What Does it Take for Your Employees to Get With the Program?

New Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan

I’ve worked in a lot of different places over the course of my career, and if there’s one thing guaranteed to get a universal groan from rank-and-file employees, I’ve found, it’s this: a new program being instituted by top management.

Back in the days before “engagement” became such a big deal, management didn’t worry all that much about how their workforce would adapt to the new way of doing things. They simply dropped it on the staff and left it to the managers to get everyone on board and doing it.

I was thinking about this while reading in The Washington Post about how new Washington Redskins head man Mike Shanahan (the former Super Bowl-winning coach of the Denver Broncos) is handling his highest paid and most difficult-to-handle player, 300 pound-plus defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. Not only was Haynesworth signed to a seven-year, $100 million contact by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder back in 2009, but he just was paid a $21 million bonus in April as part of that deal.

Shanahan came on board in December, and as you might expect, he’s trying to set a new tone for the team given how badly it has under achieved the past 10 years. He not only changed most everything that the team did last year under former coach Jim Zorn, but he made it clear to all Redskins’ veterans that they needed to participate in off season workouts so they could get acclimated to the new system. It wasn’t a request but a command coming from the new Big Boss.

Well, most everyone on the Redskins’ bought into what the new Big Boss wanted, and for anyone who has dealt with a new boss coming in with a new program, this is pretty much standard operating procedure. If you want to survive and thrive, you do what the Big Boss wants you to do no matter how stupid you think the new program is.

It’s a big mistake not to buy into the program

That’s not how Albert Haynesworth rolls, however. He took the big $21 million bonus in April and then decided he would skip out on the off-season workouts since he didn’t like the new system and hoped he might get traded somewhere else.

There are two words for that — big mistake — and you know what is coming next: Not only does the new head coach call out his highly-paid malcontent, but he decides to publicly embarrass him until he bends to his will.

I have seen this in many, many workplaces, and it always ends badly for the worker who decides he doesn’t like the new program. Not only does this royally piss off the Big Boss, but it forces them to make an example of the person who doesn’t want to get with the new program – just as Mike Shanahan did with Albert Haynesworth.

Here’s how columnist Mike Wise described it in The Washington Post:

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Albert Haynesworth, dared by Mike Shanahan to meet him behind the cafeteria before school, got his be-hind kicked royally Thursday. The new kid in school essentially found the biggest bully on the playground, called him out, embarrassed him in front of the whole class — and ushered in an era of striking clarity…

Don’t mess with Coach Control. Don’t toy with Serious Shanny. He doesn’t get mad beneath that perpetually sunburned mug; Mike gets even.

The No. 1 off season distraction was made to run and sweat and run and sweat some more Thursday, until, we were told, Big Al didn’t pass a conditioning test he was guaranteed to fail. For showing up the organization in the off season — for originally wanting out of Washington, then taking $21 million of Daniel Snyder’s money in a front-loaded bonus and, incredibly, failing to show up for workouts — Haynesworth was publicly disciplined and punished.”

I have included a great video compilation here of what the new coach and various teammates have to say about Albert Haynesworth and this situation, but it raises a good question: what do you do if you are a manager, or HR director, and you have people who don’t buy in to the program?


Wisdom for kids — and employees, too

Amazingly, The Washington Post gave some good answers to this basic management question last Sunday in a section of the newspaper labeled “KidsPost.”  Fred Bowen gave three great tips for children dealing with change that are worth remembering no matter if you are a kid, a longtime worker, or an HR professional trying to deal with a new boss or a new program:

So what are the lessons Professor Haynesworth can teach kids? Here are a few.

First, being good in the past is no guarantee you will be good in the future. Haynesworth was terrific for the (Tennessee) Titans in 2008, but that didn’t guarantee he would be as good for the Redskins. It’s the same with kids. Let’s say you were an “A” student last year. That doesn’t mean you’ll get all A’s this year. A new school year is like a new football season: You will have to earn your marks all over again.

The second lesson is to keep working. The difference between being the best and being average in sports, or in school, can be very small. The best players — and the best students — keep working and keep getting better every day. Once an athlete or a student stops working hard, someone else is sure to take the lead.

Finally, listen to your coaches. You may think you have a better way of doing something, but coaches (and teachers) are smart, too. They usually know the best way for a player or a student to improve. Haynesworth wanted to work out on his own and not with the Redskins and their coaches. Now, he can’t pass a simple test to see whether he is in shape for the 2010 season.”

Yes, wisdom sometimes comes “out of the mouths of babes,” but that doesn’t mean it is any less meaningful. Yes, this advice for children may be a bit simplistic, but it speaks to a larger truth – getting people in your business to buy into the changes needed to make the organization a success is a critical management skill you must have to succeed.

And, you can’t succeed if you can’t engage workers and get them to buy into the program. Use whatever will work to make this happen, even if it turns out to be simplistic advice better suited for children.

John Hollon is managing editor of Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. He's also the former founding editor of TLNT and a frequent contributor to ERE and the Fistful of Talent blog.