When the CEO says to the gathered throng of employees 'Our staff are our greatest asset' or 'Safety/customer service/product quality is our highest priority', how does he/she know that the message has got through, and is generally believed across the organisation?
Having talked with a number of clients in recent months about topics that essentially come back to beliefs and behaviours, I have become increasingly aware that the way someone behaves in the workplace can tell you an awful lot about what they believe. Take safety as an example: the boss says 'We take the safety of our employees very seriously. Unsafe behaviour will not be tolerated.' Next thing, that same boss is seen exceeding the speed limit along the company's property, a senior manager is observed walking through the plant without the correct protective wear or the team member caught taking a risk is not disciplined but commended for showing initiative.
The six-million-dollar question is: 'What do your staff believe - what you do or what you say?' If you're a parent, you might consider the same question; what do they believe? How many of us remember our parents' fearsome warnings about what would happen to us if they caught us smoking/drinking alcohol/lying/bunking off school? Just out of interest, how many of those fearsome rules did they stick to themselves? And you?
The 'do as I say not as I do' duplicity runs much deeper in many organisations, particularly where language is used without real thought or care. Still within the safety vein, consider the impact of the following scenarios. How many meetings have you attended where the chair or presenter has kicked off with one of the following:
'Let's get the health and safety stuff out of the way first, before we move on to today's agenda...'
'I've been told by HR/the safety manager has asked me to say this...'
'The Health and Safety police have asked me to...'
Accompanying voice distortion and rolling of eyes optional.
The leaders who gain the most respect in organisations are those whose words and deeds are completely aligned and consistent.
Aligned and consistent even under pressure from above, even when there are difficult decisions to be made and even... when the mis-aligned or in-consistent route could lead to shorter lead times, critical path work-arounds, crisis solutions, a promise of more (short-term) profit, time saving, loosening of a quality assurance bottleneck or short-term customer service fixes. Leaders who place a high value on completely aligned and consistent words and actions whatever the circumstances are those leaders whom others choose to follow.
They believe what these leaders say and do.