Executives are inadvertently stunting the growth of their employees

April 10, 2023, 12:14 PM UTC
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Employees are feeling neglected under the pressures of shifting business objectives.
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Employers are all about efficiency these days as they adjust their operations to an uncertain economy. While it’s an understandable reaction, some workplace experts warn that companies must be careful not to let the short-term turbulence cause them to deprioritize the needs of employees. In fact, businesses that invest in their employees in this moment could yield big benefits—and avoid potential problems—down the road.

“[These] are cognitive unconscious blind spots at the executive level. They’re suffering from what’s called distanced cognitive bias,” explains Matt Summers, global head of culture and leadership at the consulting firm NeuroLeadership Institute. The firm is known for its science-based approach to executive leadership coaching. 

Summers describes the phenomenon as one in which executives are unintentionally focusing on what is nearest and most urgent to them at the moment. For many leaders right now, that includes cost-cutting and achieving the highest levels of productivity. “It’s driving the decision-making for executives on what to focus on and prioritize,” he says. Something we know from reporting, leaders can come to regret. 

A recent study by Orgvue, a workplace planning software company, found that a majority of executives (93%) say that they have made snap decisions with cost-cutting in mind. And more than a third of leaders say they regret rash decisions that resulted in actions like reduced perks and mass layoffs.

To avoid those pitfalls, Summers recommends that HR executives work on future-proofing their organizations—providing more learning and growth opportunities for employees that align with the future goals of the business. It’s a long-term investment that fortifies both the workforce and the company. 

This is a time in which it’s easy for employees to feel they’ve been put on the back burner or that their contributions are not being recognized, he tells Fortune. “We’re unintentionally sending threat signals to our employees.”

Summers recommends encouraging managers to take a more active role in their employees’ growth; continue to have career-focused conversations, even amid a tough economic outlook; and establish mentorship relationships. The key, he says, is establishing a culture of learning within the organization so that existing employees and executives alike are prepared for whichever direction the business needs to pivot. 

Failing to do so will inadvertently stunt the growth of a business’s most prized resource—talent. 

“It’s like buying a high-performance Ferrari and keeping it in first gear,” explains Summers. “I may have members on my team who have the ability to upskill, who have interests to upskill, and the engine to upskill. But we don’t invest in them because we’re so busy driving deadlines and business priorities—we have these high-performance vehicles that only go as fast as a VW Golf.”

Amber Burton

Reporter's Notebook

The most compelling data, quotes, and insights from the field.

Gary Vaynerchuk, cofounder of Resy and VaynerMedia, took to TikTok last week to share his strong, albeit vulgar, opinions about improving workplace culture. Namely, he shared that having a friendlier workplace could solve for a plethora of workplace stressors. 

“Joy doesn’t come from four-hour workweeks. Joy doesn’t come from free doughnuts. Joy comes from firing dickheads…The way you’ll get to that joy is if everyone’s nice to each other and if you have the ability and conviction to fire the three people in here that are assholes.”

Around the Table

A round-up of the most important HR headlines, studies, podcasts, and long-reads.

- The March jobs report revealed record-low unemployment for Black workers. Unemployment fell to 5%, from 5.7% the month prior. Washington Post

- The job market remains hot for the service industry, which has experienced some of the highest wage growth for workers. Listen time: 3 minutes. NPR

- Products of overhiring, some tech workers confess they’re collecting a paycheck for doing little to no work at all. Wall Street Journal

- Following layoffs last week, McDonald’s will also reduce compensation packages of some of its employees. Reuters


Everything you need to know from Fortune.

“Penned” up workers. Highly sought-after tech workers are getting “penned” by large employers. It’s a hiring trend in which candidates are hired by companies and given little work to do, but kept on call in case they’re needed. —Eleanor Pringle

Working mom blues. Working moms are struggling. Last year, 42% of working mothers reported that they had been diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression, according to a recent poll. —L’Oreal Thompson Payton

In support of RTO. Gen Z is leading the return to the office trend. “Generationally, a larger majority of Gen Z adults do most of their work in person compared with their older counterparts,” according to Morning Consult’s 2023 State of Workers report. —Trey Williams

Labor market chill. The latest jobs report reveals that the Fed’s efforts to cool the labor market are paying off, but it might result in another phenomenon—a “growth recession.” —The Conversation

This is the web version of CHRO Daily, a newsletter focusing on helping HR executives navigate the needs of the workplace. Today’s edition was curated by Paolo Confino. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

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