my heart ever since:

A company with a union probably deserves a union.

Think about that for a minute; really let it sink in. Employees don’t unionize because they’re happy with their management, do they? Nearly without exception, they form or join a union as a defense against adversarial management. So management brings unionization on itself. You get the partners you deserve.

We can generalize this rule beyond just unions, to leadership – and followership – in general. So, let’s wrap this post up with a few take-aways.

  1. A company that spies on its employees probably has employees who can’t be trusted.
  2. A company with high employee turnover doesn’t have a turnover problem, it has a leadership problem.
  3. If your company cannot find quality applicants, look in the mirror, not the talent pool.

These truths come from the same source: we attract who we deserve. If your people suck, guess what?

…And one final note: Some people are just bad workers, and there’s no fixing that. It’s them, not you. But for 80% of lousy, untrustworthy, lazy employees, there is a context out there in which they’ll flourish. If that context isn’t your company… well, four times out of five, don’t blame them.

Sorry, folks, but it had to be said.

Art by  Surian Soosay

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Ted,

    I am so glad someone finally said this! It needed to be said and you had the courage to put it in writing. I commend you and applaud your efforts. I could go on and on, but that is not my point.

    I just cannot say thank you enough for bringing this to light. Sometimes people just need to hear things that they don’t want to hear.


  • I think it’s a productivity issue. Motivating workers to do a good job has always been the responsibility of management. At the extreme, leaders who demonize workers, e.g., unions, should be allowed to work in an environment like the US Marines where its all about ‘us’ not ‘me’. Off course, some union leaders might need to do the same.

    In our economy, it’s relatively simple. Productivity matters throughout the organization. This includes the leadership. If the leader isn’t getting support from staff on the goals, the leader doesn’t deserve their support.

    About spying…I wouldn’t worry too much about your friend. These are short-term measures that pay back with further declines in productivity. Do you remember ‘Chainsaw’ Al Dunlap of Sunbeam? He looked good to some with his tough-guy act until the board realized how much he was costing the company.

  • Pal

    I don’t know how many times I have heard the phrase. “They did not perform as expected anyways, so I am glad they quit.” Looking in the mirror and telling themselves that they could have done a better job, blaming themselves for poor leadership seems to be so hard to do. It is about pride, it only makes them look bad. Excellent issue to address. More people that need to read this. Shared!

  • Great post Ted – especially the early hint about not RT-ing what you haven’t read.

    You are 100% right about where the problem lies if you have lots of problem employees -not with THEM. I used to be a wholesale rep. and ran into a lot of business owners who didn’t allow their employees to know TRUE cost. The didn’t want them to know how much money they made on each job. In each one of those cases the employee was getting the bad end of the deal.

  • Maybe I should add that some of the worst offenders who refuse rehabilitation (alignment with the business goals, accountable for their performance, etc.), should be allowed as I like to put it, ‘be successful somewhere else’. While as much as something like 2-3% of our population have sociopathic tendencies, there’s a also percentage who don’t get it about the difference between accountability and entitlement. And, they’ll never get it.

    That said, as they depart three things need to happen: 1. It’s clear to everyone why they are leaving, 2. HR or whoever develops hiring practices builds a strategy that aligns with not just the vision and values, but also the business plan and the brand strategy, 3. An employee sustainability plan is deployed to ensure employee experience measurement and personal development (make sure the passengers are both enjoying the cruise and are accountable for their own growth).

    This takes a lot of resources, but it has payback. The CEO should be involved in all three. That’s where enlightened leadership leads to the productivity I suggest we all focus on.

  • Getting the job done in the work place means that you are given the appropriate directions or have read the directions given and understand the requirements even if changes occur work should be completed. in the working environment is work really ever done.

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