The Corporate Athlete

Boy, I’ve been watching an organization for sometime with poor planning habits, and the result is of course what we call in the business – too much work to do at the last minute.  That’s an official term.  But watching the stress levels increase, the sleepless nights double, and the unshowered, “I stayed at work last night” look turn into vogue, it’s made me think of the real impact this is having on the people.  Once or twice, this is probably healthy on a regular basis, renewing the roll up the sleeves and all pitch-in attitude that builds common experience and fosters the forming of solid working bonds and team relationships.  But as a matter of routine fare, the impact is going to kill someone.

I remember the “Online” organization of a certain, large telecommunications company that will remain nameless, even though they are huge, and I mean really huge. These folks had endured torment after torment of reactive, last minute, knee-jerk work flow and were suffering a turnover rate of nearly 80% in the business unit.  When I got to them, they had worked more that 12 weekends straight, and not one soul among them had any confidence in their management team.  They had spun through 3 sets of divisional VPs in 5 years, none of which had any clue about the work that needed to be done there, and most of which were dying to leave the minute they arrived. Yep, it was a bad day at block rock.

You can imagine the business impact that such disorganization caused. The human impact is what really was disconcerting to me.  After some one-on-one coaching and a good talking to about pulling the leadership pants up and stepping courageously forward, we were able to get someone at the top to say, “I am interested, and I will listen.” (Truth be told, it took some head-slapping from behind to get them to stay up there and listen).

The biggest problem we had in turning this organization around was moving the leadership from the view that these employees were human “resources” to the view that they were the keys to competitive advantage, and without them being at their prime, the whole thing would implode. The ways these people were working would be the equivalent of running a marathon every week (an analogy I got from Dr. Jim Loehr).

Just as athletes have a period of full engagement, they also have a period of rest and recovery.  Working 15 hours a day does not give you a period of rest and recovery.  As organizational leaders, we have to pay attention to the disengagement that is critical for our workforce to then fully engage when we need them to be. Remember, we are all people, living lives, and one work often plays a necessarily evil part of that life for many of us.  But it doesn’t have to be that way, if we champion the importance of disengaging regularly and often, as mush as we do engaging while at work.


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