Cognitive dissonance: The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

This describes the current state of American management.  It’s become universally accepted among leaders across the planet that people are an organization’s greatest asset.  In the course of our practice, we have the opportunity to talk with all types of business leaders and can attest that they universally agree with this modern-day mantra – so do we!  

This begs the obvious question, if people are truly our greatest asset, how are we doing in terms of our stewardship?  The most recent numbers aren’t encouraging. According to Gallup’s research, only 33% of the US workforce are engaged. What this also tells us is that a staggering 67% of US workers are not engaged, which means they are simply putting in their time for a paycheck, or worse, they are actively undermining their organizations from within. 

Imagine growing a business and competing in your industry with a team operating at 1/3 capacity. With an estimated 2017 US payroll of approximately $10 trillion dollars, it’s not hard to extrapolate the cost resulting from this engagement deficit and its ultimate impact on our economy and standard of living. It’s also not hard to see the absolute potential in investing heavily and thoughtfully in your people. 

Our work experiences lead us to the conclusion that while most leaders profess people to be their greatest asset, far too often they treat them as their biggest expense. Organizations invest heavily in recruiting and onboarding talented people, providing them with competitive pay and benefits. They build modern workplaces, and then when it matters most they saddle them with a manager who doesn’t have the talent and skills to effectively engage and develop them to perform at their best.  It’s not that leaders don’t care about their people, we know for a fact they do. It’s that the needs of the workforce have outpaced the practice of management, and organizations are struggling to catch up.

The dilemma is that you can’t build an engaged workforce without great managers. However, you won’t have great managers unless you are diligent about selecting those with the right talent for the role and investing in them to develop the right skills to cultivate an environment of engagement, accountability and high-performance.  Of course, it’s much easier said than done.

How can you avoid the cycle of cognitive dissonance? Here are a few ways to start:

  • Measure your organization’s overall level of engagement annually.
  • Be intentional about curating your culture daily.
  • Develop a rigorous process for selecting and developing your managers to be effective coaches, NOT bosses.
  • Coach your people continuously and empower them to do what they do best as often as possible.

In short, treat all your people like you’d actually treat your greatest asset and performance will follow.  It’s easy to say, it’s much harder to do!

-David Graham