Last week we appropriated some beloved childhood characters to better identify internal organizational influencers. Now let’s dig in on those Eeyore employees. You will recall, either from A.A. Milne, or last week’s post that Eeyores are the grumpy, negative folks for whom nothing bad is surprising and everything good will eventually turn to sh*t. Such fun.
Eeyores are incredibly valuable, even if they make you want to cry. The thing about them is they keep coming to work. That could be because they haven’t got anything better to do, but I would suggest that if they haven’t been fired, they’re probably more than competent, and if they haven’t quit, they’re not without hope. The difference between an Eeyore and an ex-employee is, in fact, hope.
Talent is Scarce; Messed Up Employer Brands Aren’t
The grumbling, eye-rolling and malicious texting are, fundamentally, acts of hope (plus, sometimes, they’re very funny). Eeyores want things to improve. They want decent products, happy customers, entertaining holiday parties, fair wages, and for people to stop stealing their yogurt. They’re the ones calling out the tone-deaf managers, the wasteful spending, the resource gaps and the failing processes.
The truth is we need our Eeyores as bellwethers of dysfunction more than they need us as objects of derision. Talent is scarce; messed up stuff isn’t.
We also need to be very careful about how we engage with them as organizational influencers. I don’t know about you, but 20 minutes with an Eeyore in a small space can pretty much suck all the joy out of my work day. If you have even a five percent Eeyore population on the loose in your organization, they can have a pretty profound downward effect on morale and engagement. So what do we do?
I think we need to embrace these folks (which will likely irritate the heck out of them, FYI). Eeyores in offices, as in the storybooks, feel ignored and marginalized, and the act of inviting them out into the open actually takes a little of the sour wind out of their sails. If you can stomach it, try getting a few of them in to a small focus group, where they can vent and grumble and enable each others’ downward spirals of misery. Properly facilitated, this may uncover some problems you’re missing, while releasing the pent up negativity and frustration these folks have been oozing into the corporate culture. Poorly facilitated, it may turn into an insurrection.
Embracing Your Eeyores
Even though Eeyores love to complain, in my experience, they also like to solve problems, which is good news if you can get the bitterness out of the way and put them to work on making things better.
Managers of Eeyores may be tempted to dismiss them as Negative Nellies, which they may be; but they may also be a symptom of something going on in that team or in the relationships with adjacent teams, suppliers, customers or others. Eeyore behaviour, in other words, ought to be investigated, particularly if it’s coming from a previously neutral or positive person or team.
It’s also key to take seriously what they’re whining about. Remember, they aren’t the only ones thinking these things; they’re just the only ones saying them. A sure way to shut down an Eeyore is to start fixing stuff, letting them be part of the solution and then enlisting them as ambassadors for the solution they helped put in place.
Of course there will be Eeyores who are so invested in their Eeyore-ish personas that nothing will really make things better, or get them to stop complaining, and that’s okay too. Meeting them half way with some open-minded discussion demonstrates to the rest of the employees that well-intentioned critical commentary is as valuable to the organization as the happy stuff. The key is to make sure your engagement with them is visible to everyone.
Another area where your bellwether Eeyores are helpful is when some corporate change is in the air. If you’ve got some M&A or downsizing or new product launches in the pipeline, finding an Eeyore or two and testing your key messages may help find the holes in your change communications strategy.
Next time we’ll look for some ways to tame those Tiggers.
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BizMarketer is written by Elizabeth Williams
I help companies have better conversations
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org