The Resistance

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership



I was slightly amused at the recent NY Times anonymous editorial about the “Internal Resistance” to the President’s leadership. “Welcome to our world,” I said out loud to no one in particular. They are lucky that this is out in the open. We in the private sector rarely get such a heads up!

According to Gallup for over two decades U.S. employee engagement has ranged from a low of 26% to a high of around 34%. They say that on average, 30% of employees are engaged over the last 18 years or so.

That means that fully 70% on average are disengaged. And I’m told that a significant portion of the disengaged employees is actually working against the direction of leadership.

Passive Aggressive

I first became acquainted with this “phenomenon” of disengaged employees working against leadership during the implementation of large Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. To me, it looked like we had early adopters of the new systems, about 10% of the workforce, and those who would, under no circumstances, willingly use the system. The last group comprised perhaps another 10% of the employees. The remaining 80% was what I called the “wait and see” crowd.

The disturbing thing was that those who were the naysayers were not content to just wait things out. Many in that group poisoned the whole change initiative by actively undermining pilot programs, systems analysis and documentation of current business processes. It was quite disheartening. The best we could do was identify the naysayers and make sure they had little influence on the project overall.

Big is Bad

When it comes to major change in an organization, big is bad. That is to say, the larger the organization, the more likely it is that leadership has “lost control” of the culture. If the culture isn’t one of high-functioning teams and constant improvement, then passive aggressive behavior is likely to be the norm. That is why I assert that a CEO has only one job — To actively manage the corporate culture. It all starts with values. So making sure that the values are defined, understood and lived every day is the only hope we have.

“Values should underpin Vision, which dictates Mission, which determines Strategy, which surfaces Goals that frame Objectives, which in turn drives the Tactics that tell an organization what Resources, Infrastructure, and Processes are needed to support a certainty of Execution.”

Mike Myatt—1988


There may well be people in this world who, no matter what, will be naysayers and subversives. I’m convinced though, that generally if our organization is truly committed to agreed-upon values, that most employees will be engaged. They will embrace the Vision and Mission of the organization and be willing to work toward achieving them.

As you can see from the graph above, U.S. employee engagement has been going in the right direction since about 2009. The trend has been a slow and steady increase in engagement.

I am not sure why that is. I suspect, however, it has more to do with people being grateful for having gainful employment than it is because of shared values. Exit interview data tells us that employees leave their managers and not their jobs.

Mismatch Means Resistance

A mismatch in values will result in employees leaving, if we’re lucky, or becoming disengaged and subversive if we aren’t lucky. Therefore it is imperative that an organization carefully establish core values and strictly enforce those values.

That means hiring to values, not to technical competency. It is much more expensive for an organization to have high turn-over or to deal with toxic individuals than it is to take the time to hire to carefully defined values.

A leader has only one significant job and that is to actively manage the organization’s culture — from beginning to end and throughout the whole organization. Values underpin everything.