What to Do When Your Executive Team is Behind the Times

What to Do When Your Executive Team is Behind the Times
January 1, 2024 admin

The future of work is here and 2024 will bring even greater shifts.

We know the trends:

    • Employees are requiring more flexible and hybrid work arrangements
    • Artificial Intelligence (AI) will create job re-designs
    • Conflict resolution skills go up with more diversity in the workplace
    • Traditional career pathing is blowing up due to workforce changes
    • And many more….

But even in the face of these shifting workforce trends, many CEOs, CFOs and COOs still work from belief systems and structures that are quickly becoming outdated. The belief that work is not happening if you can’t see the person in the office, women who have children are less ambitious or that we should leave all of our emotions at the door still pervade the thinking of a lot of senior leaders.

This creates a significant problem for progressive leaders who see that business is headed to a more human-centric, flexible model, and are trying to both stay in alignment with company direction while keeping and/or attracting much-needed talent who prefer a more modern thinking organization.

As leaders, we are often the bridge between executive direction and what’s happening on the ground. And even when we do not agree with the direction or behaviors at the top of the house, we still have a job to do, a team to lead and goals to accomplish.


So the question is, how do we create the right environment to attract and retain top talent when our Executive teams are not yet of the same mindset? For the areas we CAN control, how can we adjust and perhaps even be an inspiration for colleagues and those higher up?


Here’s the bottom line. Whether we are virtual, hybrid or in the office, loyalty and team effectiveness all come from creating an environment of psychological safety, trust and respect. That starts at ANY level. People rarely have long-term loyalty to companies. They are often more loyal to teammates, higher purpose and individual leaders.

It’s easy for many of us to play the victim and blame those in executive positions for the strategic positions they put us in. And YES, there is accountability at that level as well. However, as Gallup tells us, 70% of employee engagement scores are a direct reflection of a person’s manager. People leave an organization not because of its strategies, but because of their immediate leader and how they handled the direction from above and how they were treated.


So what can we do as leaders who are caught in the middle?

1)     Do an environment check for our groups, regardless of location

In your immediate sphere of influence (your division, department or team), what culture is being created? Is there team trust and respect? Is it a culture based in fear? How do others respond when things go off the rails or someone makes a mistake? Do people talk ABOUT each other or TO each other? We cannot control the entire organization, but we can foster a deliberate environment in our group and how we engage together. What do our behaviors say about the culture we are creating?


2)    Clarify with execs and share the rationale with your team – over and over again

Every business decision has reasons, even if they are emotionally based. As leaders, we can learn to ask curious, non-judgmental questions of those above us to get clarity on the underlying assumptions behind decisions. That is our job so we can understand and execute on direction. Even the most seemingly unreasonable executive responds well when approached in the right way. He/She/They did not get into their position by mistake. Unless they were born into the position, every leader has had to prove themselves.

We often picture executives as evil villains trying to make life hard on their workers. That is rarely the case. But like a good story and folklore handed down through the generations, the decisions and assumptions and actions of the executive team get explained in ways that no longer make sense. A reasonable executive, even if we disagree with their choices, usually has an open-door policy for questions and welcomes a leader who is there to help get the troops on board by better understanding the intent and desired outcome of decisions. And by the way, when we understand the intent and desired outcome, we have a better chance at offering solutions that will be more effective.


3)     Create a CORE Sub-Cult

This is the easiest thing to say and a bit harder to do, but when it works, it’s AMAZING!

Conscious business environments are usually easier to create when started from the top down. But, in reality, how we engage 1:1 and in small groups is where connections are born and where loyalty develops. We are a tribe species, and all good cults know that having people connect personally first, regardless of the cause or the idea, is how to develop a following. And that is what we want – a cult following for our division that makes others in the organization sit up and take notice because we have created a culture where people are lining up for jobs on our teams! And just to be clear, we don’t mean cult in a brainwashing or Kool-Aid kind of way. We mean cult (which is just short for culture) as a group of people who come together with common needs and beliefs.

A subculture, like a full cult (ure), can be toxic OR empowering depending on the actions of the leader and the individuals involved.

Creating a “future of work cult-like following” for your team requires four components. Curiosity. Ownership. Respect. Empathy – or C.O.R.E. Culture. When these factors are working together in the leaders and the team, the sky is the limit! Our subculture creates psychological safety, trust, empowerment, accountability and fulfillment. Team members will cut us some slack on executive policies when they want to be part of our tribe, especially when we help them understand the business need and tie it back to a higher purpose. And word of mouth spreads about a highly empowered team, both inside and outside of the company, making recruitment and retention easier.

We are not victims, we are change agents! We have agreed to come to this world and make it a better place. Try these techniques above and see if they help.

Let us know what works or doesn’t work for you. Reach out and let’s continue the conversation!