27 September 2011

The Poison of Presenteeism

Source: www.tonystone.com
You'd think we'd learn by now.  But history has a history of repeating itself.

Organizations change their leaders in a desperate attempt to goose their numbers.  Wall Street's impatience fuels the tyranny of the quarter.

Less than a year after firing Mark Hurd and eventually replacing him with Leo Apotheker, the Hewlett-Packard board has now let Apotheker go and hired former eBay chief Meg Whitman as CEO.

While intense scrutiny is expended on the words, actions and first impressions of new leaders -- who are understandably focused on external communications -- not nearly enough consideration is given to what's said and shared within the company, to shore up the impact of the upheavals on employee morale.

Half the employees within HP's PC division must be wondering if they're coming or going.  But there's no doubt where their motivation and productivity is going: down the tubes.

The contagion is universal. I'm reminded of an article in Campaign Asia which caught my eye when it came out half a year ago.  A top-10 advertising agency in Singapore had announced the hire of a new Executive Creative Director.  While I have nothing but respect for the man's creative credentials, I recall his joining remarks giving me some discomfort:

"In Singapore, we have a new CEO, client service director, and now myself as ECD. It really doesn't get any fresher than that, working together as we rip up the plan, start anew and maintain the positive feeling that comes with change."


For all
 the survivors of that beleagered agency, a new leader had arrived to make his mark, never mind if it unravelled the good work of the past 18 months.

The fact is, change is uncomfortable. Our head tells us it is a necessary part of personal growth and remaining relevant to our organizations, but our heart rebels at being dragged outside our comfort zone.  People often resist change because of one or more of the following reasons:

1. They don’t see a burning platform for change.
2. They’re not convinced that the benefits of change will outweigh the costs.

3. No one has made the effort to paint a clear description of the end-goal for them.
4. They fear change because of perceived loss (loss of control, of credibility and power, of confidence and competence, of physical space, relationships, even jobs).
5. There is inadequate leadership at the top (change leaders don’t walk the talk, or are too pre-occupied with their own future).
6. There is a lack of transparency and proactive communication.

I suspect some of my friends at HP are hurting right now, and oozing the 'poison of presenteeism'.  I sincerely hope Meg Whitman, through the sheer force of her dedication and personality, will be able to render some first aid to staunch the flow.

Because at the end of the day, it's not the people who quit and leave that you should be worried about. 

It's the people who quit and stay.