Defining the New Social Contract

If you believe the old expression a picture is worth a thousand words, then I would submit to you that this graphic created by my colleague Frank Sonnenberg is priceless. It perfectly illustrates the real relationship between employer and employed and what things that we employers covet like being perceived as leaders, high employee engagement and the productivity and profitability that accompany it and a host of other things that we desire.

I wrote a post the other day that talked about my belief that the concept of employment at will doesn’t have to be a negative, if we embrace that practice the way it was intended, to frame a relationship between equal parties to a contract.

We see a lot these days about how the old traditional relationship between employer and employed is being reframed in terms of tours of duty or the gig economy.

We don’t make those lifetime commitments to each other anymore and shouldn’t expect them.

The dark secret of the lifetime employment model was that employers often expected blind loyalty and obedience in return. I have often referred to that as the compliance model, do as your told and expected and at the end of your tenure you will be rewarded with a pension and a gold watch or other symbol.

That model came of age during the Industrial Revolution where the intent was largely to de-skill many of the crafts, because craftspeople had leverage, they could withhold their talent if they weren’t treated or compensated properly.

One of the other perhaps well intended, but in my mind less than desirable outcomes of that model is what I refer to as corporate codependency. People who worked for large corporations put responsibility for managing their health and economic security on their employer- and then when the costs got really high corporate America abandoned that model.

The problem was we went from zero to sixty. There was little transition time for employees to inform themselves and become prepared for more control and self- sufficiency.

I think that is one of the flaws of Obamacare, it guarantees most Americans access to health care which is a good thing, but there is little educational component to it to help people become more educated consumers of that care.

Frank’s graphic also illustrates that the fundamental law with much of our leadership practice and theory ignores that the things he references can’t be demanded, legislated or conferred with a title or a degree, you have to earn them at that fundamental level that Stephen MR Covey refers to as identity based trust, trust which is formed from shared experiences, values and mutual respect.

It has been very popular the last few weeks for people to post or repost the statement- I was raised to treat the custodian with the same respect I treat the CEO, my reaction is “how did that become post worthy?” Shouldn’t that be a given?

I recognize that Calvinism is based on the concept that wealth is God’s reward for being good, but I think the advent of professional athletes and drug dealers put that myth to rest. At least I hope so…

Frank’s intent with his graphic was to make a statement to all of us that the things he mentioned are ours to give or withhold, but I also see a powerful message to leaders.

You can’t demand or buy these things, you can only earn them and earning them is a journey not a destination, it never stops.

There is no program or degree or title you can do or acquire and then call it done. You have to do the work every day.

This is that soft shit that scares the hell out of us. Lean and six sigma and cool websites and other social media don’t accomplish any of this. They might reinforce some it, but this stuff occurs at a very visceral level. Your credibility is on the line every day.

I am an optimist. I hear every day that employee engagement and culture and a bunch of other things I believe in are all a crock and just management schemes to manipulate or punish people- my reaction is “wow, you have some issues with some of the things Frank is talking about, don’t you.”

Another colleague of mine exposed me to a concept he called most positive interpretation, the core of which is giving others the benefit of the doubt when they act in a way you don’t understand or agree with. It is a pretty cool thing to build into your relationship portfolio both personally and professionally.

So let’s picture this as an alternative. Let’s say that employer and employed come together and say that they want to build a relationship based on the attributes that Frank describes. Let’s go further and say that each party accepts the idea that these must earned and reinforced.

Now let’s get really crazy and say that we further commit to let the other know when we don’t feel they are holding up their end of the bargain and do it in a constructive way and give them an opportunity to fix it.

Pretty cool huh.

Then the only really big issue we would have to deal with is all of the lawyers and therapists who would be out of work because their services wouldn’t be necessary anymore. 

That is a challenge I would like to take on. How about you?


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