TAG Consulting

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The Mystery of the Angry CEO, Part Two


To recap our mystery….

We were working with a client in the Midwest who faced a seemingly unsolvable mystery. Their employee survey said their people longed for more training, but their product knowledge survey results showed that they were a well equipped workforce, indeed! To compound matters, there were reports that the CEO was a destructively angry person but no one had ever seen him lose his temper in person. We had three clues:

Clue #1 – Employees think they need more training.
Clue #2 –  Employees appear to be really well trained.
Clue #3 – CEO is reported to have a temper problem, but not one has ever actually seen him angry.

Thoroughly confused, we met with the Executive VP. She told us about her job. While she had a mostly operational role she fancied herself a ‘problem solver’.

“I have a line outside my door on Mondays”, she told us. “I tell everyone that if they have a problem I am the person to see and I will take care of things for them. And they line up!”

She was pretty pleased with herself.

All of a sudden, it hit us (cue mystery solved music here)…

She was communicating that she was a problem solver. That was a piece of data to the employees. And data requires interpretation. So their interpretation was twofold.

Interpretation #1 – “If we have a problem, we are incompetent to solve that problem. We need a problem-solver”

Interpretation #2 – “If we have a problem, we’d better go to the VP, not the CEO. Therefore something must be wrong with the CEO. Like a bad temper.”

Data cries out for interpretation. Interpretation demands action. Actions demand  reactions. And pretty soon, people are stuck.

Our suggestion to the VP – try closing your door for a few months. It worked.

But what if we (and she) had gone with the prevailing interpretation? Agreed that the employees needed more training. We’d have come up with an elaborate and costly plan for employee training . And then we’d have addressed the angry CEO by saying he should be fired or, at a minimum, required to complete an anger management program.

In either situation, the solution would have become the problem.

That’s why it’s so important to diagnosis clearly and well and why it’s important to remember that our unchallenged interpretations set our framework for viewing reality and, all too often, lead to the wrong actions and responses.

If you have a challenging problem in your organization today, make sure you question your interpretations and those of your team before responding.
If you have recently addressed a challenging problem, only to find that action has not helped (and things are maybe even worse), try reviewing your initial interpretations and asking if they were correct to begin with.