I left the presentation with the approval I was seeking but with a significantly lower opinion of the senior executive team. If anything, they should have been the first ones to evacuate the building. If the senior executive team were taken out by a freak fire, then it would have had a massive impact on the bank. (Though some might argue it would have been a positive impact!) It struck me as hypocritical that they expected everyone else to stop what they’re doing, yet they were allowed to continue as if nothing was going on.
Unfortunately, double standards across seniority lines are very common in organisations. By analysing the results of climate surveys that we’ve run at iClimateSurvey. com, we’ve found that a very high percentage of staff feels that double standards is a big problem. The proportion typically ranges between 15% and 75%. As one employee wrote on an anonymous discussion board: “Here, it’s all about ‘do as I say but not as I do’... there is an invisible barrier which divides us – above the barrier you can pretty much do whatever you want; below the barrier you’ve got to watch your step... unfortunately I’m on the wrong side of the barrier.” The problem is that very often senior managers are unaware that their actions are perceived as double standard by staff. When 37-year- old Marissa Mayer was appointed CEO of Yahoo! in July 2012, it came as a bit of a shock that she was pregnant when she started. One of the more controversial changes s he i nst i t uted was to ban the practice of telecommuting, forcing employ- ees to report to the office. According to Mayer: “Speed and quality are often sacrif iced when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” Employees could see she meant business when she took only two weeks of maternity leave after giving birth.
However, a short while later, Mayer built a nursery in her office so she could bring her baby to work. This angered many employees, especially those former stay-at-home workers. The fact that Mayer built the nursery at her own expense is of little consequence – this simply wouldn’t be an option for the rank-and-file employee.
When employees perceive that double standards exist in the workplace, it breeds mistrust and an us-versus-them mentality. It makes it extremely difficult to create an inclusive culture built on integrity.
We see the effect when we tell our kids to stop using dirty language, when a day before they heard us swearing at a taxi driver. We see the effect when Jacob Zuma tells us to tighten our belts while he is splashing out our taxpayers’ money on his private residence. Or when he tells us that stamping out corruption is important while at the same time his own party is embroiled in countless questionable schemes.
People in leadership positions should understand that they need to hold themselves to a higher standard than those who follow them – not a lower standard. Leaders should understand that followers are conflicted when they observe behaviour which is inconsistent with their words. This leads to erosion of trust, and, in extreme cases, rebellion. Leaders would do well to remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Dr. Gavin Symanowitz is an actuary and founder of iClimateSurvey.com and FeedbackRocket.com.