Employees do not love this company anymore.
And the e-mail didn’t get any better.
Upper management has unintentionally created an environment in which employees do not feel valued, do not feel trusted and do not have any fun. Almost every single person (regardless of what they might tell you) has their resume out and are looking for jobs.
Something was seriously wrong. The warning signs were everywhere. Leading up to this 07AUG2013 e-mail, the smiles had faded, the ping pong matches ceased, and Nerf darts no longer whizzed passed my head. But most importantly, candid conversations between my team and I were lost. Rooms were deafening silent when I walked in, and I now saw only the tops of foreheads as I scurried around the shallow hallways.
But what had went wrong?
Focus. Focusing on what really matters as CEO. Culture and Compass – the two most critical areas of concentration for any leader. Sure, among 1,000 other details, there needs to be constant concern for the evolution of your product or service in order to grow and retain the consumer base – but you hired great talent to help with that. You didn’t hire talent to guide the company in the right direction; or cultivate and nurture the company’s culture to maximize happiness and productivity.
I once had “Talent. Culture. Vision. Strategy.” written across the top of my whiteboard. These words served as a daily reminder of my responsibilities as CEO of RSP Live (f/k/a Reed Street Productions). I’ve since learned it’s actually much more simple than four words – it’s only two. Culture. Compass. You see, the simpler we make concepts, the easier they become to execute. Much like a golf swing: there’s a thousand things you must to do right in order to hit the ball far and straight, but there’s room for only one thought during the backswing.
And now people were pissed – my people – and rightfully so. Once my attention was stolen by negative cash flow, creditors, layoffs, interoffice drama, military, family, and asinine lawsuits, there was none remaining to consider where we were going and how we would get there. And when culture goes awry… you get e-mails like the unabated one at the bottom of this story. Culture is not a product of one or two elements, but a culmination of all functions in the business domain. Put simply, culture is the substance that determines the way in which team members will act and react. And above all else, the CEO needs to create a culture that enables and encourages vision followership through self-aligned goals. Meaning, the culture should inspire the team to embrace the vision because it aligns with the way they would already do things – and it starts with acquiring and retaining the right talent (and terminating not-so-right talent immediately). There are eight primary influences on a company’s culture:
- Team member dynamics (relationships & functionality)
- Purposeful work
- Physical environment (office, work conditions, furnishings, equipment, financial conditions, outsider perception)
- Personal development opportunities (education, training, conferences)
- Communication (listening, flow of information, action on candid feedback)
- Support System
- Executive leadership cohesiveness and unity
And just when you thought that ensuring these eight influences consistently communicated your desired message, you probably just forgot about this equally important function: Compass. As CEOs we are the compass. Our actions, our words, our thoughts, they all dictate how our team will respond to adversity, and the direction in which they advance. We are the vision, we embody the morality, and we ensure the ship isn’t left on the rocks when the tide recedes.
Employees do not love this company anymore. Upper management has unintentionally created an environment in which employees do not feel valued, do not feel trusted and do not have any fun. Almost every single person (regardless of what they might tell you) has their resume out and are looking for jobs. For the most part this has absolutely nothing to do with the company’s financial state. It has to do with how miserable the office environment has become. Something that Steve Jobs said is that “If you don’t love something you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much”. Nobody loves RSP anymore and so therefore nobody is willing to go the extra mile to help us save money or think outside the box to market the event (which is what we need). For example if we were still passionate about this company the office wouldn’t be empty at 5:01pm, people would be going the extra mile to do things like drive to Pittsburgh or Brooklyn to do some free grassroots marketing ourselves and we would ultimately be more efficient and would be making more money as a company.
We have been placed in a fishbowl with all the managers looking out on us from their windows, Big Brother style. I think [Glen] has good intentions for the most part but [he/she] does not act how [they] should. [He/she] is in everyone’s business, is over controlling and does not seem to trust any of us. Having [him/her] in the same room as us puts everyone on edge which kills the office environment and morale. Very few people feel like they can go to [him/her] with problems because [he/she] is so involved and observes so much of our daily actions and is therefore bias. We can’t be ourselves in the office and it is directly related to [his/her] proximity to us, [his/her] controlling habits and [him/her] sticking [his/her] hands into what everyone is working on.
I understand your concern with wanting a certain culture or atmosphere but this is no longer that type of company. In the past we had that culture because we had [Paul] and [William] in here. While they were under-qualified for their roles they were very easy to talk to and nobody felt judged if we came to the office a bit late, were loud in the office or went to go play a game of ping pong. While I agree with the decision to bring in more experienced directors like [Lee] and think that it has benefited the company, I think we need to be realistic about what type of relationship we will all have with them.
There is not an ‘us vs. them’ mentality (maybe an ‘us vs. [Donatello]’ mentality at times). None of us feel like we are against [Blake]. I feel, and I think this is a pretty much general consensus, that [Peter] is on our side and wants the best for us and the company. At the same time [he/she] does have an old school mindset about certain things which can occasionally make us feel judged about doing certain things or acting a certain way.
How to Fix It
I’ve heard a lot of management say that almost all of our problems with morale can be fixed with money. I 100% disagree with that and actually think quite the opposite. Most can be fixed without spending a penny and here are a few of my ideas.
- [Glen] needs to be on the other side of the office from us. Not only will separating [him/her] from us improve morale, it will make [him/her] more effective at [his/her] job.
- Trust. I think we should get rid of the whole PTO system and not worry if people come in late or have to leave early. Management needs to convey full, 100% trust in the employees and go full force with it. There are so few of us left that it makes sense in my opinion. People will step up to the plate and respect that trust.
- Value us as much as you value management. Most of us feel like we are viewed as simply a dollar sign and a title and that you guys will try to get as much out of us as you can for the the bare minimum payment. Respect our ideas and concerns and value our contribution.
Lastly, and for the sake of being completely honest, if our concerns are not heard I guarantee you people will start dropping like flies. Those with resumes out will look even harder and those without resumes will begin polishing theirs up. Some people will probably even leave without a guaranteed job. A new location with pretty walls will mean nothing if you create the same dynamic that we have in this office. If you give us our own space and trust us there is a chance you might be able to keep some people from leaving and rekindle the old culture and atmosphere. There really isn’t much to lose. I still think there is hope and I really truly believe the fun and passion can be brought back to this company if it is handled correctly.
If you would like to sit down and discuss this in person I’d be more than happy to do so. Regardless of how this email may come off, I am not angry or upset, just passionate about fixing things.
Thanks for hearing me out,