Zuckerberg, Musk and how to reduce bad executive decisions

Top managers sometimes make stupid decisions. The goal of any support group is to help prevent those decisions, or to quickly point out the ill effects of the decisions so they can be reversed before they cause terminal damage to a business. You can’t live without solid — and often real-time — stats either, as you’re rarely turned on before a bad decision has been made.

Instead, you need to come up with and present a compelling argument to limit the damage.

My bad approach to a problem

Years ago, when I was working for IBM, I had the opportunity to meet the head of my division and speak candidly. The rule was that I couldn’t be held responsible for anything I said. (I expect that policy to be reconsidered after my meeting, because the first words that came out of my mouth were, “Are you a complete idiot?”) I had just joined the Internal Audit division, but before that I had sales compensation — and I have a degree in a related field. So I knew how commissions worked and knew that the division chief had just effectively killed the division.

What did he do? He took the sales compensation program and turned it around. Instead of the low, fixed salary and high commission that many salespeople made seven figures on, he wanted a high pay/low commission model. The change prompted all the top sellers to quit. Revenues fell by as much as two-thirds, sending the division deep into the red and costing him his job.

The problem: executives who don’t understand motivation and productivity

It amazes me how many top executives don’t understand the tools used to motivate and attract employees. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that he wasn’t happy with the performance of the employees, so he started changing the performance metrics mid-year to pick out the lowest achievers. He may have told everything effectively instead Facebook employees to find jobs at other companies. Zuckerberg is not alone in doing stupid things. Elon Musk’s Recent Comments About Twitter’s Employees led to dismissal from that company, and his comments about working from home at Tesla undoubtedly do the same.

As a reminder, this is happening in a still very tight labor market.

Part of the job of any workforce (IT is a workforce organization) is to prevent top executives like Zuckerberg and Musk from making stupid decisions that could hurt the company. That’s where employee stats come in; the ability to investigate and pull through on employees is critical to potentially reversing a bad decision before the outcome is irreparable. Admittedly, neither Musk nor Zuckerberg seem to admit mistakes, let alone use metrics to avoid them, and both are known for being vindictive. (That is something Sheryl Sandberg seems to be learning right now.) So the presentation of statistics alone can be problematic and reason enough not to work for both men. The response to an internal memo from SpaceX employees probably also has key people thinking about leaving that relatively successful company.

There are currently major staff shortages in the tech sector, so it doesn’t seem wise to let employees leave. With the right employee metrics — looking for things like more searches on LinkedIn or Glassdoor, longer lunches or time off during the day, or union recruiting — a business leader can recalibrate the messaging and determine whether those messages mitigate the problem. (Metrics can also let you know that you may need to consider a company that offers more support to its employees and doesn’t suffer from off-the-rails executives.)

Lesson learned?

It’s something executives seem to do far too often, as most have no idea how these things relate to productivity. Musk and Zuckerberg aren’t the only ones who mistreat employees, but if employees are adequately monitored, at least you can figure out how bad the problem is before a company becomes unviable. And you can use that information to potentially reduce or reverse what those at the top of the food chain are doing.

After all, we all work in a numbers company. It should be unacceptable not to use data to guarantee the care, nutrition and most importantly employee loyalty that are critical to success. When senior executives misbehave, it’s up to those who understand the real issues and can get statistics to convince them to reverse a bad decision.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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