Loyalty is a lagging indicator, so don’t ask for loyalty and expect it

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If you are a manager, you may value loyalty in your employees.  You may even express this in your presentation to your employees as part of your values.  However, if you ask for loyalty, then you are attempting a short cut.  Loyalty is a lagging indicator that you can obtain only several years down the road.  If you treat it like a leading indicator by asking for it initially, then you probably have lost some loyalty in your employees, defeating the purpose.  Here’s how it works:

Let’s say you are a new manager introducing yourself to your team, and you are explaining to the team your values.  You say, “I value loyalty.”  This is very likely to be heard by the employees as, “I want you to be loyal to me, even though I have done nothing to earn your loyalty.” 

Then, unless you then delineate all of the ways you plan to systematically create loyalty, it is likely that your employees will further interpret this as, “. . .and since I’m asking you to be loyal without having done anything, this is my only plan to secure loyalty, and I have no plans beyond this to earn your loyalty.”  

This further gets interpreted by your employees from whom you are asking loyalty as, “Since I have no plans to do anything to earn your loyalty, I am not a very good manager.  I have already undermined my ability as a manager within the first few words of my first presentation.” 

Finally, the moment you ask people to be loyal to you, or state that you value loyalty, you are encouraging your employees to interpret this as “I don’t think that you are loyal to me (and maybe I’m not loyal to you).”  After all, if you bring it up, it must be an issue with you.

Let’s say you are in charge of a division of 100+ people, and you have done this in your first “all hands” meeting.  You have just put your organization in conflict with you. You have undermined your own values, and you have, by your own definition, over 100 disloyal employees.  You have turned the “all hands” meeting –what could have been an exciting, positive situation–into a cringe-worthy “Oh brother, not another crappy manager/leader” moment.   

The basic problem is that loyalty is a lagging indicator, not a leading indicator.  When you ask for results on a lagging indicator — whether it is loyalty, profits, increased sales, making budget, increased efficiency — this creates a worry in the organization that you expect results (not a bad thing), but haven’t really thought through how you are going to achieve results (this is a bad thing).  This puts the members of the organization in a bind – they now have to figure out how they are going to achieve results, but without a roadmap on how to do this.   This means that they are encouraged to make up how to get to these results.  Here are some sample undesirable behaviors you may then observe: 

–People parroting your values to align themselves with you “I value loyalty”, “Profits are important to me too” (but not necessarily doing anything about it)

–People writing you off as someone who wants results but isn’t going to lead to this, so they do their own thing and remember to reposition any work they do as already in alignment to your lagging indicator values

–People stating their own individual past actions that replicate the results, “I increased profits with this initiative”, “I’ve been at the company for 10 years!”

–A cottage industry of short-cut ideas and initiatives are developed that start with, “This creates loyalty!  This creates profits!”

In sum, by emphasizing the lagging indicator as the thing, you are asking for undifferentiated activity toward that thing.  You are ceding control, encouraging short cuts, and perhaps even creating sycophants.

So instead of positioning it only as a value, you need to add that you will work toward it.  You can position it as something that you will “strive toward” or “build toward.”  Here are some examples of how you can position this:

“I will work to make sure this is a place is an environment and organization you want to be loyal to.”

“I want to make sure that our team builds sustainable systems and processes that lead toward increased profitability.”

In these examples, you can express the goal and results of what you are striving toward, but leave it open to the specifics of what is to be done to achieve it, and that it is what you’ll be working on as the manager going  forward.  Doing this prevents people from mixing up immediate actions and short term expectations with the long term goal or desired state. 

You want to make sure you position your values so that it encourages creating an environment and actions that lead to your values, not create the immediate expectation that people can snap to your values – because you’ll get just that, and it could get ugly. 

In my next post, I’ll discuss the impact on high and low performers when you encourage loyalty, and it isn’t pretty!

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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