Are We Killing Performance to Protect the Fragile?

by | Feb 2, 2024

A male friend of mine was deep in conversation with a female colleague about a project that was going well but needed to take a different approach for the second portion of it. In a moment of candor, he says, “For this next phase we are going to need to be aggressive.” Fast forward to the next day, he’s blindsided by a call from her boss, another woman, who doesn’t mince her words: “I don’t care the context, you can never say the word aggressive to any women on my team. It’s a trigger.” This real-life scenario begs the question: In our quest to be sensitive, are we sacrificing straightforward communication and, in turn, performance?

This incident isn’t just about semantics; it’s a snapshot of the tightrope we walk in modern workplace communication. Using the word ‘aggressive’ in a professional context, to emphasize a push in performance, suddenly lands my friend in hot water. But let’s cut through the noise: Are we becoming so delicate in our language that we’re stifling the very essence of effective communication?

The boss’s reaction – “you can never say the word aggressive to any women on my team” – could be seen as a tad overreactive. While it’s vital to avoid genuinely offensive or harmful language, creating a minefield out of words that are standard in business lexicon might be a stretch. Are we nurturing a culture where people are walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around every word, for fear of inadvertently offending someone?

In the rush to judge words, are we forgetting to consider intention? My friend’s intent wasn’t to offend but to motivate, to inject some much-needed dynamism into a lagging project. When did we start equating the word ‘aggressive’ in a business context with a personal attack? It’s time we differentiate between language meant to demean and language aimed at driving performance.

It’s time to ask ourselves: Are we breeding a culture of hypersensitivity that undermines resilience? A workspace where every word is tiptoed around is not conducive to the free flow of ideas. Instead, we should be fostering an environment where words are weighed for their intent and context, not just for their potential to offend.

Yes, we must be mindful of our language, but not to the point where it impedes candid and effective communication. It’s about striking a balance – being considerate without being overly cautious. We need to bring back a sense of resilience and understanding in our interactions, recognizing that not every word spoken with the intent to drive results is a veiled attack.

In summary, this incident isn’t just about a word; it’s a reflection of the larger issue of how we’re navigating the complex terrain of workplace communication. Let’s not create a culture where people are too scared to speak for fear of offending. Instead, let’s aim for a workplace where respect, empathy, and efficiency coexist, where the intent behind our words is given as much importance as the words themselves.

Elsewhere In Culture

Walmart says managers can now earn up to $400,000 a year — no college degree needed

Walmart’s initiative to elevate store managers’ compensation to as much as $400,000 a year, including significant stock grants, represents a transformative approach in fostering a culture of ownership and alignment within the organization. By enabling managers to literally become owners through stock grants, Walmart is embedding a powerful motivator for leadership to engage deeply with their roles, driving store performance to new heights. This approach reflects a critical understanding that a company’s culture thrives when employees are incentivized to act and think like owners, fostering a sense of responsibility and direct investment in the company’s success.

By opening managerial positions to individuals without college degrees and highlighting the possibility for hourly workers to ascend to these roles, Walmart is promoting a culture of inclusivity and opportunity. This strategy not only democratizes access to high-earning potential within the company but also challenges traditional norms around career advancement and educational prerequisites. However, it’s important for Walmart to navigate the implications of these changes carefully, especially considering the potential for widening wage disparities within the company, to ensure that the culture of ownership and empowerment extends across all levels of the organization.

UPS to Cut 12,000 Jobs and Mandate Return to Offices Five Days a Week

In response to UPS’s decision to eliminate 12,000 jobs as a strategy to economize $1 billion in expenses, this move highlights a decisive point in the company’s management of economic downturns and evolving market needs. The focus on downsizing, mainly impacting managers and contractors, marks a significant shift in organizational structure and operational tactics, closely tied to the company’s culture. Driven by a lackluster sales forecast and the necessity to adjust to a projected growth of less than 1% in the US small package market (excluding Amazon) for 2024, in addition to coping with increased labor costs due to union wage rate hikes, this decision reflects a critical moment for UPS in rethinking its workflow and efficiency paradigms. The push towards reducing fixed costs, particularly by trimming salaried staff, mirrors a wider industry move towards streamlined operational models in the face of financial strain and shifts in consumer behavior.

CFO Brian Newman’s remark about a fundamental change in UPS’s operational method, with no expectation for the reinstated positions as volume rebounds, signals a profound shift in the company’s culture towards enhanced sustainability and cost-efficiency. While this approach is vital from a fiscal perspective, it bears significant implications for the company culture, indicating a pivot towards increased operational efficiency but also requiring a reassessment of how employee satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty are nurtured. As UPS steers through these turbulent times, the effectiveness with which it executes these reductions and articulates its forward-looking strategies to its workforce will be pivotal in sustaining a constructive and engaged company culture. This period also offers UPS an opportunity to affirm its dedication to its employees through clear communication and support for those impacted, ensuring that its cultural principles are in harmony with its strategic goals.

𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝘄𝗶𝗹𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗼 𝗴𝗶𝘃𝗲 𝘂𝗽 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘄𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗯𝗲𝗹𝗶𝗲𝘃𝗲 𝗶𝗻? 𝗔𝗿𝗲 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗱𝘆 𝘁𝗼 𝗺𝗮𝗸𝗲 𝗵𝗮𝗿𝗱 𝗰𝗵𝗼𝗶𝗰𝗲𝘀 𝗻𝗼𝘄, 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗻 𝗶𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘆’𝗿𝗲 𝘁𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗵𝗼𝗿𝘁 𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗺, 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗮𝗸𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝘀𝘁𝗮𝘆𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗿𝘂𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝘃𝗮𝗹𝘂𝗲𝘀 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗹𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝗿𝘂𝗻?

Check out our latest Culture Leaders Podcast episode. We’ve got Greg Satell, an Author and Wharton lecturer, talking about what it really means to stand by your values.

Every company talks a good game about values, but the real test is in the decisions they make, especially when it could hit their profits.

So, how does your company actually put its values into practice? Are they just nice words in a mission statement, or something more?

These questions aren’t easy, but they’re crucial if you want to lead genuinely and make a real difference.

Get some insights on how to make real changes in your organization from Greg Satell. Tune into the podcast episode here: