Corporate Etiquette and Public Maulings

Leslie Kossoff

Once, many years ago, when working with a family-owned business, I happened to be in the CEO's office when a senior executive in the firm - who happened to be his son - walked in with an idea.

"Listen, Dad, I've got this great idea for..." and then went on to explain what he thought the company could be doing to expand its product offerings.

The CEO's reply, in a too loud voice:  "You are so stupid.  What the makes you think that if we (insert idea here) it will get us into those new markets.  Jesus Christ.  Come back when you've got a decent idea.  If that ever happens."

That was the last conversation they ever had of that particular kind - on two different fronts.

First, "Dad" was never again to be "Dad."  At least not on corporate premises.

This was a mid-sized company making excellent profits with manufacturing plants in multiple states in a market and competitive landscape that was consolidating even as it was growing.  There were other executives and a whole world of staff - many of whom heard either that conversation or some version thereof - throughout their tenure with the company.

From that point forward, no family relationship was ever used when the conversation had to do with the company.  It wasn't father and son.  It was a CEO and a senior executive on his team - both with first names - which put them on a more level ground.  Especially in executive and management meetings.

Second, that was the last time that CEO ever spoke to any of his team in that way.

It's perfectly understandable that emotions run high.  In fact, it's a good thing, in many cases, when they do.  You want your people on top of their game.  You want them to be energized and excited about what they're doing.

You don't want, under any circumstances, to create a browbeaten, downtrodden, abused workforce - at any level - that not only becomes afraid to put forward any ideas but, worse, even wants to bring them forward.

And, like it or not, that's the outcome.  When you're disrespectful of your people - and not even near the extent as occurred in this example - you get exactly what you deserve.  Nothing.  And eventually even less than that - because what you have to remember is that your employees know all sorts of things about how your company works.  Everyday things.  The things that actually make the organization continue to operate through all its inconveniences and obstructions.

Employees, in most cases, don't have to do a slowdown or stoppage.  All they have to do is start operating to the exact policies and procedures you have in place and the organization will slow itself down.  To a near stop.

Moreover, your best employees - at every level - will find someplace else to go.  And they should.  Because if you're not valuing your employees, then there's no reason that you or your organization should be considered of value to them.

You're a stopgap - and not a whole lot more.

Granted, we're in a down economy so the jobs are scarce.  But, that being said, remember that there will be an up-cycle - which will be the cue for your best to get out of Dodge - and, even in the interim, for those who want to find other positions and are really excellent, those positions exist even now.

The outcome on the family-owned business story was telling.  The idea that the senior executive put forward was eventually very successfully adopted by the company.  However, by that time, the senior executive in question was long gone - which, after two generations, ended the family ownership of the company and, eventually, the company itself.

[In Part Two, we're going to take on how this applies to social enterprises and charity organizations - so stay tuned!]

Leslie Kossoff , author of Creating Quality series of Executive Field Guides and Executive Thinking
Copyright 2010, author retains ownership. All rights reserved.

Print page