Grand Canyon Leadership

Accountability Organizational culture Organizational leadership


Key Point: There has always been a bit of a chasm between upper management and the front line. Distance from the corner office to the “coal face” is somewhat understandable. People in each role simply have such different environments that somewhat of a gap regarding reality seems realistic. But a recent study conducted by The Harvard Business Review (HBR), points out that the disconnection between the top and other levels of many organizations is now of Grand Canyon proportions. In fact, the editor of HBR ‘s Special Projects and Research, Angelia Herrin, presented study results at a recent conference on Employee Engagement, using a picture of this natural wonder, as a way of emphasizing that this unprecedented, jaw dropping gap has emerged. In this HBR research, executives from a large sample of respondents believe 40 percent of their employees are engaged. (Not impressive but still sadly out of touch). Yet, only 23 percent of respondents below the executive level in these same organizations see themselves as engaged. Wow! 77 percent of people see themselves as DISENGAGED at work? By a broadly understood definition, this means these self described, disengaged people are thinking of leaving, not striving to do their best work and/or have no intention of referring anyone to work for their organizations. In current, well-understood “textology,” one would be excused to exclaim… “WTH?”

More work may need to be done to fully understand all the reasons for this astonishing gap, but the following, very basic, practical solution is what I believe people want MOST. This is supported by data I’m familiar with. PEOPLE at every level, in every organization, want the RESPECT of being given reasonable AUTONOMY AND THE TOOLS, PROCESSES and SYSTEMS THEY NEED TO consistently CONTRIBUTE VALUE. When we are stuck with dumb rules, crappy tools, processes and systems that fail, we look like idiots to customers and teammates. We have to apologize, do “work arounds,” and feel like we need to make continuous excuses. After a while, when things don’t significantly improve, people quit… Usually on the job. Today things are changing so quickly, and business model performance is under such serious pressure, that executive management feels compelled to drive dramatic shifts in priorities and resources, often leaving mid-management and the frontline trying to catch up. No one is to blame and intent normally is well meaning at every level. However, the unintended outcome is a Grand Canyon gap between what executives really want/believe is occurring and what is really happening at the employee/customer interface. What can we do about reducing the canyon to at least a ravine?

Character Moves:

  1. If we have a leadership position, you and I have a responsibility to REALLY understand how strategy and change is being translated to the front line. This means we have to go the actual place, with the actual people, at the actual time, to review the actual processes and actual data. The Japanese call this the FIVE ACTUALS. Then we must LISTEN and ACT. Managing by just cheerleading and stopping by for donuts isn’t good enough.
  2. If we have jobs at the intersection between customers and others, or mid-management roles, we cannot give up. We need to use data to shed the light on product/service breakdowns. And most importantly, frontline people usually know how things can be fixed. Be constructively relentless. Pilot better ways to show improvements and then have upper management see the results. Use your positive attributes to drive solutions not just complain to others who can’t really help much. Ask for forgiveness more than permission. You’re a critical thinking adult, not a mindless cog in a machine.
  3. The biggest challenge facing organizations is that VALUE FLOWS across the entire organization. It typically does not reside in one function, location or job family. So organizations have to invest more resources into horizontal process that are silo busters. But this takes leadership, political courage and a tolerance for ambiguous structures. Organizations still cling to tidy, vertical, functional organization charts. It is no longer sufficient to organize this way. How can you influence this need to manage flow? Step up and help make things flow horizontally better.
  4. Have an expectation you’re going to work in a place where more than 75 percent of people are ENGAGED, not DISENGAGED. If not, get out because your organization likely won’t be around in its current configuration for the long run anyway. Seriously.

FIVE ACTUALS in The Triangle,