A few weeks ago I went on a rather lengthy discussion on the first of four trends that worry me regarding corporate America’s ability to retain top talent in the 21st Century.  It was the poor leadership that exists in most corporations today.  To me, that is the most worrisome trend because poor leadership is entrenched in most organizations & very difficult to remove.  The second trend that threatens to keep mediocrity alive & flourishing is corporate’s fascination with Clinging to Outdated Prinicples.

There are some leadership priniciples, techniques & ways of doing things that may have worked in the past when the world was a much simpler, less sophisticated place but they don’t any longer.  A perfect example of this is the old command and control philosophy of leading.  You would think by now that organizations and their leaders were smarter than to use that technique but you’d be wrong.  There is still an amazingly large cohort of leaders that forget we are no longer working in the Industrial Age where the workers were mostly uneducated and the brass had all the answers and all the control.  “Not no more”  as one of my Millennial employees used to say.  Those days are long gone yet there are leaders and managers that still cling to those beliefs.  One of the last bosses I reported to in corporate was someone with that outdated style.  Talk about a turn off & a motivation killer. 

Today as I work with clients I still walk into corporate teams & see the command & control very much in play.  Most of the times the leaders employing the outdated style are Veterans or Boomers.  Although I have seen some Xers exhibit these tendencies, for the most part they have thankfully steered clear of that ineffective technique.  My question when I see these leaders is why are they still allowed to lead that way?  Why doesn’t HR or their boss take steps to eliminate the ineffective behavior?  Most of the times, it has to do with the person’s boss not wanting to deal with the issue or being of the same ilk.  So it’s allowed to take root & grow to the detriment of the team. Very sad & very disheartening. You will always see a team lose interest in peak performance when managed by these command & control freaks.  What I find interesting is that these people never see themselves that way.  In their rose colored glasses they think they are great bosses because they have everyone under “control”.  If they only knew that they have run their team to the ground & are getting only mediocre results from them.

Just like command and control, there remains other equally ineffective principles that simply don’t work when managing a technically savvy, knowledge based workforce.  One of them is the idea of the hierarchy that exists in most corporate structures.   Although in the past it has been a highly efficient way to run large corporations, in most situations I have witnessed,  hierarchies lead to silos.  If you work for a particular department, there rarely is an incentive for you to work across departments unless you are working on a project that involves another team & affects your team’s results.  Even then, there is usually a lot of friction and misunderstandings across teams. 

If you work for a particular team, then you only worry about the chain of command in your team.  Period.  Many times there is no interest to work or even get to know people in other teams.  Now the management team in most organizations will tell you that there are no silos and that cross functional teams work well together but again, when you look behind the curtain, that is simply not true. Silos exist everywhere in organizations and they are bad.  They get in the way of collaboration and in turn, innovation.  I can’t tell how many times I’ve run into needless duplication of effort within organizations because team #1 had no idea that team #2 was working on the same project or something similar.  If they had communicated better & joined forces, imagine the time and money that would have been saved.  Also, think of  the ideas that could have been discussed and tried out when people with different perspectives on something came together.

Hierarchies also lead to having too many chiefs & too much bureaucracy.  I laugh everytime I hear a new title being bandied about in a corporation.  To me, it just means another silo is being created and more bureaucracy with it.  It never means more innovation or productivity even though that’s what they say the new “chief”  will do.  The problem is that many times, the chiefs don’t play well in the sandbox & that makes the Indians mimic their behavior. The Chief Marketing Officer thinks she knows more about digital media than the Chief Information Officer who thinks he knows more about financial systems than the Chief Financial Officer who thinks she knows more about  the operations than the Chief Operating Officer who thinks he knows more about the risk faced by the organization than the Chief Risk Officer and…  You get the picture.  To many chiefs.  Now it would be logical to think that the chief of them all – the Chief Executive Officer – would ensure the other chiefs all played nice in the sandbox & worked cohesively toward a common goal.  But alas, no. Unfortunately, the chief of chiefs has his hands full trying to keep the real bigshots- the Board of Directors – happy.

As the 21st Century begins its second decade, it sure would be nice to let go of some of those old outdated principles & experiment with some new techniques.  A few of the more savvy organizations are already beginning to do that and I applaud them.  They are the ones that will stay ahead & drive much needed change & innovation in the future.  But there are still too few organizations doing that.  We need many more to shake things up.

The bureaucracy that has been allowed to thrive in corporations  & the office politics that go with it have done much to damage motivation and engagement in the workforce.  These outdated principles have not kept up with the fast pace of change and the way people want to work and contribute in their jobs. Employees become disenchanted, frustrated and upset.  While many leave in search of a better place, many have no choice but to stay but they check out.  They no longer have skin in the game & they no longer contribute new ideas or new ways of doing things.  They just go through the motions and by doing so mediocrity gets imbedded a little deeper into the fabric of the organization as a result.

Coming up: Trend #3 – Better Alternatives outside the corporation