Even the CEO can take it personally

Since blogging about the science of motivation, my interest in removing the confusion, lack of trust and bad behaviour caused by financial incentives within organisations has been renewed. It seems I’m not alone. The Science of Motivation article has been one of the most read on this site in recent weeks, and I’ve discovered and enjoyed reading lots of creative action ideas by Derek Irvine on this subject.

We often hear criticism aimed at the very top of the organisation. They set the agenda, the tone, if only they would behave, set the right example, do the right thing etc., then everything would be alright. It’s easy to point the finger of blame at a somewhat distant figure. I was heartened to read an interesting study from the Academy of Management which indicates that a CEO with a strong sense of connectedness to the organisation, is much more likely to behave in a sustainable, inclusive way, than one who is not. Here’s a short extract from the Academy of Management article:

“One might expect that a CEO who identifies strongly with his or her firm will see nothing wrong with using the company resources for personal use, but our findings suggest the opposite to be the case,” comments James Westphal of the University of Michigan, a co-author of the study with Steven Boivie of the University of Arizona, Donald A. Lange of Arizona State University, and Michael McDonald of the University of Central Florida. “What we found instead,” he adds, “is that such executives tend to shun lavish perquisites that shareholders and the public resent, perks which, in fact, have been shown to be associated with significant underperformance of company stock.”

CEOs with strong company identification also tend to avoid corporate strategies that are likely to be at odds with the interest of shareholders. For example, they are less than half as likely as CEOs with weak company identification to increase their companies’ level of unrelated diversification, a strategy that the study characterizes as “a form of corporate empire-building…associated with lower financial performance, lower stock prices, and greater institutional pressure to divest.”

I encourage you to read more about this, it has certainly helped me pause to reflect and appreciate that there are leaders out there who get it. Now how do we strengthen the currently weak connection between most CEOs and their front line staff and build on this desire to do the right things for the right reasons? Based on the popularity of another article on our site, Visible Leadership is Great, Can We Have Some Please? I suggest a lot of CEOs could do worse than start to walk the floor, have a few honest, sincere conversations with colleagues and show through their behaviour that we’re all in the business of great customer service together.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

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