I recently had the opportunity to observe firsthand how a few words, callously spoken, could convert a high-energy, dedicated and engaged company employee into one who grudgingly showed up for work while energetically seeking employment elsewhere.
The lady in question had, for the previous seven months, led a team tasked with researching the feasibility of her company entering certain new markets during this time of economic uncertainty.
They had been given a timeframe for completion of this research and had worked tirelessly to meet the deadline.
Each team member had committed hours of evening and weekend time to the fulfilment of this project and the team leader had outworked them all.
Finally, with the project complete, she was asked by her boss to prepare a 45-minute presentation of their findings to present to the CEO and the Executive Vice President of International Marketing who would be visiting their city within the next few weeks.
Once again she and her team went to work and prepared a dazzling presentation. They rehearsed for several days to the point where she could confidently tell the story elegantly and convincingly in the allotted 45 minutes.
She delivered a dry run of the presentation to her bosses who loved it and commended her and her team on a job well done.
The great day arrived and, as I was doing some work for that division of the company, I was invited to observe the presentation.
She was quite visibly nervous when she began but within a moment or two, and undoubtedly buoyed by the hours of rehearsal, her confidence returned and she delivered her presentation flawlessly and convincingly.
Approximately 15 minutes into the presentation the CEO glanced at his watch and gruffly said “I’ve heard enough, let’s move on to something more interesting.”
The lady delivering the presentation was visibly shocked. She was clearly humiliated and seemed unsure of what to do next.
Her discomfort was shared by everyone else in the room and was immediately exacerbated when the CEO turned to the EVP and, in a stage whisper, said “I hope the next presentation is more interesting than this one.”
Not only was the lady crushed by the way she had been treated, the entire team felt deflated. In one sentence this man discounted and nullified months of effort, leaving them all feeling worthless, unappreciated and disinclined to put much more than the minimum required effort into their daily jobs.
I was reminded of that day earlier this week when she called to tell me that after five months of searching she had found a new job and would be starting at a new company at the beginning of November.
She also mentioned that two other team members had already left the company and several others were still actively seeking employment elsewhere.
It stuns me that this kind of behaviour still occurs today. How people can rise to senior levels in organizations and yet be that unaware of the impact of their behaviour on others is difficult to comprehend.
I was intrigued enough by what I’d seen to make some inquiries in other areas of the company and was not surprised to learn that this CEO, in the three years since he had been hired by the Board of Directors, had single-handedly managed to damage morale throughout the organization.
What is perhaps most concerning is his unwillingness to listen to any of his senior executives when they attempt to point this out to him.
If it is true that everyone brings value to the world even if only to serve as being a very good example of a very bad example, then this CEO has proven himself to be a fine teacher.
After all, knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.
Till we read again.