Get On Board or Get Out…A Leaders Ultimate Ultimatum

Last fall the CEO of AOL made the news by notoriously firing an employee during a “company all” conference call. The recording of the audio and transcript of the event was subsequently released to the internet. While the real-time firing made all the news, reading the transcript further reveals the following ultimatum was directed towards everyone in the room as well, “If you don’t use Patch as a product and you’re not invested in Patch, you owe it to everybody else at Patch to leave.”

I’m sure this happens more than we realize. Just last week the CEO of Paypal made a similar ultimatum when it came to light that many of the employees at Paypal were not using the PayPal app. Essentially, the CEO said to use the app or find another job.

While I obviously don’t know either of these leaders personally, I believe they had the best of intentions before making their ultimatums. I can relate to how passionate they are about what they do and the amount of effort they are putting into the success of their companies. Many leaders are under pressure to deliver results or turn things around so I understand how emotions can get the best of any of us. We all have bad days. We are all human.

But the questions are these:
Are making ultimatums worth it?
Do ultimatums drive desired behaviors?

Perhaps there was an uptick in app downloads in the home office or people who weren’t “on board” actually did leave the company…but I believe there is a cost.

As Seth Godin states, “an ultimatum is an emotional affront, a deliberate break in a relationship.” I believe the second the ultimatum left their mouth, a fracture formed in the relationship between the leader and their workforce. And once a relationship is fractured it can be very hard to restore.

If delivering ultimatums are not the ideal what should a leader do in situations when their expectations do not match the behaviors of their workforce? Here are a few thoughts:

Tell visionary stories in large groups. Culture changes when people believe what they are working on will make a difference and their input matters. Perhaps the Paypal chief could have said something like “I know not everyone is excited about the PayPal app, including our own people, but our goal is to be the best out there. We need you to help us get there. Let’s figure this out together.”

Listen in small groups. Grab random groups of people and ask probing questions. “Why do you think people aren’t using our app?” or “What are your thoughts about why people are disengaged?” as examples. Don’t try and solve things or direct the conversation…just listen. Not everyone will be open to sharing with executives or in a group setting but keep trying.

Connect individually. Leaders should be, as Tom Peters says, MBWA (managing by walking around). Connect with people throughout the day. Look and listen for the office “vibe” or energy. Find out what makes people tick and your understanding of why things are really happening will grow exponentially.

This may be a sensitive subject and I would welcome any thoughts you may have. I am also opening up the first ever Illustrated Agile poll. Please respond below (anonymously if you prefer).

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “Get On Board or Get Out…A Leaders Ultimate Ultimatum

  1. Excellent questions. While I agree that employees should use the company products as much as possible, I don’t think mandating it makes sense. As a CEO, if you are not able to sell the product to your own people, how do you expect to sell it to outsiders? Further, any feedback from within may not be high on the priority list for Product Managers. then what is the point in using it and providing feedback?

    Berating employees in a public call does not help, since it only builds up resentment among employees. In the next call, you will not find any employee participation and such calls quickly degenerate into one-way conversations!