Over 100 years ago Frederick W. Taylor introduced the concept of scientific management to the world and unfortunately to a large extent his theories are still the foundation that much of the relationship between employer and employed are based upon.
Taylor’s position is that the world is divided into two kinds of people, managers and labor. Managers think and labor does. This is also where the concept of white collar versus blue collar originated.
I would tell you that much of our failure to evolve our management and leadership theories go back to this premise. Even today most managers and supervisors are promoted based on their technical capabilities rather than their abilities to select, train, develop, and deploy talent. We still buy into the concept of human capital.
When scientific management really caught on we wrote a new social contract-rather than individuals learning a skill and negotiating the value of that skill the model promoted breaking tasks down into simple, easily repeatable steps that were easy to train and could be monitored for consistency. By breaking the skills down and removing the thinking part, you also lessened the value of the activity being performed.
This was the model for a long time. You came to work for your employer, did your work competently and obediently and in return your employer took care of you, providing you with wages, health and retirement benefits, and other inducements that required little or no action or participation on your part.
Edward Deming and others recognized the flaws in the model in the early Forties, but because the U.S. was the dominant economy and it wasn’t “broken” most U.S. based organizations rejected his theories of more worker involvement.
In fact even the legal framework of collective bargaining in the U.S. has the principle of Taylorism embedded within them.
Under Federal law employers are required to collectively bargain about wages, hours, and working conditions if it can be demonstrated that the employees choose to surrender their individual rights to a collective bargaining representative, typically a union.
The interesting thing is in the U.S. employers are not obligated to negotiate over the means of production, like the introduction of technology or similar decisions.
This model created a kind of corporate paternalism that still exists in many organizations today, a codependency. Do what we ask as an employer and we will take care of you.
I personally think it is a bad model, disrespectful on its face, assuming employees are not capable of making or at least participating in decisions about their work and their employment.
This is a compliance based model and after over 30 years as a human resources and C level executive and management consultant I completely and totally reject it, so a number of years ago I created an alternative model I call moving from compliance to Commitment, or little c to Big C.
The Compliance to Commitment Model
There are five distinct elements to my model.
Respect is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship and is especially important in the employment environment. Respect means that you describe my job to me in a way that has context and I can see where my role fits into the bigger picture. It means that there are clear performance expectations and that I receive balanced, meaningful feedback as to how to improve my performance and contributions. If I am not meeting expectations, that information is presented to me in a timely and constructive manner with the objective to eliminate the variance between my expected and actual performance. It also means that I am held accountable for working up to my potential and meeting expectations.
Respect means we have a social contract between equals. I do not expect you to “parent” or take care of me. I’m not just talking about diversity here. This value must be consistently reinforced by every level of management every day. We must be prepared to explicitly state to employees, “I respect you too much to tolerate less than your best performance. I respect you too much to nag you about independently executing your tasks and responsibilities. I will not be co-dependent with you.”
Similar to respect, responsibility means that I have clear expectations, periodic feedback and a reasonable level of control over as many dimensions of my work as possible. I am allowed to demonstrate personal curiosity and creativity and that you, the management or executive, measure my work in terms of the results as well as the process. In concert with respect, responsibility means that I carry out my activities independently and competently to the best of my ability. If I need assistance, I ask for it. If I am unclear, I ask for clarification.
I hear a lot about empowerment. I like to say to employees that the flip side of empowerment is accountability. If you “own” the process, you also “own” the result. We should not let employees off the hook for simply appropriate performance. Employees who “own” the process and the result demonstrate higher levels of productivity, lower absenteeism and reduced turnover. All of these results increase the bottom line. This refers again to clarity of purpose: What is my job? How does it fit in the Big Picture? Management owns the responsibility for clearly answering these questions.
Information is critical to creating an atmosphere of commitment. I have often said to employees that I reserve the right to answer a question they ask me in one of three ways:
- I know the answer and it is ________.
- I don’t know the answer, but I will do my best to obtain it for you.
- I know the answer, but I am not able to share it with you for reasons of confidentiality or related concerns.
My experience has always benefited by sharing as much relevant information with employees as possible. By providing them with context, they arrived at solutions that were much more effective than what I could design working in isolation. By creating an environment of collaboration, they feel invested in the solution.
Rewards are always an interesting area to explore. In my definition, rewards include appropriate compensation as well as other areas that directly relate to employees sense of fairness and equity. I include everything from base compensation and incentive programs to awards for excellence and access to specialized training. I recommend to my clients that they ask their employees, “What represents meaningful rewards and recognition to you?”
I believe in communicating with employees the specific reasoning of compensation philosophy (i.e. who we see as our competitors, our “target” market, and other related areas). I also tell employees that “market compensation” is an artificial value that the market imposes on a particular set of skills and abilities based on supply and demand, as well as criticality to the mission of the organization. Compensation is not meant to represent the value of the employee. Are doctors and professional athletes “better” people than anyone else? If we use the standard of compensation to determine the value of a person, drug dealers are at the top of the food chain and people like Mother Teresa at the bottom.
The most important dimension of rewards is the perception of equity. In this context, I mean equity in terms of perceived fairness, not actual ownership. One of the most important concepts we grow up with is fairness. Do I feel that my compensation, promotional opportunities, etc., are consistent with my contributions? How did you decide to pay me? Why did someone else get the promotion rather than me? Can you explain it to me? That wording is critical, explain it rather than justify it.
I often hear that the Gen X and Millennials are not loyal. I disagree. The new generations have a different view of loyalty. They expect reciprocation. They will give their loyalty to organizations that invest in them. They understand the concept of “at will” employment at its most literal. They stay with an organization as long as they see the relationship as being mutually beneficial. They do not subscribe to blind loyalty to authority. Is that wrong?
My definition of loyalty: while someone is working in my organization or in collaboration with me, our relationship has integrity and respect. We hold each other accountable and meet our mutual obligations. I do not measure loyalty in terms of tenure or “obedience”.
Loyalty is a personal relationship. Typically we are “loyal” to individuals or groups with in whom we have shared values and whom we trust. To the average employee, his or her direct report is their “world”. If they feel that their immediate supervisor has their best interest in mind and treats them with respect and fairness, their loyalty will be earned and authentic (i.e. not political loyalty).
The key to authentic loyalty: you earn it through action and time. I also submit to you that if the organization does a good job of executing on the first four elements of respect, responsibility, information, and rewards, loyalty will follow.
Information that I have garnered on the “emerging” workforce – our future employees, customers, shareholders, and stakeholders – make these issues even more relevant. From an employment standpoint, Gen X and Millennials have stated five requirements for them to form a meaningful relationship with an employer:
- Satisfying work content.
- Association with an organization that they respect and that respects them.
- Mutual commitment to them and their careers.
- Meaningful and timely feedback to help them improve their skills.
- Equitable compensation.
In addition to desiring feedback, they also describe four other elements in an optimal employment environment:
- Maximum delegation.
- Personal responsibility and “ownership” of their projects and tasks.
- Clear boundaries and a sense of the big picture.
- Shared ownership (credit) for end results.
Current Tends That Concern Me
When I watch a lot of the discussion going on these days there are a number of areas that concern me:
- The Affordable Care Act creates access to health care for theoretically everyone, but it doesn’t address the shortage of health care providers in many jurisdictions to actually see patients and provide care.
- Study after study shows that over 60% of our current health care related expenditures are related to conditions that are directly or indirectly lifestyle related, but the ACA doesn’t address lifestyle management or individual’s responsibility to participate in managing their own health.
- I see organizations like McDonalds, Wal-Mart, and other employers under assault because they don’t pay living wages. In my experience many organizations have entry level positions where the wages are commensurate with the skills and market conditions. Individuals can almost always enhance their earning abilities by learning new skills and increasing their value to the organization.
- I see jurisdictions stepping in to help
- Seattle decided to impose a minimum wage of $15.00 per hour for all employers within its municipal jurisdiction. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest they didn’t do a cost benefit analysis to determine what effect this might have on pricing of goods and services and aggregate employment.
- Portland, OR and other cities are interjecting themselves into the employment relationship between employers and employed and trying to dictate things like compensation, paid time off, etc. What problem are they trying to solve and why given that there are multiple State and Federal agencies who operate in that space why do we need another player.
We aren’t talking about discrimination here; we are talking about injecting themselves into the employment relationship.
I live in the real world. Right now less than 30% of the workers in the U.S. rate themselves as highly engaged in their current employment relationship and that represents a huge lost opportunity, but I fail to see how municipalities interjecting themselves into the employment relationship is going to address even one of the factors I identified as creating or sustaining engagement.
I would also submit that given the fiscal circumstances that most cities, counties, and even States find themselves in in large part because of outdated entitlement programs that there providing us with the benefit of their expertise and leadership will help any.
There are organizations like Google, Starbucks, Dutch Bros, Les Schwab, and others that are very successful and treat their employees very well because they get that the two are related. I have yet to find a governmental entity on that list, let’s not move back to organizational codependence or corporate paternalism…it doesn’t work.