The trouble with asking employes to let it all hang out, most great leaders find, is that some people do just that. And bosses, as a rule, don't like what they see, hear or feel when they ask workers to say what is on their minds.
A few executives actually learn from these exercises in getting candid feed-back from their employes. What most learn, unfortunately, is that they will never have another candid feed-back session with their employes. Too painful!
So three cheers (well, at least 21/2 cheers) for Agency for International Development chief John J. Gilligan. Although he just got an 82 percent "unfavorable" rating from a worker poll, Gilligan has decided not ot hide, whitewash or launder the results. He's gone public, telling employes and the world he will try to do better,.
A few weeks back, Gilligan got the AID employe newspaper to run a Performance Evaluation Report form in an issue distributed to all workers. The idea was that employes could, without being identified, rate Gilligan and his top staff.
Several Gilligan aides suggested it was not a wise thing to do. They feared (correctly as it turns out) that the chief might read things he did not like. Since aides are paid by the taxpayers to keep chief happy, it was their duty to save him from potential heartache and unkind comments from workers.
Gilligan, however, said it was a good idea and that he wanted it done. At that point all his aides agreed it was a heck of a good and they thought it should be done. It was done.
Only about 8 percent of AID's staff took part in the voting. When the results were made known to Gilligan, he said his first reaction was "to ask for a recount." But gilligan, a veteran politician, told AID employes he decided against it "because recounts have value only in close contests." This one was not close. Eight out of 10 respondents said things were bad.
Only 6 percent of the AID "voters" gave an "outstanding" rating to "Gilligan's Island" - the nickname given the administrator and his top staff. Twelve percent said things were "satisfactory." The rest said things were bad, some in rather graphic, unbureaucratic English.
Gilligan went public with the unfavorable poll, reporting on it in this week's AID newspaper.
The brickbats he got from employees came from four primary sore spots. They said that Gilligan:
Didn't appreciate career employees, and had failed to demonstrate loyalty to them or to AID, which has been undergoing major mission changes.
Failed to communicate with employees and sometimes did not even acknowledge notes and memos sent to his office concerning problems in AID.
Didn't fight hard enough for money from Congress to continue programs and permit AID to promote employes, or prevent layoffs of staff.
Surrounded himself with an "Ohio Mafia" (from his days as governor) that included noncareer, inexperienced aides who were long on political savvy (and loyalty) but short on ability to run a big government program.
Part of Gilligan's troubles, he believes, stems from remarks he made on a midwest television talk show, in which he said that one of AID's problems is that it had too many overpaid, over-aged workers in Washington, and not enough staff in the field. Shortly after the television show, this column ran a portion of the transcript which made Washington area AID workers aware of, and angry over, the comments.
Gilligan says he has learned a lot after almost a year in the job, and among other things now feels that AID has more than it share of top-notch, dedicated professionals. And he says he will improve communications between top management and the work force.
"... I asked for it, and I got it," Gilligan says.
The problem won't go away overnight. Maybe never. But he did ask for it, he did get it, and he says he will try to improve things. Maybe his next report card will be better. Mean-time, it represents a nice try from the top man.