Years ago, I remember there was an insurance company whose salespeople found a loophole in their process that allowed them to get away with doubling their commission. How did they do this? They persuaded their customers to purchase by sharing incorrect information. Their trick was unethical, and they had lied to the client. Yet somehow, this behavior went unnoticed by upper management for a long time as they fell victim to willful negligence.
I go into more detail during episode 270 of Tomorrow’s Leader – Do You Really Know What’s Going On?
“That would never happen here”
When things like this happen, many organizations would say, “That would never happen here.” However, the truth is, that it happens more often than you think. It makes you wonder; how does the organization not know and how do senior leaders go unaware of thousands of salespeople getting a double commission on their sales? How could the salespeople manage to manipulate the system for their benefit while going undetected?
Often, employees will know something is happening. But because they have a perception that this is not a part of their job description, they will turn a blind eye to the issue. They may know something’s happening but pretend they don’t know or don’t want to be aware of it, so they don’t feel they have to report it.
At the senior level, leaders isolate themselves within their bubble and don’t have a pulse for what’s going on at the lower levels in the organization. These leaders often get insulated by their direct reports. They are only soliciting feedback and only know what’s going on in the organization by what they are being told. Often, they won’t investigate further.
Let’s look at football. Imagine that as a senior leader, you are the head coach. As the head coach, you only get feedback from your offensive and defensive coordinator. You aren’t attending games, and you don’t speak with the players. What happens next? You’d only get half of the information, so it would be hard to find out why the teams’ skills aren’t improving or why you’re only winning some of the games.
As the coach, you’d need to watch the game, work with the players and talk to the players to find out what’s happening on the field to work together to find a solution. The bottom line is that many senior leaders genuinely don’t know what’s going on in their organization. They have not taken the time to dive deep and get an accurate pulse. So what happens?
The outcome of willful negligence
Senior leaders will form an opinion based on incomplete or inaccurate data. Subsequently, by speaking to multiple people and engaging them to feel comfortable speaking up, you’ll have a more accurate analysis of what’s happening on the ground level.
Furthermore, if you take the time to dive deep and do skip-level leadership and meet with multiple levels and layers of your organization, you can get a true sense of what is happening. You will be better equipped to make decisions with the rest of your leadership team when you can base everything on accurate information.
As I was leading organizations, I found that If I went down to the base level, talked to the advisors and the staff, and spent time with them, there were always things that I observed. I would observe the issues, opportunities, problems, weaknesses, threats, etc. I would not have identified these issues had I not done that.
So as a leader, you own this. You own the organization and the results, good or bad. Take it upon yourself to visit the lowest level and understand the environment.
This week. Don’t sit on it, but ask yourself, what do I need to do? Who do I need to talk to? How do I need to change my week to get an accurate pulse of what’s going on? When you do that, you will be in a solid position to make the right decision strategically for your organization.