Immediately after 9/11, we saw an incredible boom of cooperative purpose in the American people. There was a true sense that we were “in this together.” Who could forget the images of the smoldering ruin of the World Trade Center, the smoke rising from the Pentagon, and the scorched earth near Shanksville, Pennsylvania? In an instant, they became our national “burning platform,” that rallying point around which change becomes imminently possible.
That’s on a national and international level. But what happens when organizations propagate “acts of terror” on their employees? What’s the appropriate response to that?
You see, it’s one thing when an organization struggles and has to make tough decisions that significantly impact employees. Cuts in benefits. Restructuring. Even layoffs. But it’s entirely another thing when these decisions and their associated actions are handled in an uncaring and injurious manner.
Let’s imagine the worst….you’ve worked for a Fortune 500 company for nearly two decades. You’ve risen through the organization. You’ve received high praise at every level. You’re recognized as both an expert in your field and a hallmark of an ideal, engaged employee.
Yet, your company is struggling. Profits and revenue are sharply down, and operations are beginning to spiral uncontrollably (despite leadership insistance that the its still an exceptionally strong financial company). The possibility of layoffs are announced, but without specifics (always a preliminary leadership mistake, I believe).
Out of the blue, one evening, you receive a phone call at home informing you that your services are no longer needed…..effective immediately. Don’t even bother to show up to clean out your desk in the morning. You’re done. Gone. Completely disposable. No warning. No caring. No dignity.
Tough decisions are tough decisions. But tough decisions cannot preclude common decency in handling difficult employee situations. Leaders who allow (and actively or passively participate in) such treatment of employees are guilty of….well, poor leadership at best, and at worst, “corporate terrorism.”
Seem extreme? Well, think about it. Organizational cultures drive business success, and your treatment of employees drives organizational culture. And companies can choose between caring (even in tough times and with tough decisions), sensitive, respectful (dare I say loyal) interactions with employees or heartless, insensitive, and dysfunctional treatment.
You see, loyalty does not mean organizations cannot or should not make tough business decisions, even if those decisions include downsizing. Loyalty means still employing the most humane, caring, and compassionate ways of operating, particularly in tough times.
What happens when even one employee is let go in a way that violates every modicum of decency? The ripple effect throughout the organization is felt and lingers for months. Fear swoops in and engulfs the workforce….”Am I next? If this could happen to her, what about me?” Productivity dips even further. No one is willing to rise up and take risks for fear of finding their own head on the chopping block. Revenue plummets, precipitating further employee cuts. It’s not a gradual decline, but rather an accelerating, run-away train.
The American business model was built on a tradition of worker rights and a team-based commitment between employer and employee. Transactional or transformational, those companies that thrive and last are those who focus on their people…and that means doing the right thing, even at the most difficult moments.
When we sow the seeds of “corporate terrorism,” the impact is almost always fatal to the business. And it’s an impact that instantly transforms the company from one of respected employer of choice to employer of last resort.
Walk the streets of your town, and randomly ask people for their impressions of your company. You may be surprised by what you discover. No longer are you viewed as a growing, vibrant, and desireable place to work. On the contrary, your reputation is one engulfed in distrust, disillusionment, and disease.
“It’s only a matter of time until it’s gone,” I’ve heard said on more than one occasion lately. And it’s sad. It’s like the murmurs of a closet alcoholic, so lost in his own disease that he’s incapable of understanding the rotten air of his behavior or reputation.
It’s time for corporate AA….there is a choice. Functional, thriving, caring employer of choice….which will lead to future success. Or remain an increasingly desperate example of leadership gone awry….the aloholic who refuses treatment, and in the end, contributes to the ultimate diseased and dsyfunctional American family.