Long ago, as a very young and green Human Resource professional in a giant manufacturing complex, I was part of a department that routinely conducted work climate surveys to gauge the attitudes of the nearly 2000 employees working on the shop floor.
The survey results at this particular complex consistently demonstrated distrust and dislike of the senior management at regional headquarters. There appeared to be a widely held feeling that the Regional Vice President “just doesn’t care about us.”
Like all diligent HR professionals, we fed the information back to the Vice President in as constructive a format as we could devise. The theme we promoted, back then, was known as MBWA, or Management by Walking Around”. There were many earnest discussions explaining the value of making casual visits to the plant floor, asking employees about their families, their favorite sports teams, or soliciting their ideas on business improvements. The VP indicated an understanding and acceptance of the concept, and immediately attempted to internalize a change of behavior.
One year later, as was typical, human resources initiated another survey. The results: not only was there no improvement, but the VP received even lower scores than before. HR next engaged groups of employees from different departments in focus group sessions to ask one question: Why?
The feedback varied somewhat, but can be largely characterized by one person’s trenchant comment:
“We knew Mr. X was doing what would impress us, and could tell that he really didn’t give a damn about whether our kids had a cold.”
All of us, including the human resources department, failed to take into account the little noted, but always present, BSDM- the BS Detector Mechanism.
Almost all people, regardless of economic status, education, class, race or any other marker one can name, possess a fairly well honed antenna for “authentic” behavior on the part of their co-workers, colleagues and, particularly, their supervisors in the workplace. They know, although most can’t identify how or why, when the person with whom they are interacting genuinely cares about their comments, feelings and opinions, and when that concern is feigned.
Employees will tolerate, and even embrace, vast differences in values and lifestyles between themselves and their bosses if they viscerally sense a human connection between them- a sense of the shared humanity that bonds all of us in the experience of living and working. What they will consistently reject is even a faint whiff of what they deem as faux concern and interest, particularly if delivered with a slick smile and fake bonhomie.
Leaders should assess whether they can identify what attributes and interests their employees possess with which they can genuinely, deeply identify, and focus on those when developing a relationship. Otherwise, the BSDM will kick in, all efforts to lead this way will backfire, and the delicate supervisor/subordinate dynamic may be irreparably damaged.