Do Your Employees Control You?

June 4, 2018

Do Your Employees Control You?

In my recent post, Power—The Hidden Engine at Work, three employees vie for a new responsibility and one—Mike—wins by snowing his boss Galen. In this post, I’ll discuss how this shift in control happened and why it’s important. Off the top, I realize that ‘control’ is a harsh word. I just couldn’t think of another word for the phenomenon. In addition, I recognize that for the most part, employees are not scheming and nefarious people; they’re just trying to have things go in their favor. A completely human thing to do.

The problem arises when the manager doesn’t recognize this undercurrent and gets caught up in it.

How did Mike control Galen?

Every organization has them—hot button words or phrases which are sacrosanct. Might be lean and mean, quality first, company brand, what’s best for the company, budget discipline, etc. You can probably identify some in your own company. The curious thing is that whenever these hot buttons are mentioned, everyone figuratively stands up and salutes. And there is a rush to ensure that the hot button item is protected.

In our scenario, almost without realizing it, Galen fell for phrases like company brand and what’s best for the company which Mike used. Both admirable sentiments but Galen had such an unthinking reaction to their pre-eminence, he assumed that whoever brought them up first must be the best person to get the new service.

Redoing the meeting

Where exactly did Galen go off the rails? Let’s replay the discussion about half-way through with you being Galen but adjust the conversation to avoid falling into a kneejerk reaction.

Mike: Galen, this about the company’s brand. We can’t threaten that. This is a critical point. Mike is using the company brand as a flag to stand behind.
YOU: Well, yes, we all want to enhance the brand. Subtle emphasis but important
Mike: You see? Galen agrees with me.  
Dale: About the branding, not the new service.  
Mike: The responsible thing to do is go with the team most concerned about brand protection.  
Dale: Hey, I care as much as you do. This is where you need to intervene.
YOU: Mike, I’d like to hear from others on why moving the project into their area would be good for the company. This is how you can take charge of the discussion

Pretty easy to rectify, no? And also important to do so.

Being a leader not a follower

Don’t misunderstand me. I think it’s important to listen to your employees. But as a leader, he also needs to understand the undercurrents (in this case, power and prestige) beneath the discussion and juggle employee needs/preferences with what’s best for the company. Mike might be the best person but he’s got to prove it not just use hot button words.

If you can’t make these types of assessments, you’re just a post office between you and your employees. And how often have you needed a post office lately?

In the next post, I’ll show how you might get yourself into hot water by an unthinking acceptance of hot button words.

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