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To Change Leaders’ Behavior, Add Corporate Citizenship to Performance Management

May 21, 2018

Corporate citizenship

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting exhausted of picking up the news every day and reading about the lack of civility in politics, business, diplomacy—you name it. The daily noise has caused our society to be desensitized to people lying, cheating, harassing, bullying, or lacking a moral and ethical compass. In the business world, this desensitization has led to a lack of corporate citizenship and personal accountability among leaders.

Many people accept and even embrace leaders who cross too many lines. While there are a few organized efforts, such as the #MeToo movement, taking a foothold and saying enough is enough, it will take more than one collective voice to change behaviors.

I’ve been in Corporate America for more than 30 years, and one of the most stunning aspects of this desensitization I’ve seen is how frequently senior leaders or people in seats of power in organizations never receive a formal performance review. If revenues are up, profits are solid, and the stock price is on the rise, such indices tend to be the only measures of a senior leader’s performance. There is little, if any, measurement or accountability for the behavior of leadership.

Holding leaders accountable for their behavior

The failure to evaluate leaders’ behavior and citizenship is particularly counterintuitive, as we have all witnessed the “bad actors” and corporate narcissists who sit at the top of organizations and emulate a variety of negative behaviors, from cheating, yelling, and lying to harassment and insensitivity.

Sales and profits mask the bad actor’s behavior, and too many organizations are blinded by metrics; they ignore, delay, procrastinate, and hope that bad behaviors will evaporate in time. Trust me: Such behaviors seldom, if ever, go away. The more one delays in addressing these issues, the bigger the problem becomes.

Elevate corporate citizenship in the performance management system

I am of the opinion that businesses can start a grassroots effort to curb many negative influences in our world, but where should we start? One idea is for human resources professionals to create and implement performance management practices and systems that include a more robust evaluation tied to corporate and individual citizenship.

To do so, organizations should first look inward and ask themselves if their corporate values are aligned and what, if any, accountability leaders have to foster and promote those values. Second, citizenship categories within performance management systems must have just as much teeth to them as traditional metrics. The message should be clear: “We are paying you not just to produce results, but to set an example in the way you behave.”

This balanced approach would lend itself to the annual evaluation process and become the foundation for 360° feedback and executive development over time.

At the end of the day, organizations have to first acknowledge the equal value of results and behaviors and have the integrity to know when a leader’s behaviors are more damaging than any effect on the bottom line.

These suggestions fly in the face of recent trends to get rid of performance management reviews. However, if people are routinely assessed on their behaviors, in addition to financial and operational statistics, such a system has merit. The HR profession could put its mark on business, and society overall, by demanding change across the board and upgrades to the performance management system. This would operate as a grassroots movement that embraces strong moral, ethical, respectful behavior. Wouldn’t this be a lofty but worthwhile objective?

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About The Author

Jay Meschke is president of CBIZ Talent and Compensation Solutions. He oversees a business unit that provides retained executive search, compensation consulting, HR consulting and career transition services. He is a sought-after subject matter expert on issues related to executive search and talent management. For additional insights, visit the CBIZ blog and follow him on Twitter at @jay_meschke.

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