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Why I Disagree with Jack Welch

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Recently on CNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Jack and Suzy Welch talked about their new book,The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career.  

While I haven’t read the book yet (although I did order it), I enjoyed the interview. The discussion focused on how employee engagement in American business is at an all-time low.   This particularly caught my attention because this is a topic that we have presented to audiences around the country for several years now.  

The numbers truly are alarming.

According to Gallup’s 2014 “State of the American Workplace” survey, 70 percent of U.S. workers are not engaged at work.  This disengagement costs the U.S. $450 to $550 billion in lost production each year because employees are emotionally disconnected from the workplace.

Jack and Suzy discussed how the numbers of an unsatisfied workforce are dire.   They also said the impact it will have on our global economy may be staggering.  These points, I completely agree with.  

They also spoke eloquently about the two principles of successful leadership today, which aretruthandtrust.  I agree wholeheartedly.  For organizations to have impactful leadership, leaders must be truthful – truthful to themselves, their teams and the public.  This may be difficult in large, public companies or for those seeking to gain only publicity and career “advancement.”  But truthfulness, defined as “no spin,” will allow an organization to move quickly, earn trust and gain public support.  Truthfulness leads to trust.  

I was particularly intrigued when Joe Scarborough asked Jack Welch if this “new” unengaged employee phenomenon has existed for the last 40 years.  His response truly surprised me.  It was “no.”  He said that the disengaged employee problem is a result of the 2008 recession.  He continued to explain that business has become “no fun.”  

Even though the Gallup research may support Welch’s view, this is where I respectfully disagree with Jack Welch.  I believe that some things worth measuring are un-measurable, and some things that are measurable, don’t matter!

While I do agree that the 2008 recession did create havoc both in the marketplace and in Americans’ personal lives, I don’t believe the challenges we face with emotionally disconnected employees are a direct result of the recession.

Think about it. 

If business and business success can only be “fun” when those things that can be measured are strong and profitable, then who is to say when “tough times” come our way, life is unproductive, no fun and worth getting unengaged in?  I believe that happiness and engagement are not simply about money and the state of the economy.  There are plenty of Americans who love what they do and don’t receive the big pay checks of corporate America or Wall Street, yet they are fully engaged and happy in their work.  I believe this is not a capitalism challenge, this is a human capital challenge.

In order to create a truly engaged workforce, I believe it takes both strong leadership and focusing on creating intimacy with employees, which takes truthfulness and vulnerability.  When you have a culture and work environment that fosters intimacy, having purpose and a feeling of connectedness among employees, you will increase employee engagement.  As a result, employee production and organizational health will increase, regardless of the economic environment.  Let’s start measuring what’s worth measuring and not just measure the bottom line!

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