Most CEOs Have Employee TLC Bass Ackward

Media Kudos for CEOs of US Airways Group, Quicken Loans, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Olympus Corp. only Highlight Their Ineptitude

In a Wall Street Journal feature article (As Crisis Eases, CEOs Give Staff Some TLC, April 3, 2010,) the business flagship of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. was all goo-goo over the actions of the CEOs of US Airways, Quicken Loans, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Olympus Corp. who were lauded for their current efforts “to boost morale, solicit ideas and better understand employees concerns.”

Wow. Whoopdedoo sugar mountain! Such brilliance.

The article dutifully noted that these executives had previously not been communicating and meeting with employees because they have been too busy, “hunkered down” (I hate that term!) trying to battle the recession. But, now that things are turning around, they are “coming out of their foxholes to talk more with staffers.”

I find it interesting (sickening really) that these CEOs did not take the time to communicate and solicit input from employees when things were going bad – when honest communication is needed most – but only now that things are improving. Like a victory lap or something to garner applause from the appreciative urchins working for them or something to crow about on their own Web sites. Nor are the CEOs opening up to the employees for the right reason, but for a deeply ulterior motive.

It seems the objective of this sudden burst of communication with employees is, as the Journal reported, “to stave off defections ahead of a job-market recovery.”

As Robert Moritz, CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers said, “As the economy turns around, there’s more risk of losing people so we have increased the efforts” to talk to workers. The article points out that Mr. Moritz (photo at left) “visits the company cafeteria every week and takes the long way to conference rooms to strike up conversations with employees.” As Mr. Moritz said, “It’s a great retention tool and the job market is starting to turn.”

The article lauded Mr. Mark Gumz of Olympus Corp. because he “has been meeting with employees for meals and holding a town hall session.” Mr. Gumz proudly points out that by actually talking with employees he learned that working parents disliked the lack of separate sick days in the company’s time-off policy. He volunteered that he himself had added five dedicated sick days. Then he crowed, “This change came up because I was visible and heard these concerns.” Dah!

Mr. Douglass Parker, CEO of US Airways Group admitted that he spent very little time with employees during the height of the recession, despite pointing out that during that time, “There was a lot of speculation that we weren’t going to be able to make through.” What was he thinking?

So too Quicken Loans CEO Mr. Bill Emerson admitted that he spent less time with his 3,000 employees during the recession because he was to busy “making sure everything was sound.” Everything may have been sound – except for his communication with employees. When Mr. Emerson did come out of his hole and did meet with employees, one of them was quoted as saying, “He saw that a lot of us are on the edge of our seat about where the future lies with our business . . ..”

Come on, Get Real

When it comes to real communication with employees it is obvious that these CEOs (and most others) just don’t get it. Communication with employees is not something you just turn on and off. For the leader who communicates only when he wants to it is worse than no communication at all. Failure to consistently communicate with the employees – especially in bad times – creates nothing more than confusion, fear, apprehension and lack of trust in the leader. Communication is not just something for the CEO to bask and partake in during good times. The reality is that communication is most important in difficult times. And it was during these difficult times that these CEOs were – by their own admission – out of sight and failed to communicate.

What these CEOs did not – and still don’t understand – is that the most important benefit to be gained from real and constant communication is the building of a bond of trust and respect between the leader and those looking to be led. These CEOs did not understand that true communication is the sealant that builds and binds the corporate culture of an organization. And it is what steels an organization against the difficult times.

When times were difficult these CEOs failed to recognize that communication is a vital tool for their efforts to express their vision of the future, strengthen the company and enlist others in the effort to do the things needed to survive difficult times.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders, author Stephen Andriole points out, “Communication is a continuous process. When things are relatively quiet, leaders still need to communicate what they are doing, the status of their projects and their strategies. When things are bad, they can then call upon a deep, continuous relationship with their partners and stakeholders to jointly solve problems; and when things are good, leaders can exploit their communications investments to make sure everyone understands the significance of the victory at hand.”

And the Moral of the Story . . .

Anyone can communicate in good times. Only real leaders communicate consistently all the time and even more so during difficult times. Why? Because they know that their employees want inspiration in their work.  They want direction.  They want their input to be heard.  And they need these things all the time.

Leaders need to understand that constant, consistent and honest communication with followers is what bonds the organization together in pursuit of a common goal. It is what makes an organization successful in good times and strengthens it to survive difficult times. Trying to rule the natives alone from atop Mount Olympus has never worked.

The leaders of these companies didn’t get it. They did not understand that their failure to communicate with employees during difficult times was – in fact – an insult to their employees. It was a sign of blatant disrespect for the value of the employee. It was a clear message to the employees that their CEO did not think they were important enough, or smart enough, or capable of being part of the solution to bad times.

Is it any wonder that these CEOs are now worried about discontented employees looking to go elsewhere? Do they not see the hypocrisy and self-serving nature of their communication efforts now? I am willing to venture their employees do!

The sad part of this story is that these CEOs are simply the poster boys of the typical management attitude regarding communication. The fact is that most CEO’s simply have communication bass-ackward!

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