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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Leaders: time to reboot – a short exercise

EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies

We’ve gone through the once in a lifetime chaos. We’ve seen some companies and leaders react well with compassion and respect. And we’ve seen some companies and their leaders stick to their traditional efficiency and output maximization dogma. (1)

There can’t be an ideal time to launch a public attack on the people who work for you.

So, an award has to go to the faceless UK government ministers who’ve recently chosen to complain about the output of their remote working teams – when the pandemic is still impacting lives.

‘There must be a suspicion that some people have spent the last 15-months working from home - but not doing very much,’ one minister told ‘The Times’ newspaper.

It’s also harder to see who deserves promotion when people are working remotely.’ (2)

‘Such remarks - part of an effort to coerce and cajole staff back into the office - say less about the workers and more about their bosses.

If after 15-months you only have a ‘suspicion’ about what your people are up to - and find it hard to know who your top performers are - you’re guilty of neglect at best and mismanagement, at worst. The worry is if you manage people in this way, you probably did so before the pandemic – and will continue to do so when your people return to the office.’ (3)

The story highlights big issues.

Take this piece from McKinsey.

Employers are ready to get back to significant in-person presence. Employees aren’t. The disconnect is deeper than most employers believe - and a spike in attrition and disengagement may be imminent. (4)

Fact is:

Once in a generation (if that), we have the opportunity to reimagine how we work.

  • In the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution moved many in Europe and the United States from fields to factories

  • In the 1940s, World War II brought women into the workforce at unprecedented rates

  • In the 1990s, the explosion of PCs and email drove a rapid increase in productivity and the speed of decision making, ushering in the digital age as we know it today

  • 2021 presents another such opportunity. The crisis providing the chance to create a new, more effective operating model - that works for companies and employees navigating a world of increasing uncertainty.

‘There is, however, an issue to be addressed - companies must confront the broadening disconnect between how they and their employees see the future.

And it’s not just about where people work.’ (5)

Flexibility, diversity, inclusion, upskilling, reskilling, work life balance, mental health, individual uniqueness…….pick up a business magazine at the mall, station or airport - and you are guaranteed to see a splattering of these works between the covers. These are the themes driving the way we work moving forward.

But many leaders don’t acknowledge the changes that are taking place – and it’s going to prove costly:

According to Microsoft, more than 40% of the global workforce are considering leaving their jobs this year – with low levels of engagement a driving factor. (6)

  • Too many companies doing similar things – implementing the same old people practices that didn’t work in 1995 and don’t work now

  • Too many companies hurtling towards mediocrity

  • Too many companies driven on by ‘thought leaders, commentators, HR gurus and consultants - who don’t have the ‘real world’ experience to understand how their recommendations play out. (7)

‘Happily there’s a chance to challenge all this – and reboot.

Your task:

Finance Directors sometimes pursue a policy of zero-based budgeting – seeking fresh justification for each divisions funding each year.

Leaders should practice ‘zero-based leadership.’

Take a look at your team.

Ask yourself - if you had to start from scratch, would you run your team as you do now?’ (8)

Start by examining the statement:

‘Why do so many of the ideas and practices that are held up as settled truths at work wind up being so deeply unpopular with the very people they’re supposed to serve’?

Consider the whole end-to-end employee experience, how the team are led and managed:


  • Why do we still cascade goals from above and think it’s the best way to evaluate work, when those in the trenches know that yearly goal setting is meaningless rigmarole?

  • Why do we still have annual performance appraisals, 360 degree feedback – when everyone knows they’re a guaranteed way to demotivate the majority of the team?

  • Why do we rate and rank people – when all the evidence shows this all says more about the person giving the rating than those on the receiving end (for example, whether they’re e a tough or generous rater)

  • Why do we get people to work on their development areas – when all the research shows they’re better building their strengths? (9)

  • Why aren’t we more imaginative with flexible working arrangements – when engagement is a function of an employee’s home and work life situation?

What can be improved? Where are the quick wins?

No-one knows how much damage such practices create (and companies have lots of them) – but ideas like this refuse to die.

Times are changing and quickly – leaders need to ‘get real’ - not only will their people drift away, - they won’t be able to attract the available talent.

And finally, a real life example – highlighting the kind of nonsense that has to stop:

Letter to ‘the Financial Times,’ 8th April 2021

‘I supervised a group of highly educated and experienced staff members as vice president of a large electric utility company. I was required to have a performance discussion at the end of each quarter.

At the year-end I was asked to rank two as a ‘4’ or a ‘5.’

What kind of manager would I be if I got to the end of the year and hadn’t corrected the performance of poorly performing staff?

I was given a ‘4’ by my manager for failing to understand the performance management system.

I walked out of the door with 25-years of a previously unbroken string of highly positive reviews.’ (10)

  1. Excellence now, extreme humanism, Tom Peters

  2. Get back to the office, ministers order Whitehall, The Times, 9th August 2021

  3. Leaders stop blaming your bad management on remote workers, Financial Times, 16th August 2021

  4. It’s time for leaders to get serious about hybrid, McKinsey, 9th July 2021

  5. It’s time for leaders to get serious about hybrid, McKinsey, 9th July 2021

  6. See The great resignation, EGM blog

  7. So, who do you trust at work? EGM blog

  8. Leaders stop blaming your bad management on remote workers, Financial Times, 16th August 2021

  9. 9 Lies about work, Marcus Buckingham

  10. Letter to the Financial Times, 8th April 2021

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