Monday, August 8, 2011

How to chill your company

Does anything do more damage to motivation and morale than a severe reprimand? Is anything more critical to a company's ability to innovate than motivation and morale? Can you be innovative in a climate of fear?

During my last trip to the States I heard various stories of people being called on the carpet by their management. Here's a typical story: John (name changed), a senior engineer with a passion for his organization's mission, had been building informal contacts across the organizational silos to improve cooperation, collaboration and innovation in his organization. The organization was losing the interest of its customers, and everybody felt an urgency to get the organization going again. Over time, many people become interested in John's idea and so they decided to have a little gathering.

The organization's top manager had been avoiding the topic and had cancelled every meeting John had tried to schedule with him to discuss this issue. When John sent out the invitations for the larger event, he neglected to invite said manager. What happened next is not exactly clear, but two days after the invite, this manager was quite upset. He called John into his office, chewed him out for over an hour and forbade John to ever raise the issue again. While John was not issued a formal reprimand, he left the meeting wondering what his future was at the organization.

What happened? John was "out of control" and the command-and-control hierarchy reasserted itself.

Do things like this happen often? I asked this question to an agile coach at large bank here in Zurich. His response: "Are you kidding!? All the time! Most recently at yesterday's sprint review! It's part of the culture."

Have you (or someone you know) been chewed out on job?  What impact does that have on you and your coworkers? Sound out on twitter! #chewedout

P.S. Want to make your organization a better place to be? Join us for the Zurich Gathering For C-Suite Leaders with Steve Denning and myself: Zurich, Sep 12, 2011