Beat the Churn with Context

Posted 07.24.2019

One of the stories I tell in The Next Level is about the CEO of a very well-known company who, in speaking to a meeting of the top 200 executives there, spontaneously riffed out loud about how “We could use more employees with the skill set and approach that Competitor X has.” Over the next six months, the CEO’s company had hired scores of employees from Competitor X and, as they did, unintentionally changed the culture of their own company. The CEO started to notice what was going on and asked why the company was suddenly hiring so many people from Competitor X. The answer was, “You told us to at the top executive conference.” The CEO’s response was that he was just thinking out loud that they could use people like that and he didn’t mean that anyone should go out and poach them away.

Chalk one up for needless churn. Based on a random comment rooted in a fragment of a thought people sprang into action, spun things up and changed the culture of a major company in the process.

Another way to spark churn in your organization (which both I and a number of my executive coaching clients have been guilty of) is to send your team members an email with a report or article attached with a cryptic cover note like, “Please take a look at this.” I was reminded of this one lately in a senior leadership team meeting where some of the executives were talking about how they had been acting on an article their CEO sent with a “Read this” message. The boss was surprised when they told him that and said that he had only sent it because he had found it interesting. In the meantime, hours were burned and churned by people guessing and then acting on what they thought he wanted.

So, if you’re the designated leader how do you avoid sending your people into a cycle of churn?

It’s pretty simple really. Slow yourself down and take a few more moments to provide some context about what you’re saying or sending and why you’re saying or sending it. For instance, the Competitor X example that I started this post with could have been avoided if the CEO had first said, “I’m just thinking out loud here and putting this on the table as food for thought, not action.” Or, in the case of sending an article around, expand on “Take a look at this,” with a sentence or two more about why it resonates with you and how you think it could be useful to others.

You may think that advice is beyond basic and that it should be obvious that you don’t expect people to take action on the things you say and the stuff you share unless you explicitly ask for action. Yeah, it may be obvious to you, but it’s likely not obvious to them. Experience shows again and again that even senior executives are so motivated to please their boss that they will often spring into action at the slightest prompt. As a result, there’s a lot of needless churn in a lot of organizations.

Beat the churn. Provide some context.

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