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Legitimacy

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In Search of ....Loyalty

The Illusive Nature of Loyalty

As anyone who has ever read anything I have written or had to sit through one of my trainings or presentations knows I am an advocate of employee engagement or commitment over compliance.

The concept of loyalty is one of my personal pillars of an engaged relationship, but I think I might just define it differently from the traditional sense.

Under the old compliance model; the relationship between employer and employed had elements of what many would call loyalty.

We used to see employees work for a single employer for years, perhaps even decades. The idea was that if an employee did a good job they could expect a degree of job security that would take them through retirement.

Maybe it is just me, but that good seemed to include a healthy dose of obedience. It was also amusing or perhaps more ironic that most employers who did not have unionized workforces saw employment at will as almost a sacred principle. When I say ironic it is because while employers valued this construct they struggled with the idea that the concept of employment at will is entirely based on equal balance.

Yes, the employer can terminate any employee for any legal reason without notice or reason, but the employee retains the right to terminate the relationship without notice or punishment as well.

Over my multiple decades as an HR practitioner I spent countless hours explaining and arguing with employers that they couldn’t preserve their at will rights and then punish employees who correctly interpreted the concept and acted on it.

As we globalized the concept of mutual loyalty got significantly diluted. In the sixties, seventies, and eighties you saw right-sizing, outsourcing, and a number of other approaches to reduce costs by decreasing the workforce. I personally believe this is when the concept of human capital really took root. We de-personalized people and started looking at them as an item on the balance sheet.

The Millennial and Gen X generations grew up during this period. That is part why they view the employment relationship with such cynicism.

I grew up essentially in the Southwest, so I saw a different construct of loyalty. The Southwest is the birthplace of the cowboy. Being a cowboy was just a job, it was a philosophy. It was not uncommon for cowboys to travel from ranch to ranch offering their services as required.

We have an expression called riding for the brand. Very loosely interpreted it meant that while I lived in your bunkhouse, ate your food and rode your horses you had my loyalty and could reasonably expect me to give you my best efforts. It was a temporary and transitional relationship that had a degree of independence for both parties. There was mutual trust and respect on the part of both parties.

I smile when I hear employers lament the loss of loyalty. These are often the same organizations that during the recent recession adjusted wages, reduced workforces and told remaining employees they should expect or request salary increases, but rather should be grateful to be employed.

And then the economy began improving….

The most current discussion of loyalty is with our current President. It seems he expects, or rather demands personal loyalty above all else. We heard that when his tumultuous relationship with Director Comey was disclosed and even more recently with his chief of staff.

It seems Mr. Trump doesn’t define loyalty in the traditional sense, but rather more in the old definition of absolute personal fealty.

It is also interesting to me that he is as transactional in his own personal loyalty as the CEO’s I hear complain about disloyal employees.

I have personally chosen to define loyalty more in line with my cowboy roots…

First, loyalty is based on the mutual trust explained by Stephen MR Covey in his book, The Speed of Trust, at that illusive third level; identity based trust based on shared values and experiences. That is the kind of trust that you hear described by members of a military unit that has served together or even an athletic team. It is earned and it is reciprocated.

Second, that reciprocity is foundational. Both parties see inherent value. We don’t measure loyalty in terms of tenure, we measure it in terms of contribution.

Just because someone has been with my organization for a long time doesn’t mean they are loyal. Recent studies indicated that close to twenty percent of the U.S. workforce is actively disengaged, that means they come to work every day and do as little as possible and in fact actively disrupt or sabotage the workplace. The scary thing is these employees or no more likely to leave than employees who are neutral. They quit and stay.

Third, loyalty can be transitional. You never arrive. Like engagement it is something you actively work at every day and you never take it for granted.

So, I would suggest that before we require or expect loyalty we do the work of earning our stakeholders trust and respect and that we cultivate and nurture it.

I think that Mr. Trump like many CEOs I have known is living in a fantasy world. You don’t demand loyalty or respect you earn them and part of that process is that it is reciprocal and based on shared values.

We also gave up the monarchy in the 18th century, loyalty should be to the values and principle embodied in the Constitution not to a person, but rather to the office.

Maybe I am too literal, but it works for me…

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The Road He Traveled

A Truly Special “Whole Person”

On Friday I had an opportunity to attend an event that was poignant, funny, somber, and compelling in different stages.

It was a tribute to a friend and colleague, Dave Hauser, who guided our local Chamber of Commerce for a quarter century.

I had the chance to know Dave both professionally and personally. We collaborated on a number of projects including the WorkTrends Conference, the ACE Awards, and others.

I had the chance to serve on the Economic Development Committee, Business Assistance, as a charter member of the Local Government Affairs Council, and finally as a member of his Board of Directors

He was a great foil for me. I like big ideas and I can be impatient and impetuous. Dave was thoughtful and deliberate. I don’t think in the almost 25 years I knew him I ever saw him get angry or respond with anger no matter the provocation.

My favorite times with Dave were typically one on one, discussing one of my “big” ideas over coffee or a beer or his patience with my horrible golf game, which he suffered on more than one occasion.

I titled this a “whole person” both because of the correlation to my first book, Managing Whole People, and because of the glimpse into the wholeness of Dave that his family graciously shared with us.

We got to see Dave as a father and a friend beyond the leader and colleague that most knew him as.

The relationship he maintained with his children and his wife was one that I think would make many wistful if not downright envious.

Dave led in a way that was consistent with the Bible verse, “to whom much is given, much is required”.

He never shirked and he never gave up.

Leading a business association in Eugene is not a role for the faint hearted. On more than one occasion the relationship between business and our elected officials was tense not if actually acrimonious, but Dave never angered or disparaged anyone.

His legacy was illuminated in the many people who passed through employment at the Chamber, developing skills there that they would take on to bigger and more significant roles and the programs that will continue to move forward in his absence and that I for one believe would have been stillborn without his leadership and support.

I think that one of his colleagues described the essence of Dave best when she called out his most significant attribute; not his patience, sense of humor, Midwestern values or even niceness.

Dave was kind in a time and place that we could use more kindness from our leaders.

Those who spoke gently prompted us that remain to remember Dave’s legacy in the most proactive way, keep on and be kind…

I will miss you my friend. You were truly the epitome of a whole person and my life is better for having known you…

 

 

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Understanding Real Legitimacy

Understanding Real Legitimacy

I just finished re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath.

Like the books that preceded it I enjoyed it a great deal.

I see Gladwell as kind of a social facilitator and observer. He doesn’t try to present himself as a behavioral scientist with countless reams of data to support his conclusions, he makes comments and observations. The reader has the choice to accept or reject them.

Given the outcome and the divides both during and now following our election cycle I found some of his insights particularly worth revisiting.

While I enjoyed the entire book the part that most spoke to me was Gladwell’s discussion of legitimacy.

According to Gladwell legitimacy occurs when three elements are present-

·         Those who are governed have a voice in the process; their input is sought and heard.

·         There is a dimension of predictability and consistency in the application of the law or standards.

·         The application of the law or standard has to be administered fairly and objectively, you can’t have disparate treatment without a clear and compelling reason.

From what I have seen demonstrated to date our new President doesn’t share Gladwell’s description of legitimacy.

Specifically, his interest in viewpoints that don’t coincide with his own appears non- existent and his application of laws and standards don’t in my opinion pass the fair and objective test.

I personally believe that any meaningful change in our leadership philosophy and application is going to need to come from the private sector. The current administration is interested in a rigid application of the compliance model; people should do as he instructs them.

It will be interesting to see the repercussions of the DeVos nomination, never before with a majority in the Senate has the Vice President had to cast their vote to confirm a cabinet nominee.  

The President has never been in an environment previously where he is accountable to anyone and he seems to be struggling with that transition.

The reason I find this discussion about legitimacy so interesting is in its application to the work environment.

For the last three decades I have been promoting and teaching the merits of an employment relationship based on Commitment rather than compliance. When the employment environment is optimized in a commitment based model it results in employee engagement.

I also believe that to a large extent leadership as opposed to management is founded in legitimacy. Leadership is entirely relational versus hierarchical. As a manager you have the authority of your position and the benefit of what Stephen MR Covey calls deterrence, authority that comes from rules or position. We would like to believe that management also incorporates Covey’s second level competence, but I am not sure that is true.

 In many cases the competence we rely on in elevating someone to a management role is based on application of their technical skills, their competence is emotional and social intelligence are still considered “soft skills”.

The highest level of trust in Covey’s hierarchy is identity based trust which incorporates both your competency and you character as demonstrated by your applied values and behavior to create credibility.

In my over 30 years as a human resources professional, C level executive, and management consultant it has been interesting to see emerging and current “leaders” bridle at the idea that they have to earn trust. For many it is an expectation that trust is embedded in their role, they shouldn’t have to earn it.

It is very chic today to dismiss collective bargaining and unions as passé, but any student of the relationship between employer and employed realizes that up until the 1940’s the concept of employers need legitimacy through the input of their employees was considered ludicrous.

Unions fought very hard to legitimize their right to bargain with employers over hours, wages, and working conditions. I am not going to say that I believe collective bargaining is the preferred methodology or relationship structure between organizations and employees, but the concept of participating as equals didn’t come from management enlightenment. Many of our current models still have their roots in scientific management-managers manage and people do. If you see people as human capital, what is the likelihood that you are seeking the endorsement of those you “lead”?

Surveys come out every year that reinforce that the most important role played by human resources professionals is compliance by both operational executives and human resources professionals themselves.

Under the old social contract organizations provided a degree of social and economic security in return for loyalty (spelled compliance in my opinion). As the economy became more international we still wanted the loyalty, we just didn’t want to provide the security.

It is interesting in most jurisdictions outside of the U.S. the subjects of bargaining include the introduction of technology into a work setting. In our U.S. model we must negotiate the effects of the technology, but not its introduction.

In creating my own foundation for employee engagement I feel that there are critical elements you have to include.

The first is a foundation of trust. I would go so far as to say you have to have trust at all three levels to experience true engagement.

I also think you need to add the elements of respect, responsibility, information, equitable rewards, and mutual investment.

I don’t think you need to negotiate your culture with employees, but I do think they are entitled to clear expectations, constructive feedback, and fair treatment.

When you provide that kind of context you are allowing employees to join up with you. On that foundation when change is introduced you do it with rather than to people.

Gladwell’s examples of authority without legitimacy are pretty fascinating; the outcomes aren’t pretty.

There is a lot of discussion about the next generations. They are pretty intolerant of assumed legitimacy. They also represent both the future employee base and future leadership.

Perhaps taking a moment and asking ourselves if we are incorporating legitimacy and trust into our leadership models and recognizing and teaching the skills of leadership beyond technical competency is a worthwhile endeavor.

I hope it at least provides food for thought…..

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