Indifference — not caring one bit — is the single most dangerous dynamic that can creep into a company culture. Indifference in business is just one step away from going out of business.
The words “love” and “hate” seem to fit together like bookends in the English language. We say things like, “I have a love-hate relationship with X person,” hence implying the opposite of love is hate. If you casually asked most people, “What is the opposite of love?” the predominant answer would invariably be “hate.”
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Love is a powerful emotion, one of the strongest in the human repertoire. Love requires effort. It takes energy and passion and commitment to love someone or something.
Hate is quite similar, in a sense. Hate also is a powerful emotion, and it takes huge effort to hate. Hate sucks a person’s energy and requires massive investment. It takes time and energy to hate something. This is why so many counselors advise troubled individuals to “let your hatred go.” Hate is draining.
This makes indifference — not caring one bit — the single most dangerous dynamic that can creep into a company culture. When an organization is rife with indifference, it becomes an organization with a limited lifespan. Indifference in business is just one step away from going out of business.
As vigilant leaders, we must all be on the lookout for employees or organizational dynamics that would suggest indifference is creeping into the company. I can vividly recall when I realized once as a CEO we had some pockets of indifference in an organization I had just been recruited to lead: every month, the new market shares would come out. For any brand leader, that day is a big day filled with anticipation! Are my shares up? Down? Are my plans building market share? When I was a brand manager and reports would come in showing shares were down, it ruined my day. Ruined my month! I couldn’t sleep. I would work long hours. I was obsessed with rebuilding share and winning in the market! So here I was, seeing the new shares come out, and on one of the businesses, they lost a massive two share points in one month. Now, that is a huge loss for this kind of business. Well, there was our brand manager, acting like nothing happened. Not a care in the world. Walking around the office joking and wasting time. The first to leave the office every day. No sense of urgency, no concern whatsoever. She was simply indifferent. She didn’t care. She showed up, she got paid, and she went home as soon as she could.
A business being led by indifference is soon going to be dead. So as leaders, we have to keep the passion high, and root out indifference from the organization. One way or the other.
How does one do this? It’s a judgment call. Some people “clean house” and send the indifferent people packing. My personal philosophy has always been to believe in people, give them a chance, believe in their power to grow, change and become inspired. But that’s just me. If you follow along this path, you have a range of options before pulling the trigger on changing the people.
Here are some other approaches:
Hire for passion. I spend most of my interview time looking at intangibles. I can teach people how to business write. I can teach them how to give a presentation. How to sell. How to market a brand. I can teach most business skills effectively. But I can’t teach desire. I can’t teach passion. And passion is worth 10 growth points on a business alone. Start with people who have passion for what they do in life. Because passionate people find passion in all the elements of their life. People who say “I am passionate about things I love” are typically not passionate about anything at all. Passion, like discipline, is a 24/7 kind of thing. Either you are, or you are not.
Treat people right. I was raised to be as respectful to the janitor as I would be to the President. Everybody deserves decency. Yes, we may all have different roles and responsibilities, and we may earn vastly different paychecks, but we are all important and we all deserve equal respect and dignity. People respond when treated right. Are you competitive with the marketplace on benefits? Do you show your people you care for them not only as employees but as people?
Assign meaningful work. I have found everyone wants to make a difference, to contribute to the overall company. Let them. Ask your team to become “brand ambassadors” for your business when they go shopping. Let them help sell and convert consumers! Also, help people understand how important their work is. A receptionist is never “just a receptionist.” They are the face of the entire company. The first person a visitor interacts with. The one who sets the all-important first impression. Let your receptionist know how important the work is.
Inspire. Everybody wants to work for something bigger than just profits. Everybody wants to be a part of a special team. Does your team have an inspiring vision? Does your organization have clear “cultural statements” that embody what you want to be and how you work towards your goals? Do you train your younger managers on effective leadership and people management? People work for people, after all. These are basic parameters to ensuring people come to work inspired.
Finally, recognize that in reality, not everyone can come along for the journey. Sometimes, despite best efforts, indifference remains. Sometimes a person is too bitter — they feel mistreated or they didn’t get the promotion they felt they deserved. They turn negative and then indifferent. And the best solution is a change of scenery for everyone involved. Indifference in an organization is unfortunately a cancer of sorts. It can spread and “infect” others. A strong leader cannot allow such a situation to fester. If, despite best efforts, the indifference remains, we cannot abstain from letting a person or people go, out of fear of change or blind loyalty to past performance. Getting the right people on the bus, and getting the wrong people off the bus, is a critical part of leadership.
At the end of the day success in the marketplace always starts with people. “If you take care of the people, the business will take care of itself.” Even the greatest talent, if indifferent, will fail to drive a business forward. No leader can afford to be indifferent to indifference!