But no organization exists without anything at all to complain about, and today's "Town Hall" with our president Mr Cheerleader provided much fodder. First, he's a preacher of the short executive wisdom book sort. I haven't seen anything that makes me think leader, but he knows all the leadership buzz words and plays one on his podcast and in his new book.
Our Town Hall today, which does not confirm to the second definition of town hall, such as "(North American) an event at which a politician or public official answers questions from members of the public", had two extended sermonizing periods where we were exhorted to stop making excuses. Via metaphor, of course.
The first metaphor was about rockets, and how they have to overcome gravity. Gravity, in the metaphor, is excuses. As a colleague commented, a better metaphor for excuses would have been inertia. Many examples of "gravity" were listed, such as having competing priorities or missing features competitors have, and we were all told we shouldn't wait on others to solve these problems but overcome them on our own.
If Mr. Cheerleader had turned around and said, "Rockets need fuel and here's how we are going to overcome gravity this year, " and listed "Our culture of X, Y, and Z is going into that tank! Our increases in efficiency are going into that tank! Our focus on service that deliver more value is going into that tank! With these things in your tank, you will overcome the 'gravity' of all those excuses," i probably wouldn't have been reduced to a half hour of profanity over lunch.
The second metaphor was about learned helplessness, with "a study" presented as fact. The term learned helplessness (Trigger warning for animal experimentation) was not used.
The anecdotal study described fleas in a jar that the fleas could jump out of. The jar is then covered with a lid, the fleas jump against the lid. After some time the lid is removed and the fleas no longer jump out of the jar, just jump to the height of the lid.
We were urged to not let that lid stop us.
Which... i just....
Tell me you have removed the lid, Mr Cheerleader, let me know you know what the lid is and you have removed it. Why on EARTH would i run full tilt at something that has hurt me before unless i had evidence things had changed?
I note in the original 1967s research in learned helplessness, the dogs could not be cajoled or coerced or lured into escaping the shocks -- they had to have their bodies physically moved over the barrier to escape the shock to learn that escape was possible.
I find myself somewhat infuriated that he thinks that his response to perceiving the "learned helplessness" in the work culture is to tell us to stop making excuses.
I would have really really been impressed and motivated had he said, "I know that shifting priorities is one of those things that make it hard for you to succeed. You are working towards a target and then we tell you to aim somewhere else." There *was* an extended discussion of rocket course corrections, actually, about how priorities change and we have to shift course. However, he didn't explain why targeting something else was a course correction. "You feel you haven't succeeded because it seems you gave up on a target when we asked you to change where you were headed. We're going to help you see that we are still aiming towards our goal which isn't X or Y or Z but [making more money]. Maybe we don't deliver X, but the work we did in service of X will still help us [make more money]."
If changes of priorities were accompanied with a note that we have examined the cost of continuing X vs the opportunity cost of working on Y, and we acknowledge that we will be furthering the goal of [making more money] by moving to Y (please watch out for the sunk cost fallacy), folks might be more amenable to course corrections.
That *may* be what is happening behind the scene, but it certainly isn't communicated -- leaving folks to look at unused work as a waste and not be enthusiastic about moving on to the next priority. If he acknowledged that experience and then committed to the transparency about course corrections, i'd have been more confident that our leadership was leading. Instead, the "trust us, we change priorities because of the money" doesn't sound like we're actually trying to balance sunk cost vs opportunity cost, but just that we are being led on a merry chase.
I should note that corporate metrics are strong, so he's doing something right (unless it's merely accountants being clever). But i didn't walk away motivated.