I consulted with a CFO who worked in a building that had maintenance problems. Because of the terms of their lease, building maintenance was their company's responsibilities instead of the building owner's
Due to the low engagement of most staff members, building maintenance work would often “fall” up from the line staff to middle managers and finally land on the desk of a C-level manager who would do the job because it had to be done.
When I asked the C-level executives why they didn’t just pass it back down to someone else to get it done, the consistent response I heard was that they had a culture where line employees would make their life miserable by reporting them to other leadership, whereby they would be tied up in meetings that would take more time and cause more pain than just taking care of the simple janitorial task.
This led to the widespread dropping of all kinds of tasks in their office, from kitchen cleaning duty to handling interpersonal interactions, to, finally, toilet maintenance.
“I was meeting with the Controller in their office for a few minutes and when I got back to my office, I found a toilet seat sitting on the floor. There was no note and nobody had talked to me about it, so I didn’t know what was happening. If it was April Fool’s day, I might have thought that it was a joke. Unfortunately, knowing us, someone probably wanted me to do something about it, but what that something was, I have no idea.”
When I asked them what they did, they told me that they just tossed it in the far corner of their office space. “To date, nobody has said anything to me about it.”
This is indicative of a broken company with a toxic culture. I saw managers who didn’t support each other, staff who weren’t held accountable for the work that needed to be done, and disengaged ownership and leadership. What could be done to save this company?
A company needs strong leadership who will not lead by doing menial tasks, but who will instead lead by example and help create accountability. True leadership isn’t shouldering the burden of every single task simply because nobody else will do it, but instead inspiring and guiding people to want to do these tasks for the benefit of everyone.