What would it be like if your current and former employees testified to a senate committee about the working environment and culture of your organization? FBI employees did just that in 2001. In this testimony numerous problems were highlighted. The cause of the problems that emerged based on the testimony was that a “Club” of senior executives existed in the organization. The major characteristic noted regarding this club was their collective resistance to change.
We frequently talk about how to get employees to change effectively. What about the executive suite? In my experience in medium to large organizations the executive team is seldom the catalyst for change and innovation. This happens closer to the functional line areas. However, the executive suite can be one of the greatest barriers to change in their organization.
It’s easy to forget that executives are employees and people too. They are looking for calm and stability, just like everyone else. Because they have more control over their agenda it is easier to fall into complacency. The real danger is if the executive team establishes a buffer zone around themselves that insulates them from the rest of the organization.
John Werner, a retired agent had this to say to the Senate Judiciary Committee: “The rank-and-file employees are hitting on all cylinders, but they are frustrated over the inefficiencies of management, broken or non-existent information systems and concerns over being held to higher standards than senior management.” Other witnesses said that the senior executives have hamstrung the FBI’s technological capabilities by being resistant to change and set a bad example on accountability, operating via petty office politics and vindictiveness. Werner also said, “The senior FBI executives’ actions have created a climate of cynicism within the bureau that has discouraged promising agents from going into management.”
The impact of this executive approach for the FBI has been losing laptop computers containing classified data, spies going undetected, agents without the proper tools, and public relations blunders. Perhaps the possible implications for your organization aren’t at the national security level but you can imagine a similar material impact. Some tips:
When Jamie Dimon first joined Bank One (now JPMorgan Chase), he came in with questions blazing. These questions served as a fresh perspective and a challenge to any complacency that might have existed. Employees were keenly aware that they were moving forward. You don’t have to be new to an organization to ask questions. Expand your curiosity. How do things work?
Are policies fair and consistent?
Are the standards the same for all levels within the organization? Measurements should support the goals of the organization. Any measures that are inconsistent muddy the directional message.
Look deep inside
Constantly examine your motivations and desires. Where are you in your life? How does that impact your focus on change and growth organizationally? This is different from business strategic planning. This work is personal. It’s necessary to do this outside the daily firefight.
Seek a coach
The executive coach can serve up the challenge to keep you sharp. The investment in a coach or outside advisor also provides a mechanism for accountability. It’s not as easy to exert executive privilege with a professional coach.
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Perhaps you don’t have to stand up to the scrutiny of a senate committee. But remember, just because your employees don’t have that venue available to them doesn’t mean the analysis doesn’t take place. Will your employees report that you are a leader of change and positive growth?