Considering the substantial amount of time that the average person spends at work, one would assume that a person would join a company whose professional values echo the employee’s personal beliefs. The truth is far removed from this notion. Author and international consultant Stan Slap believes that gaining the emotional commitment of a company’s managers is, as he puts it, “worth more than financial, intellectual and physical commitment combined.” In this interview, he discusses his book “Bury My Heart at Conference Room B,” why managers fall victim to a herd mentality and how a company can best get out of its own way.
You write about the herd mentality that causes managers to ‘legislate against themselves.’ What causes this to occur?
If you take any couple managers, pull them aside and talk to them about how they want to live and work and live at work … they’ll at least say that they want to bring the best of what their lives give them to work.
Yet, if you take those couple managers and put them back into a room filled with a lot of other managers, some bizarre herd mentality takes over and the managers start legislating against themselves. There is no evil brain in a jar behind the curtain. The conditions that managers deplore the most about managing, those were created, maintained and enforced by managers acting as “management,” the honor guard of the corporate organism.
As management, those managers perceive that the idea of prioritizing their personal values over company priorities is the stuff of organizational chaos and is very dangerous. In fact, this book is about proving that the truth is the complete opposite.
Creating an environment where managers can give emotional commitment is something where, as you put it, ‘enforcing or reinforcing it isn’t as important as getting out of the way and letting it happen.’ How can a company get out of its own way?
It requires some fierce truths about management. If you’re betting your company’s life on the next strategy and the next performance goal being attained, can you afford to take the chance of doing things the old way? Can you afford to not gain the most hard-core commitment possible from your management team? Can you afford to take the chance that things will work out? That’s really the ultimate argument for a company. The new truth is that a company cannot always be the first cause. Managers’ ability to get deepest fulfillment within the company must also be a cause.
To help a leader’s employees get to a better place, you write about four key steps: understanding your own values, taking the team to the bitter place, showing it the better place, and giving the team something for the trip. Tell us more about the last step and how it confirms employees’ sense of belonging.
The source of all of this is to understand your own values as a human being and to translate those into the promised better working conditions for your people.
If you’re going to define that value, you then have to contrast it by saying, ‘Well, we could go here, but we can’t stay where we are now and here’s the current definition of where we are based upon the meaning of my personal values.’ You’re giving people in an organization a very clear choice. They’d have to be clinically insane to ignore it.
The problem with that is that between where people are now and where they want to go lies 40 miles of bad road called ‘real life as a company.’ Unless you’re able to not just give them a vision of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but instead give them some self-motivational concept to keep moving along the way between bitter and better, they’re not going to go.