The chief executive of a non-profit organization asked me to come to a meeting of her management team to talk about the performance of staff. When I arrived, she ushered me into a conference room. The four other members of the management team were already at the table.
“We want to tell you what’s going on,” she said.
“First, the staff doesn’t seem very motivated,” said one vice president. “I wish they would just do their jobs.”
“Everyone’s feeling overwhelmed,” said another v.p.
“They don’t show any initiative,” said another.
The conversation continued. As they continued to criticize their staff, I picked up a few more clues. The CEO said she was trying to be more democratic in making decisions. A senior v.p. said he hadn’t met recently with staff because of his workload. I jotted some notes in my notepad. “Management or staff?” I wrote. I decided to trust my instincts.
“Look, here’s what I think is going on,” I told the management team. “I think the problems with your staff begin with you. I am guessing you are not communicating very well. Your meetings don’t have clear action items. Your delegations to staff aren’t clear.”
“Change happens in three ways,” I said. “It can be top down, bottom up, and inside out. In this case, I think the change you’re hoping to see in your staff begins with you.” I paused. They were looking at me. “Can you help us?” one said.
“Sure,” I said. “We can provide you tools to help you manage decisions better and run meetings more effectively. We can begin next week.”
“That would be great!” they said. “Would you draw up a proposal for that?” said the CEO. They were all smiles as I left the meeting.
It was a good reminder: Don’t always believe what your clients tell you!