August 12, 2008--Good Employees v. Good Companies
I found two books lying around in the mess that I call a filing system—piling system is probably a better name. One was called I Quit But Forgot to Tell You by Terri Kabacnick, the other The Employee Handbook for Organizational Change by Price Pritchett and Ron Pound. The first was about 100 pages and sold for $14.95, and the second, about 40 pages and was priced at $7.95.
Terri writes about the sad story of American workers who have already stopped working. They simply haven’t walked out the door yet, and she claims that they are a drain on corporate resources, and that management must find a way to “bring them back.” Pritchett and Pound, on the other hand, wrote a handbook that recites the inevitability of change and how employees must listen to everything their leader tells them (well, that sort of sounded like the message).
There in lies the dilemma. In the 1970s, we learned of Theory X or Y, and then some UCLA professor found Theory Z that said Japanese management was the best in the world, because it was so focused on taking care of employees, even as Japanese employees toiled under conditions that most Western nations wouldn’t tolerate.
So where’s the right answer? Should employees be treated with kid gloves and every company run like a spa so that the staff people are overwhelmed with Feng Sui or whatever employee-motivation-of-the-month scheme you dream of? Or alternately, do you work them to death (actually, that would be too expensive, given lawsuits and death benefits, but perhaps one step prior to death would be ideal)?
I recall that my former employer was aspiring for a long time to be EOC=Employer of Choice, but somehow always came in fourth amongst its peer group (there were only 4 of us). In one memorable “townhall” meeting, partners and staff were called into a downtown hotel, and were lectured by the Supreme Commander in charge of HR that we “must enjoy life” and that “work-life balance” was mandatory from now on. To prove the point, the Ultra-Supreme Chairman decreed, “you will get two extra holidays.”
The ballroom was filled to capacity with all the managers and partners who were mandated to attend this motivational event. There were plenty of staff people, but they were mainly the mail room staff, the secretaries, and the administrative staff who had to be in the office anyway. The news of the new holidays was greeted with loud cheers amongst the partners who had practiced their roar for days. The staff were shocked into silence, since they didn’t know their boss accountants could be so emotional. Some even called an ambulance, thinking that a partner had suffered a heart attack.
But most of those who were going to be impacted (or not impacted, as you will see later) were too busy working at the client. Or wish they were working at the client. Because even as they were told that they were ‘excused’ from client work for that day, they knew that they would have to quite before they take an extra day off.
Why? Very simple. Even though the Oracle of Employee Motivation thought that two additional days were exactly what the professional staff needed to enjoy more time with their family, the Ultra Chairman didn’t bother lowering everyone’s goals… every staff still had to charge 1,800 hours, but now with two less working days. And the Little Bosses who reported to the Ultra Chairman had neither the balls nor the wisdom to tell him what was wrong.
In the end, the entire event was another wasted opportunity.
There are a lot of great employees, but there are precious few great companies. But sooner or later, those employees will quit, and while some will be nice enough to find another job, others may simply choose to quit and suck out on company payroll. These people are most often called senior management.