Dear Senior Leader: SHOW UP

Dear Senior Leader,

Sit back and join me on a little journey…

Try to imagine you’re an employee within your organization- an IT administrator, a customer support representative, a receptionist… anyone. Next, imagine you’re at one of your company’s employee development events. You’re sitting there, surrounded by all of your work friends, sitting in an uncomfortable folding chair, listening to a speaker talk about motivation or performance or something that’s going to “help us work together as a team”. The speaker gets started and it’s kind of interesting, actually, and then… out of the corner of your eye you see your CEO brush his suit coat off, slowly stand up, and quietly exit out the door.

What’s going through your mind right now? Not as the leader that you are, but as the employee you’re pretending to be. Would you get it? That guy’s busy, after all. He’s seen so many of these things. Poor guy… let him go- he’s got so many fires he’s dealing with right now.

Probably not.

Most likely, if you’re still pretending to be one of your employees, you’re running through a range of negative thoughts:

  • This must not be a good use of time if the CEO isn’t even going to stick around.
  • The CEO obviously doesn’t hold this topic as a high priority.
  • You force me to sit here and you get to sneak away and get stuff done? How elitist.
  • That poor speaker. How rude of him to walk out in the middle of her speech.

You think I’m over thinking this? I promise you, I’m not. I have been through countless events where well-intentioned senior leadership teams either don’t show up or evaporate to take important calls in the hallway and leave employees shifting in their seats and grumbling between their teeth. They’re not telling you, but I promise you- they’re complaining to their colleagues and people like me… and the sentiment is spreading like wildfire.

The employee you’ve pretended to be likens to most of the people in your organization. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but the seemingly small act of sneaking out or being absent from meetings and events like this undermines the entire purpose and ultimate impact of the event itself. You are sabotaging your organization’s ability to create the change you want to see.

If you think I’m being a little too dramatic, try an experiment: Take two employee development events that are similar in scope. Don’t attend one but show up and engage in the other. One month or so after the events, ask your managers to report which event had the most impact on employees’ behavior and test this theory out for yourself. I bet you 15 bucks you’ll see more impact coming from the event you showed interest in.

Still aching to sneak out of the next all-employee meeting or development session? I challenge you with 2 questions:

  1. What should your role be in relation to this event? This is where leaders get hung up. For most senior leaders, it’s not skill development or information gathering like it is for most of the attendees. For you this event will probably not result in learning much, but that’s not the point- that’s not why you go to things like this. Your role instead should be as champion and developer. You go to these events to send a message that the content is important, pay attention to ideas you’d like to cultivate after the event is over, and to connect with a broader representation of your employee base. Trust me- those three things are worth the money it’s costing you to be in that room. If you still don’t see how your presence at events like this is strategic, ask yourself the next question…
  2. Do you truly believe this initiative/event will make a difference in your organization? I would wager if you truly believed it would, you’d be doing everything you could to get the most out of the session, and your presence requires that. If you don’t believe it’ll make much of a difference, don’t do it. Spend your money on something else. Figure out what WILL truly move the needle in your organization and put your people investment dollars there.

Every hour of your time is an investment into your business, and sometimes these investments aren’t so obvious. Maintaining engagement in events that involve all of your employees, including your senior leadership team, will serve as a catalyst for getting an ROI from people development investments.