ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

December 1997


Whole Foods Includes Whole Self
Capitalizing on Human Resources Encourages Growth at Whole Foods Market

Making Waves With Employee Recognition
Rewards and Recognition Practices at Sea World

Honeywell's High Flying Division Shows Company The Way To Participation
Union-Management Relations Help Airplane Part Manufacturer Excel


Freedom's Just Another Word
by Peter Block

Highs and Lows Of Participation
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Views For A Change

John Runyan Responds

Your question cuts to heart of a dilemma facing virtually all leaders, managers and workers in today's' job market. At a time when most businesses desperately need the best ideas and efforts of all of their people to successfully compete, these enterprises are fundamentally changing the nature of the employment contract that they have with their people. From a time when companies could assure continuous employment to good workers, we are fully immersed in a time where rapid change in the world and marketplaces creates conditions where no one is assured of their specific job or on-going employment, no matter what the job is or how well they do it - even in a growing business. In this context, the keys to building "burning levels of job commitment" within our organizations from all employees seem elusive or out of reach.

From my point of view, all members of businesses in this situation have to wrestle with the basic work of developing a new employment contract, at least on the crucial psychological/motivational level. In some cases these implied assumptions and commitments can be translated into writing - but here I am focusing on what goes on in people's heads and hearts.

Speaking to you as the leader of your enterprise, I can offer advice in three areas as you seek the maximum level of commitment possible from your people:

o Be realistic. Deal with your employees as adults. Pursue a mix of motivation in your employees that reflects their self-interest as well as your company's interests.
o Invest in your people and reward them with significant shares in your mutual success.
o Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.

The new employment contracts that I see emerging in many places are based on tough new premises. In the face of increased change and competition from all directions, even the best of companies can no longer assure people of steady, continued employment in given jobs and teams for any extended period of time. Re-directing, re-focusing, re-engineering, and right-sizing are and will be the ongoing reality in the business world for as far as I can see. As a result, employees have no other choice than to be ready for change, to be flexible and adaptable in their outlooks and attitudes, and to be continuously improving in their work-related thinking and skills. They need to be highly responsible for themselves -continually motivating, educating and developing themselves and their careers so that they are always competitive in the job market inside and outside of their company.
So first - tell them this. Don't pull any punches. Don't soften the hard edge of the demand that the marketplace is putting on all of you. Then listen to their reactions and responses. Tell them again. Listen some more...Do the hard work of being the message-giver, message-receiver, coach and mentor.

And don't expect them to quickly be happy, committed "in a burning way" and fulfilled in this brave new world. Instead, ask them to join you in a realistic commitment for however long they work with you. Acknowledge the realities and the limits of your commitment to them. Call on their more mature, more adult sides. Then treat them as adults in all the ways that you and your managers can conceive. And don't ever drop back into a patriarchal, patronizing mode with them that can confuse and undercut your message and your expectations of them. Fundamentally, people are smart. If you back up your main message with consistent actions that manifest respect and high expectations, those that truly want to work for and with you in this new world will find the ways to be fast learners and real contributors.

Second - build their commitment by investing in them rewarding them. Invest the time to be in real dialogue with them about challenges of this new employment contract. Invest the money to offer them skill assessment, career counseling and training in new skills. Invest in the orientation, cross-training, and developmental assignments that will help them to move more flexibly in and across your organization.
Then reward all workers quickly for what they learn and what they contribute right now. Acknowledge their knowledge acquisition and skill development in multiple disciplines using enhanced job titles/definitions, bonuses and public recognition from you and your managers. For their contribution to your company's bottom line profits, offer them short-term incentives paid immediately for project successes, medium-term profit-sharing for annual results, and (for the best of them) long-term ownership shares in the form of stock or options for multi-year business growth. Here I am suggesting that you go beyond the typical reward system that extends these incentives only to executives and some managers to include all full or major-time workers. If you demonstrate your willingness to share these rewards beyond a few top-level people, especially in some visible trade-offs with other executive/board/shareholder constituencies, you will send a powerful motivating message throughout your organization.

Lastly, I encourage you to treat others as you want to be treated yourself. Nothing can be simpler and at times nothing can be harder. I know from the experience of several of my recent clients, the jobs and lives of top-level executives are no longer immune from the perils of the current marketplace. The challenges and imperatives that I have discussed here are just as pressing for CEO's as for front-line workers. Knowing this in your head and heart and having the guts to talk about your own realistic vulnerability with people around you at all levels is critical to building the trust that encourages others to follow you. By bringing this openness and empathy in action along with your direction-setting, entrepreneurial efforts and managerial skills, you will have done all that you can to elicit the maximum commitment that you seek from your employees.

H. James Harrington Responds

December '97 News for a Change | Email Editor
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