The Trouble with Burning Platforms and Managerial Effectiveness in Organizations

Creating Real Employee Engagement to Drive Business Results

Do you ever feel like your leadership success comes in fits and spurts?

I’ve talked to many business leaders who are struggling to execute their strategic plans. Creating the discipline for sustainable execution that ultimately drives results is often the missing link. This discipline is a key ingredient to hitting your organization’s KPIs and is a vital part of managerial effectiveness.

Some leaders will even say “if only I could create a burning platform to motivate my employees.” But picture that metaphor in a literal sense — you have a bunch of employees standing on a platform, and in order to motivate them to do something, you light it on fire. That won’t foster employee engagement and is certainly not sustainable over time.

Learning from My Own Leadership Mistakes

In my past life, I was the Vice-President of Operations at an aluminum company. The Owner suggested that I take six months to learn, ask questions and build relationships with people. That wasn’t my style. To me that was like spending six months in first gear. I ignored his advice and decided that I needed to create a burning platform to speed up the pace of change.

In an attempt to motivate the company, at one of the first plant meetings that we had with all the employees, I said something like “if you rest on your laurels and think you are really good, you could end up going out of business from complacency.”  My message fell on deaf ears. After my speech, no one clapped and no rallying cries came forth from any of the workers.

The sense of urgency that I was trying to create took a step backward. My credibility with my team dropped and future attempts to try new things were frequently met with resistance.

I realized my leadership blind spot and the error in my ways. I hoped that it wasn’t too late to fix the damage that I had done.

Creating Employee Engagement in a More Sustainable Way

I decided to ask more questions, listen to what was bothering employees and try to remove those barriers in a timely fashion. I also created a system of celebrating wins and providing recognition for employees to create more engagement and collaboration among team members.

And I built a management tool that provided useful performance information to the team. I didn’t need a burning platform. People could see that there was a lot of room for improvement on their own.

I used positive reinforcement when we won, made information more visible and pointed out where we could do better. It was the missing link that I had been looking for to truly create change.

Working Shoulder to Shoulder to Remove Roadblocks

A key component to our success was the amount of time that we spent working shoulder to shoulder with our front-line Supervisors and Managers. My leadership team and I saw first-hand what processes that caused frustration for them and their employees. By doing so, the impact of those frustrations seemed more real and our motivation to remove those impediments was much higher.

I think that we also became a much tighter team with our front-line Supervisors and Managers because they could see we were living and breathing the challenges they faced with them. We were taking actions to make each day better, even if the wins were small.

This involvement and trust building took many months to create. But eventually our front-line leaders were better able to identify the problems themselves and articulate how they could be solved. As a collective, we were much more effective at driving change in the business.

And we didn’t need a burning platform to make it happen. I realize now, that platforms aren’t meant to be burned.