Do “Employee Engagement Neanderthals” Run your Organization?

February 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Neanderthals lived about 40,000 years ago and yet they still seem to be running many of our organizations.  Perhaps you have personally witnessed some of these behaviors of the Neanderthals in your business.

Based on solid archeological research, scientists have identified specific behaviors of the original Neanderthals.  These included socializing in small groups and rarely venturing outside that group.  They viewed new people with skepticism and fear.  They lacked the ability to deal with different types of people.

Neanderthals also lacked the ability to innovate.  Their tools changed very little over thousands of years of existence.  They were known as neophobic because they would tend to reject new ideas or avoid trying new things.  Moreover, Neanderthals relied on power, authority, and status to get their way and to maintain control.

If you believe our organizations must adapt to the complexity of the new knowledge economy in order to thrive shouldn’t our leaders evolve beyond the characteristics of Neanderthals?  Furthermore, if you accept employee engagement as a key factor in our ability to adapt, I believe you will want to take note of the following behaviors of the current Neanderthals while asking, “What role can I play to avoid these behaviors myself and what role can I play to provide feedback to who behave like Neanderthals?


They display favoritism toward those they like.  They tend to exhibit a bias toward those who share their view points, their communication styles, and/or their characteristics.  They surround themselves with “YES” people.  Although they claim to have an open door policy and to be open to new ideas, their actions belie those claims.  They subtly favor certain people and certain ideas.

Favoritism often comes from the desire to evaluate individuals and the failure to evaluate and improve the system within which they work.

The inability to anticipate others’ possible emotional reactions

Current Neanderthals often fail in their ability to demonstrate emotional intelligence.  They tend to communicate in ways that ignore others’ possible negative emotional reactions.  They discount the impact on productivity and quality of the emotional state of mind of employees.  They ignore their role as an influencer of a positive emotional environment and how that environment is a key factor in implementing change and performance improvement.

Rely too heavily on their authority for decisions

Neanderthals believe they should be all knowing (omniscient) and all powerful (omnipotent) in order to get results.  Of course they can never possess either of these traits but that does not stop them from pretending.  Instead of pushing decisions to those closest to the “work action” they feel compelled to control results with quick decisions and they often do it with bias and a failure to use relevant data.  They like to “know best” what to do and they tend to believe only their intellect can solve the problems in the organization.  They often ignore the possibility that other might have better information.


Blame others for failures

Neanderthals create an environment that generates failure and then blame the people who make the mistakes.  They rarely appreciate how a system works.  They view the parts of the organization as the cause for failures or mistakes.  They focus on evaluating people and holding them accountable for their individual achievements while they ignore the impact their decisions have on their mistakes people make.


If you think you might be a Neanderthal or if you know someone who is you can change yourself and you can influence them to change too.  One of the root causes of this behavior is our mind sets.  To change this please read about how to study a system and how to understand systems thinking.  Read about employee engagement.  Study material about complexity and chaos theory.  Begin to realize that the quality of the interactions between the parts of a system is more important than the quality of the individual parts of that system.

If you are willing to study these ideas you will then appreciate how our current way of thinking must evolve beyond the Neanderthal mind set.  You will begin to change your behaviors and that will begin to influence others to change.


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