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A New Business Imperative: the AFZ

It’s time for us all to stop dancing around a critical issue and discuss the unmentionable.

In a market where attracting, engaging and retaining talent has become a critical strategic imperative for so many organizations, we have to stop politely looking the other way.

Statistics and case studies have consistently been reporting the same thing for over a decade, and for many it is a hugely inconvenient truth: people join organizations and they leave people. More than half the time, they leave because of their manager.

The implications of that have apparently not fully dawned on most organizations, because the numbers haven’t changed in the last ten years.

Here’s the deal: there’s a widening gap between what we ask our managers to do and where their real value lies.

The managers whose shifts, departments, divisions and organizations churn out consistently superior results share one important thing in common: they are managers of people, stewards of the human element first and do-ers of tasks second. They focus on optimising the fit and chemistry within the team and are obsessive about maintaining respectful, supportive relationships, both individually with each member of their team and among members of the team. There’s no room for misalignment, cross purposes or unhealthy conflict on a winning team.

Which means that the primary role of a manager must be that of master of relationship and fit. If an organization is serious about keeping their best people and engaging them fully, one key imperative has to be to create and maintain an Asshole-Free Zone (AFZ is more PC for those of you with delicate sensibilities).

It’s not terribly technical, I agree – but when I talk about this concept with large groups, everyone understands and identifies immediately with the concept and its importance. We have all experienced working with a great manager and for an asshole at different points in our career, and we can quickly identify how our energy, productivity and commitment to excellence was different in each circumstance.

Why is it then that when I ask for a show of hands from people whose organizations tolerate assholes, virtually every hand flies up?

Even more shocking, why is it that when I ask HR professionals whether they have the ability or the credibility to recommend the reining in or termination of a manager who posts good numbers but is an unmitigated asshole, all the hands go down?


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