Shout Out to all Soul-Sucking CEOs: You Need a New Corporate Currency (i4cp login required)


As we plan for an eventual return to work, executives need
to recognize that the glue that holds organizations together is not the
corporate headquarters or physical offices. It’s the more invisible qualities
of purpose, culture, and brand. The
interconnectedness of these three elements has always existed, but this
equation needs to be carefully managed right now, particularly as individual
states make determinations on when it’s safe to return to the workplace, and
companies follow suit.

We call this the New Corporate Currency, and recently
released a report which highlights the
opinions of board members and other executives from many well-known
organizations on how critical that currency is in today’s new reality. Many CEOs intuitively get this and—no
coincidence—they tend to be the ones running very successful companies.

The CEO of one of those companies is Garry Ridge, CEO of
WD-40. Garry wrote one of the best
articles I can remember from a CEO about the importance of these elements in
engaging the workforce and creating a high-performance company. I’m posting it,
with Garry’s permission of course, for you to engage in its brilliance.

There’s been a lot of talk about vaccines lately…the New
Corporate Currency is the vaccine every accidental soul-sucking CEO today needs
to have a speedy recovery from this pandemic. 

You an Accidental Soul-Sucking CEO?

By Garry Ridge, CEO, WD-40®

Garry RidgeI have to admit it. I am, frankly, quite baffled. For the
last 20 years, and all around the world, we CEOs have invested untold millions
into the question: “What does it take to have an engaged workplace culture?”
We’ve bought books, retained consultants, rolled out surveys, looked deep into
the hearts and minds of the people who work for us. We know how crucial it is
to having talent who love working for us and who will offer discretionary
effort and innovation. And introductions to their friends. We even know how to
quantify all this stuff. 

We are
at the leading edge of a historic conversation. Our predecessors – the
generations who ran the factories and cracked the whips – would look at us and
our workplaces in awe. We know better than anyone at any time in the history of
humans what it takes to create a workplace where people want to come to work,
joyfully invest their efforts and talents into a cause greater than themselves,
and go home happy to children who are learning from their examples.

And yet
we’re still screwing it up. Gallup – which has made it its business to track
these kinds of numbers – reports that 51% of American employees are actively
looking for a job. Elsewhere. Do you know what that means on a global
scale? As historically smart as we are in this whole engagement
conversation, more human beings than ever before are actively seeking to leave
their current employer and find fulfillment with another one.

occurs to me that Amazon Prime and Costco have a better customer retention rate
with their discretionary paid memberships than employers throughout the world
have with their employees. If retail operations can more reliably keep
their discretionary relationships with people who have to pay for that relationship
than we can with our employees, who earn their livelihood with us, we need to
take a serious look at how we’re creating the environment for those

It Lands On the CEO’s

statistics continue to be grim. According to their latest report, the cost of
employees who are either non-engaged or actively disengaged amounts to between
$960 billion and $1.2 trillion globally. Employees tell us that the
relationship they want from their supervisor is one of being a coach, not a
boss. They want clear expectations, accountability, a “rich purpose,” ongoing
feedback and, well, coaching. Only 50 percent report that they know what’s
expected of them on a daily basis; only 41 percent say that their actual work
aligns with their formal job description (i.e., the job they signed up for in
the first place).  Only 44 percent say that they can see a connection
between what they do and their company’s objectives.

who report positively in all these areas show true returns on the investment in
engagement efforts. They are anywhere between three and four times more likely
to be engaged than their frustrated counterparts. When it comes to return on
investment, pretty soon that adds up some real money.

problem here is that the responsibility is conventionally assigned to the
direct supervisors of employees. They’re the ones who receive the reports, who
are made to study the online dashboard dials and stoplights. They have to go to
the trainings, and then report up line to their managers annually to account
for why that needle hasn’t budged. Their supervisors are doing the same. And
their leaders are doing likewise. Up, up, up the org chart this accountability

In the
meantime, they’re all receptive to calls from headhunters. Including the brain
trust on your organizational development team.

The one
who really should be studying how to move that needle is, well, you. While your
OD department might be working so diligently to refine the behaviors of your
managers to staunch the flow of your expensively acquired talent, it might be
your office that is sucking the joy, vision, and dedication from your tribe.

Why do
I use the expression “soul-sucking?” That’s how it feels, especially when an
organization that promotes itself as being committed to an engaged culture is
led by a CEO who is unfocused, unserious, unkind, or simply doesn’t get it.
It’s more than simply clumsy leadership. It’s a breach of promise. And it makes
your entire tribe feel depleted and dispirited.

How to Be a Soul-Sucking

As I travel the world, leading what we call our tribe, I also am invited to give speeches and advise
our customers and partners. I see a fervent desire to create workplace cultures
that emulate the collaborative, supportive environment celebrated at WD-40
Company. And I’m gratified to be able to help them when I can. 

But I
am also continually surprised to see an almost entrenched, dated attitude CEOs
have toward their people and their culture. It’s the only way I can explain the
demoralizing engagement statistics that research companies such as Gallup serve
up to us annually. With everything we now know about how to create engaging
cultures, if your employees are suffering disengagement, I can only assume that
you’re doing this on purpose.

time is money, I thought I’d lend you a hand and help you further your mission
of creating and sustaining a corporate culture that will drive your talent out
your doors – preferably in the direction of my company. If you want to be
a soul-sucking CEO, this is how you do it:

You have no compelling purpose:
As it turns out, having a clearly defined purpose that speaks to the hearts and
minds of employees is actually critical to creating an engaged culture where
your people know they belong among kindred spirits who are passionate about
serving a cause larger than themselves. 

In his
2018 annual letter to CEOs, Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of global investment
company, BlackRock, Inc., wrote: “To prosper over time, every company
must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a
positive contribution to society. Without a sense of purpose, no company,
either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will lose the
license to operate from key stakeholders. Demonstrate the leadership and clarity
that will drive not only [your] own investment returns but also the prosperity
and security of [your] fellow citizens.”

passionate people guided by strong values create amazing outcomes. At WD-40
Company, we know that having a purpose is highly motivating. Having a purpose
absolutely rewards people who are driven by the need to make a contribution
bigger than themselves.

is a psychological, physical advantage to having a true purpose. Purpose is
soul-enriching, not soul-sucking. Purpose motivates people to feel part of
something where they believe that they are making a difference.

our tribe members at WD-40 come to work, they ask themselves, “What am I going
to do today?” Their answer: “I’m going to create something positive for
someone. I’m going to solve a problem. I’m going to make something work better.
I’m going to create an opportunity. I’m going to cause a positive lasting
memory for someone.”

much more motivating than saying, “I’m going to go to work today and I’m going
to sell a can of chemicals.” Don’t you think?

The opposite of having
a purpose
 isn’t just neutral. If you have no compelling
purpose, it’s an active disadvantage in the sense that there’s a vacuum in
focus and direction. That vacuum is going to be filled by absolutely the wrong
things. You’ll find yourself creating unsuccessful products that don’t serve
your customers. You’ll have a workplace of people treating each other in a way
that’s shabby and disrespectful. The vacuum creates space for rumor mongering,
inter-relationship suspicions and conflicts, and other destructive issues. 

Your company has no positive values:
Without positive values, your people will require micro-management and
consistent course correction. They will be made to feel fundamentally wrong
from the minute they turn off their alarm clock in the morning to the time they
drag their depleted bodies back up the front walk to their house in the
evening. Without values they can’t be trusted to make decisions on their own.
And they will know it. They are exposed, and they know their company is
exposed. Any day some horrible headline about some unethical behavior committed
by an executive will cause the whole company to come crashing down. 

create freedom for purpose-driven talent to do their work well and
independently. They are the written reminders of behaviors that we want within
the business that protect both the people and the business. They also give
people the freedom to be able to make decisions without having to beg
permission up the hierarchy all the time.

strong culture based on values also sets the stage for innovation and
marketplace advantage because you now have employees who are not using their
precious brain cells worrying about unexpected ways they might mess up. They’re
free to innovate and create market-differentiating, competitive ideas.

strong values protects you from measuring and rewarding the wrong behaviors and
objectives. At WD-40 Company, we include values as part of our talent
management system. Values override fiscal results when we evaluate our tribe
members’ performance.

worst thing that can happen in an organization is someone getting really good
results and violating values. Inevitably, people conclude that “it’s results at
all costs and values don’t matter.” That will kill your company over the long
term. It demoralizes your people, depletes energy, squanders confidence, burns
up the sense of belonging inside your culture. It creates friction among tribe
members. People start doing really bad things; they hurt each other and your
customers, just to get results.

You let your ego override your empathy:
Instead of treating people with respect and dignity, instead of showing
vulnerability and humility, you might as well put a sign on your office door
(always closed, of course) that reads: “I am the King of the World. Everyone
bow down.” You separate yourself from those you lead. 

don’t take the time to truly understand what your people need to stay inspired
and motivated. You don’t know what they need to be whole in their entire lives,
to feel fulfilled in every aspect of their experiences. It’s all about
you. Which is exactly as you feel it should be. Because you are, after all, the
King of the World. You worked hard to achieve your position on the pedestal.
And you’re not about to step down now.

with ego always want to speak first. They want to tell; they don’t want to
ask. They want to own every idea, even – or especially – if it means
taking credit away from the person who originated it.

Goldsmith talks about “adding too much value.” As leaders, we want to
contribute our influence to projects that our tribe members own. Just a tweak
here or a tweak there gives you the ego satisfaction of adding your golden
touch. What you have done is dramatically reduce the enthusiasm of your staff
member. Your ego tells you that you must have your stamp on it.

You are short-term and reaction-driven:
The vision-crushing ritual of quarterly earnings is not the measure of
long-term success in any organization. Being continuously driven by the reward
of the short term will suck the soul of the organization. Efforts to build an
enduring, positive and effective culture take years to make a difference.
There is no such thing as grabbing the “low hanging fruit,” when the task is
planting and nourishing a beautiful tree over time. 

on the short term and you’ll cripple any ability for your people to plan
confidently for the future, for both your business and their family. You will
be helping your talent destroy their careers while you destroy their faith in
your company.  And then they take that feeling home to their families where
they struggle to raise hopeful, empowered children.

You create a culture where people are driven
by fear of their managers
: Fear is the most disabling emotion we
have. Yet bad things happen in companies. It’s just a fact of life. When your
people are afraid to try new things, make a mistake now and then, despite the
best of intentions, fear precludes creativity and freedom. 

At WD-40 Company, we have a tradition called, “The Learning Moment.” It’s the positive or
negative outcome of any situation that must be openly and freely shared to
benefit all. Anyone can openly say, “I had a learning moment, here’s what
happened, and here’s how it will be better tomorrow.” Or “I had a learning
moment and here’s what happened, here’s the great result I got, and here’s what
I want to share.” 

number one responsibility of a leader is to be both a student and a teacher.
And then pass both those values on to the entire organization. No one
should be afraid of reprisals from their managers for making innocent mistakes.
If you take the fear of the result out, you create a culture that’s more open
to learning.

fear of sharing critical learnings with managers and teams, and you’ll
successfully suck the soul out of your cherished talent.

You don’t keep promises:
 One of the ways you destroy trust immediately is to not do what you say
you’re going to do. If you have a track record of breaking promises, it says
two soul-sucking things to employees: 

  1. Anyone’s word
    inside the corporate culture doesn’t amount to much. Not only is the CEO’s
    word worthless, no one is expected to be accountable for their
    commitments. Breaking promises is a culturally accepted norm.
  2. If your employees
    are on the receiving end of broken promises, the unspoken message here is
    that they aren’t worthy of the leader’s respect. That’s also
    soul-sucking. The only way your people can continue to function
    inside this culture is simply to not expect honorable interaction from
    their leadership and coworkers. Expectations are too high. Their hearts
    will break. Then they go home and kick the dog.

You hoard information:
Knowledge is power. We all know that. You can capitalize on that power by
either sharing the knowledge throughout your organization or let your ego
compel you to hoard information. With all the critical knowledge safely tucked
away, you are now truly king of the hill because you know everything. And they
(whoever “they” are at any given moment) know nothing. Your ego is more
important than your people. Keeping critical information to yourself is your
superpower. And your ego wants you to hang onto it. 

Employees who suspect that their CEO is withholding
valuable information
 experience the slow leaking of their spirits,
confidence, and dedication to your company’s success. That’s because they
don’t feel like their success is your number one priority. A true soul-enriching
leader is intent upon helping each person step into the best version of their
personal self every day. And that requires a full, respectful sharing of
the information necessary for your people to perform at their top potential.
Every day. 

There Are No Accidents

The title of this piece is “Are You an Accidental Soul-Sucking CEO?” Now that you know
the many ways a disengaged culture can be manifested from the top, “I didn’t
know,” or “I didn’t mean to,” can no longer be true. As the CEO, nothing in
your portfolio should be allowed to be assigned to “accident.” 

quotes come to mind at this point. One is slightly older than the other.

Back in
384 BC, Aristotle was quoted as saying, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in
the work.” Our job as the CEO is to put pleasure in the job for our employees,
not suck the soul out of our people. The question as to whether it’s our job to
make our employees happy comes in and out of fashion over the decades. But,
based on Gallup’s findings, it would seem that Aristotle might have been on to
something. In my own personal experience, pleasure in my job empowers higher
quality in the work I do. And I see evidence of same in my tribe members.
It’s not about making people happy. It’s about creating an opportunity
for meaningful work, which is in itself a pleasure to perform. And then the
result is a company that meets – or even surpasses – all its critical goals.

recently, Stephen Covey said, “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a
product of my decisions.”

In this
particular case, the decision I put to you is whether you will commit to being
the leader where your joyful workplace culture begins. If you choose not to,
that is certainly your prerogative. Just bear in mind that 51% people you pass
in your hallways or meet in your cafeteria might be looking for a new job.

We at WD-40 Company would be delighted to consider their
resumes. And we have a 93 percent engagement rate. Not to brag. I just
want to give you an idea who might be welcoming aboard your best talent.
Correction: Your
former best talent
. Now they’re our best talent. 


This was written and reposted
with permission by Garry Ridge.  Garry is
the CEO of the WD-40 Company.  He is also
the co-author of Helping People Win At Work: A Business Philosophy Called ‘Don’t Mark My
Paper, Help Me Get an A
,’ with Ken Blanchard and a contributor in Servant Leadership In Action: How You Can Achieve Great
Relationships and Results
, with Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell

Connect with Garry:

Twitter @learningmoment  

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