Recently, major companies — from the flashiest tech startups to centuries-old legacy banks — have made unwanted headlines due to unrealistic expectations and growth-at-all-costs behavior.
Employees expressed concern that Uber favored “high performers” over a safe environment for its female employees, as detailed by a former employee’s viral blog post; Zenefits created software to help its employees cheat on state online broker license courses to sell insurance illegally, and hired people with little experience in the highly regulated insurance industry. Also among companies reluctantly in the news recently, Amazon reportedly condoned workaholic behavior to achieve its ambitions.
These companies exemplify company cultures that seem to focus only on results, leading to unintended consequences. Unfortunately, this corporate perspective is common to many Silicon Valley startups, as well as established companies.
In attempting to accomplish innovative feats, they ignore fundamental culture practices that will benefit every company, regardless of whether they’ve been around 30 months or 30 years and what metrics they’re trying to hit. Focusing on results without creating work atmospheres where people choose to engage and do their best work for the right reasons will lead to behaviors that put current and future business results at risk.
What can be done to avoid growth-at-all costs environments that continue to be an issue for many organizations? It begins with leadership.
How leadership can improve.
Many leaders scale the ranks because they were effective doers — they got the results they wanted through hard work. These leaders often don’t understand that when they assume a new role as manager of a team, their purpose in the company shifts as well. Their primary responsibility is to influence the work of others rather than do the work themselves.
Often, inexperienced or poor leaders can be micromanagers who unintentionally put unhealthy pressure on team members, rather than taking a step back and creating an environment in which people can do their best work.
Connecting to purpose.
Leaders cannot force their employees to do something, but they can give their employees the choice to engage. The best motivator for true engagement is to help the employee connect with the overall purpose of the company, rather than driving performance through fear or pressure.
Is your company simply driving results for results’ sake? Now might be the time to connect the results to an end benefit for the customer and to share that greater purpose with your employees.
People aren’t lazy.
Many leaders hold the misconception that people are inherently lazy and will slack off if highly competitive cultures aren’t cultivated or goals aren’t mandated. They believe that if people don’t have structure and steep quotas to reach, their natural tendency is to not produce.
The reality is people want to make a difference. People want to do great work and achieve what hasn’t been done before. If they feel their work is connected to a deeper purpose and the overall mission of the company, they will willingly spend more time on projects, rise to the occasion and hit targets, without undue pressure.
Recognizing rather than penalizing.
Employees want to achieve great work, but they also want to be recognized for it when they do, rather than penalized if they don’t hit the mark. They want a culture that celebrates wins of individuals and teams instead of one that instills fear. A recent study conducted by my company found that of the six most common motivating factors that cause employees to produce great work, recognition is by far the number one factor.
We live in a competitive business world in which every company wants to go above and beyond the industry standard. Establishing aggressive goals and focusing on results is important; however, unless leadership works to create cultures where employees are motivated to do their best work for the right reasons, they may unintentionally reinforce unhealthy and unethical behavior that puts the very business results they seek at risk.