Too many CEOs have forgotten that their employees are their most valuable asset. Elon Musk is one of them


Too many CEOs today are acting like they are in 1922, not 2022, when it comes to how and when to return to work.

Elon Musk is one of them. When he orders Tesla white-collar workers to return to the office or “pretend to work somewhere else” or forces factory workers to stay on the assembly line in defiance of California’s public health orders as he did earlier in the pandemic, he sounds exactly like an old-time mining magnate ordering his men back to the pits after a cave-in, mocking their health and safety concerns in the same way John C Osgood did it a century ago.

Musk isn’t alone in his backward approach, either.

Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon ordered his employees back to the office full-time, calling remote working “an aberration that we’re going to fix as soon as possible”. And look how well it worked for him: only half the staff at his headquarters showed up.

This dictatorial approach to my path or the highway no longer works. It probably never was, but in a world where this style of top-down, command-and-control “leadership” was the norm, men – at least the wealthy, white ones – could get away with it. pull.

But as General-turned-President Dwight D. Eisenhower observed, “You don’t lead by hitting people over the head. That’s aggression, not leadership.

And if we learned one thing from the Great Resignation, it’s that most employees aren’t willing to put up with it anymore. Companies and leaders who fail to recognize this fact risk losing talent and expertise that may be difficult, if not impossible, to replace today.

If you want to avoid this, you have to listen to your employees before you start telling them what to do.

Listen first

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from my mentor, legendary CEO Alan Mulally, was this: Seek to understand before trying to be understood.

It’s one of his personal mantras, and he’s practiced it successfully at Boeing and Ford. You can be sure that Mulally continues to promote this collaborative approach from his current seat on the board of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

Compare the way Google has approached the return to work issue with the direct executive orders issued by Musk.

Speaking to students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in April, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said working together in the same office helps employees develop a sense of community, fosters creativity and creates opportunity. collaborations that are important to the success of any business. But so is flexibility.

“I view giving people flexibility in the same way, to be very clear,” he continued. “I think we’re big believers in in-person relationships, but I think we can achieve that in a more focused way and give employees more agency and flexibility.”

That same month, Google also asked its employees to return to the office. However, like many forward-thinking tech companies, it has opted for a hybrid model that will allow workers to split their time between working from home and working in the office.

What Google and other companies have recognized is that the pandemic has paved the way for them to do what many of them wanted to do before, but weren’t quite sure how: shift to a more flexible work model. that would better leverage the collaboration benefits and productivity potential of new digital tools while simultaneously improving employee morale and retention.

Test and learn

Other CEOs are even more attentive to finding the right model for their new normal.

Apple, which originally advocated a similar approach to Google’s, is now rethinking it based on employee feedback. Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook called his company’s pilot program “the mother of all tests.”

“We could be the first to say that the starting point is most likely incorrect and will require adjustments,” he said at the Time100 summit.

Last month, Musk poked fun at Apple’s more cautious approach by posting a meme of a big, lazy dog. But when you weigh Musk’s track record of ill-considered decisions, false starts and broken promises against Apple’s consistent success, it’s the nasty-mouthed mogul with the teenage sense of humor who lack.

Apple, on the other hand, does what I and other decision-making experts recommend as best practice when dealing with complex issues such as this: it probes, detects, and learn. He sets up experiments and uses critical thinking to carefully analyze the results. Most importantly, he engages with his employees and listens to them, rather than just telling them what to do.

Musk should also try to listen when he meets with Twitter employees tomorrow, but something tells me he’ll be doing the most talking.


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