I’ve helped facilitate change most of my career and I’ve come to recognize the people within organizations who have been shackled by “Golden Handcuffs.” Golden Handcuffs, if you ‘re not familiar with the term, is typically defined as the financial incentives designed to keep an employee from moving on until the organization believes it has recouped its investment in that employee. I define the term a little differently, though. While I do see Golden Handcuffs as a strong incentive to stay with an organization, I believe it is driven by employee desire for financial and life stability and not the organizations desire for a return on its investment.
Long-term employees of an organization gain greater financial security with their tenure. At defined points in tenure, vacation days increase, bonuses may get bigger, and there may be vesting in retirement or stock incentive plans. Organizations plan these incentives to retain their best employees yet, what they ultimately get at about 10 years of tenure is a pool of employees who have been with the company too long to leave without affecting their individual lifestyle. So, they stay on the job doing what little needs to be done to maintain their place in the organization until retirement. Sadly, an employee who joins the company at 30, and is shackled with the Golden Handcuffs at 40, will likely be a mediocre performer for the next 25 years.
It’s no wonder we have a crisis in leadership in many of our larger corporations and nonprofit organizations. Those incentives designed to keep the best and brightest employees end up being the very thing that weighs down the organization. In the largest of organizations, where significant numbers of these employees may hold senior positions, their resistance to change can be so deeply anchored in the current culture, that they effectively prevent the organization from achieving desired and necessary change.
Golden Handcuffs eventually create what I call, “Golden Anchors”; employees who are too vested to leave, too secure in their current position and responsibilities, and too comfortable with their personal lifestyle. Beware of these Golden Anchors, for they are the quiet saboteurs of any change initiative within your organization.
Although not all long-term employees become Golden Anchors, it is critical to identify those who have become anchors to the way thing are (or were), so that you may pull them up when you need to pilot a new course for change. Golden Anchors are easy to spot because they typically have three or more of following characteristics:
- Tenure (usually 10 years or more)
- General resistance to any change in their work or home life
- Noted naysayers to any new idea, process or procedure
- Tagged as “difficult” by others
- Subtlety undermine organizational initiatives in their daily conversations with peers and direct reports
- No desire for additional training or education to further their contribution to the organization
- Performance often just barely meets your expectations
Once you have identified them, you have the difficult task of determining how to eliminate, or at least minimize their impact. Whatever you decide, one thing is certain: You must address, not ignore, your Golden Anchors if you have hope to facilitate change. Golden Anchors are the greatest challenge to effective leadership that exists in organizations today.
Featured Image Source: Alan English from flickr.com under CC License.
David Harkins is a serial entrepreneur with significant experience in branding, strategy, licensing and marketing.
In his spare time, he consults, coaches, speaks, writes, hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order.
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