As H Agents, we love to see workplaces where managers believe in, nurture, and build upon the capabilities of their people. These workplaces thrive because the people in them are:
In too many organisations, managers tend not to focus on people's strengths, instead focusing on setting tasks, making targets, and telling people what to do. This often comes from the top of the organisation, driven by the fear of failure, or missing targets and bonuses.
Today we learnt that the former CEO of French telecom company Orange, Didier Lombard, has gone on trial in Paris. Prosecutors will argue that he devised and implemented a strategy of psychological abuse through creating an anxiety inducing work environment.
The accusation is that Lombard implemented a major restructuring of the telco that aimed to reduce its workforce by 22,000 people over three years. It is argued that the company implemented a deliberate strategy of harassment to intimidate employees into leaving. This would reduce restructuring costs by saving redundancy related payments.
Prosecutors allege that managers had been trained to demoralise their teams, and their bonuses were dependent on it.
Between 2007 and 2010, 19 workers committed suicide, another 12 attempted suicide, and 8 suffered acute depression and were signed off as sick as a result of it. When asked to explain the high rate of suicide of company employees, Lombard dismissed it as a "fad", and was eventually forced to step down as a result of community outrage.
It's easy for many of us to imagine how such a terrible workplace scenario could be created. We've seen managers that have a tendency to place excessive focus on the things that go wrong. As their reports, we then inherit their fear, which can then be played upon as we begin to doubt our own competence, contribution, or even loyalty.
Thankfully the Orange case is not typical. There is, however, little surprise that such a situation could actually have occurred. Many of us can relate to a workplace culture where:
When these are the cultural norms in a workplace, then people put themselves first, politics and gossip thrive, and the quest for power (or avoiding being the victim of it) becomes the driving force of decisions, actions, and interactions. For most people, that means "cover your butt"!
When we are focused on covering our butts then we are typically not thinking about teamwork, innovation, or creativity. Yet these are all important aspects of the human condition, and our organisations need them in order to grow and develop genuine competitive advantage.
So, we care about building valuable enterprises through enhancing the human condition, and we think there is an urgent need to start conversations about how that can be achieved.
Change Agents, perhaps you can start by asking some challenging questions in your own workplaces: