Labor Day Musings


A macro concept that underpins a lot of my thinking is “work,” most specifically how our definitions of work are drastically changed, yet apparently unrecognized by both the work ‘giver’ and the ‘doer.’

job boxes

job boxes

Employers (the ‘giver’) continue to look at work as segmented pieces or ‘job boxes’ that can be put together into an integrated whole by someone looking down from on high. While organizations continue to define “jobs,” what they really need is flexible project workers who use their brains to readily move from one work area to another.

Employees (the ‘doer’) continue to look at work as jobs defined by a description with a defined beginning and end. While workers continue to say, “It’s not my job,” what they really need is work that they recognize as a contribution and that engages their mind and spirit.

If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that I see the employer-employee relationship as–at the very least, dysfunctional, and maybe–at the most–irreparably broken. It is, in many (maybe most) organizations, a lose-lose relationship.

Employers continue to consider employees as commodities, and employees continue to see employers as economic lifelines. Employers see employees as interchangeable and as expenses… a ludicrous view in an economy driven by knowledge and service. Employees continue to see employers as their lifeline with only high-risk options for economic security. There is no joy, enjoyment or even much satisfaction in most work and workplaces.

intrinsic value

intrinsic value

What’s ignored by both parties is work’s intrinsic value: the value that drives the engagement and contribution of the worker. Without this, the enterprise “success” suffers–however that success is defined.

In the agrarian economy, work’s intrinsic value is continuity and contribution to the earth: tending to the growing cycles that foster abundance and replenish life stores.

In the trade / craft economy, work’s intrinsic value is using one’s talents and skill, contributing to the bigger needs of the community.

In the industrial economy, work’s intrinsic value is contributing the “piece” that makes the “whole,” and knowing the end result is better for the contribution. [Really? What happens when you can’t see your contribution because the “whole” changes so often?]

contributions

contributions

In the knowledge/service economy, work’s intrinsic value is knowing that one’s contribution makes a difference…through a creative approach, a new product that better cements customer loyalty, or a superior level of service that outshines the competition. In today’s organizations, there’s lots of talk about these things but the approvals and the second guessing and the need for control and the short-term focus on the next quarter’s financials prevent most workers from having any sense of their work’s value.

In today’s world of global competition and global economics, this lack of contribution is destroying the only assets that can compete in these arenas. As Earl Pitts used to say, “Wake up, America!”

Here’s my question for you: what does it take to move Givers and Doers toward a truly realistic expression of “work” in the 21st century? To let up on the antiquated management and control practices that may have worked in the assembly line environment but that truly smother and destroy workers today? To give up on the antiquated because-we’ve-always-done-it-this-way and it’s-our-policy-service mentality that reduces productivity to ruinous levels?

How will you make a difference?

How will you make a difference?

And here’s a personal question for you: What will you do, when you return to work after this holiday, to show the intrinsic value in your work contributions? Just one thing? How will you make a difference?

So how about adding to these Labor Day musings? What will it take to redefine “work” so it works for both employers and employees? Please leave a comment to further this conversation, and maybe by Labor Day 2010, we’ll see a shift that re-energizes “Labor Day!”

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Make Time for a Career Check-up


We all want work-life balance. We recognize that the best employers have flexible scheduling and acknowledge that employees have a life outside of work. In fact, ‘work-life effectiveness’ is the current phrase and I like that: it recognizes that ‘balance’ is tenuous and short-lived, while effectiveness / results is the real goal.

Do you know about the ROWE approach taken by Best Buy? ROWE is Results Only Work Environment and in its application, employees are expected to get results v. showing up for their assigned shift and putting in their time. [Note: ROWE is a business strategy that’s been shown to improve productivity by 40% and reduce turnover by up to 90%…nice numbers by anybody’s measure.]

When employers get to the place that results are what counts (v. time or dues or politics), they will be ready to recognize that something I’ll call Career Health goes a long way toward driving those results. When employees partner with employers on their career paths, they provide results that consistently make for a win-win.

Career Health Matters

Career Health Matters

To be healthy, or effective in your work, you must pay attention to 4 areas: physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. Each of these areas has two aspects that you—regardless of your position or job—can assess, leverage and strengthen. You might decide that your career health can be improved in your current job and organization or you might find that another direction serves you best

Physical effectiveness means Energy and Resilience.

From a physical perspective, you are most effective when you are energized by your work and you can manage the stress associated with it. When your work energizes, you’re able to be creative and step into challenging and unfamiliar situations with confidence. Even if you’re doing work that doesn’t naturally energize you or that is highly stressful, you can take steps to neutralize that. Resilience means having the ability to handle life’s little (and big) disappointments… and resilience can be strengthened. Waiting for a better position to come along or for the stress to go away is giving control of your work life to someone else.


Mental effectiveness requires Challenge and Growth.

You’ll provide the best work outcomes and have the greatest satisfaction when you are challenged and stretched every day. Challenges move you away from stagnation and boredom and encourage you to reach and contribute for your own improvement as well as better product and service outcomes. Tackling and meeting the challenges means growth and change, and also builds confidence and self-efficacy. If you’re in a position without challenge, then it’s up to you to create some. Go after (on your own!) new knowledge and skills; additionally, you can decide which of them will move you toward more challenging work and develop a plan to get there. Now you’re taking responsibility for your own work satisfaction.


Spiritual effectiveness uses Strengths and Values.

Those with greatest satisfaction in the work they do use their talents/strengths each and every day…not just once in awhile or on a rare occasion, but every day. Do you know what your strengths are, and how your work uses them? Do you know how you can leverage your strengths to do more of the work that’s so easy it’s like play? When you use your innate talents, you play in a bigger world and contribute from your purest authenticity. It’s this same authenticity that thrives when you can “walk” your own values in your work environment—when your values align with those of your organization. When they don’t match up, your frustration grows because you’re compromising one or more of those values…and that’s an uncomfortable way to live.

Emotional effectiveness includes Engagement and Contribution.

Engagement is when you immerse yourself in your work because you have an intense pride in making a contribution. The contribution doesn’t have to be big or recognized as key, but it does have to be real and known to you. Emotional connection to your work creates a caring that comes through in service and pride of accomplishment; without it, results are often half-baked and of minimal quality.

The Gallup Organization continues to find that less than 30% of all people are truly engaged in their work: emotionally connected to the outcomes, going above and beyond to get results. The remaining 70% are either not engaged in their work (I call them “seat-warmers”) or are ‘actively disengaged’ in their work (better known as seat-burners)…they literally destroy work done by others.

Career health/effectiveness requires attention to all four.

Being effective in the work you do is lots more than having a good job with some stability that you show up for most days. When you have a healthy (even balanced) career, you produce results that make an impact on your customers who can choose any number of providers in the global marketplace. Why not look around at your work and your work environment and assess how you measure up in each of the four areas? Examine both of the characteristics of each area and measure your level of each characteristic. If you’re missing one or more, take responsibility to develop it or strengthen it or go after it in work that fits you. Create your career health.

Why not spend one-third of your waking life doing work that works for you?

Corporate Titanics


I’m getting it all off my chest today–about organizations leading their lemmings, oops employees, down a path and not recognizing and not caring because they (the organizations) believe they’re too big to fail. If you don’t want to hear it, stop reading now.

My business is helping people to navigate their careers: set their direction and sail toward it while aligning with their organization’s mission. I meet folks all the time who are capsized by the organizations they are in, who are deceived (intentionally or by omission) and whose companies are led by Captains Titanic, industrial age business tycoons who forget that they’re sailing the ship, not the iceberg. So some of my work includes connecting people to business reality, and all of it allows them to shift beliefs and behaviors in order to take responsibility for their career direction. So, I’m all for people taking responsibility for themselves…that hasn’t changed.

A sinking ship

A sinking ship

But you, CaptainsTitanic, you know who you are. [Just in case: C-level, VP and Directors, managers and supervisors, and project leads, this means you.) So, read on.

The way organizations (yours, too, probably) deal with work and job boxes and bodies–directly and indirectly–is nothing short of outlandish. You have jobs, stuffed in boxes along with the people who do them, and when things change (as they do daily and weekly) the boxes and the people have to change, too. When the square pegs no longer fit the round holes, they’re gone. Yet, those very people are your assets in this economy. Rather than change your thinking, you swap out the expensive assets for cheap ones, you cut resources yet expect customer service to stay the same. It’s kind of like the Titanic sailing with not enough lifeboats for all the passengers: people really believed that the ship couldn’t sink. (Exceptions include Cisco, Deloitte & others of course, but are terribly few and far between.)

Your organization does a huge disservice to employees every day by:

1. lying to them;
2. giving them a false sense of security; and
3. abusing them emotionally and mentally.

Lying. Direct or by omission.
How many organizations have you heard spout “our employees are our most important product!” even while the business direction treats those employees as expendable expenses? I’d call that lying.

How many organizations tell their employees, either via executive ‘town halls’ or through email, that while the economy is bad, we’re doing OK and we won’t be laying off employees? How many tell their employees that the economy is hurting us, but we’ll do everything in our power to avoid lay-offs? And then turn around and announce several rounds of layoffs that “can’t be avoided”? I’d call this lying. Few organizations do everything they can to avoid layoffs because that’s the simplest, easiest, most direct way to cut the expense line in the financials. Other options that many organizations don’t even consider (did yours?) include job sharing; shortening hours; voluntary unpaid leave; eliminating raises; asking for employee participation in solutions. Wall Street (why do we still even care??) loves to see fast financial improvements for the sake of the shareholders and the stock price, rewarding short-term and short-sighted decisions at the expense of the long-term viability of the organization. But the options all take too long.

grown in the dark

grown in the dark

Lies of omission are a little different: leaders say little or nothing before or after layoffs, so everyone’s left wondering ‘am I next?’; they don’t educate employees to the reality of today’s business economy–they don’t tell people what’s at stake, how competitors are ‘eating our lunch,’ how the industry is changing and requiring new skills, etc.; they don’t tell employees about how customers are changing and requiring new products, services and care. [Years ago, a cartoon drawing was circulated around offices about employees being treated like mushrooms… I’d say it’s still relevant.] By expecting people to change by osmosis or to become more productive because ‘everybody knows how bad things are,” you’re like Captain Titanic wearing the darkest of glasses.

That false sense of security.

When you give someone a paycheck every 2 weeks whether they do their best or not, just for showing up, you’re reinforcing their sense of security. I know it’s how things are done, but to reinforce security that’s no longer there is harmful. It prevents people from being responsible and sends the message that their security comes not from hustle (the person) but rather from showing up (the daddy). [Read my April 15 post, Who’s Your Daddy? for more on this.] If you want improved productivity, then do it right: pay for performance, have everyone participate in 360 feedback, require learning and skills upgrades, foster employee engagement and get crystal clear about expectations.

When you require performance reviews for every employee once a year and expect that every manager knows how to do this well, you’re reinforcing false security. First of all, managers who don’t like to do this or don’t know how put this off as long as possible and give it as little thought as possible. If you provide no training on effective feedback, then the manager thinks his/her approach is OK. Any one who gets a review expects to be told what their weaknesses are and what they need to do to improve. If their manager doesn’t tell them, then their expectation is that ‘my work is fine, I don’t need any training or improvement.’ This thinking reinforces sitting back and waiting to be told what to do with no concern for new learning. And frankly, in this economy, that’s the last thing you need your workers to be thinking.

Emotional and mental abuse.
I’m calling your (outsizing, downsizing, rightsizing) treatment of employees “abuse” because of the devastation you inflict, probably without even knowing it. And you hide behind “it’s a business decision.” It may be fast and convenient for you, but this is one business decision that’s bad…it’s not financially sound. The costs outweigh whatever financial gains you think you make.

Fifty and sixty-year old men and women tear up when talking about being let go and thrown into a job hunt in this economy and within a society that dismisses experience in favor of ‘cutting edge’ and values ‘inexpensive’ above all else. When you don’t communicate with your employees, when you give them false feelings of security, when you first cut budgets that maintain and improve employee skills and education, and when your response to a financial challenge is to cut heads, you are treating your workers like machines that can be idled and started up again when things turn around. We left that economy a long time ago.

You might even provide outplacement services of a few weeks or months for employees, in an effort to assuage your guilt. Leading them to think (and believing yourself) that a good resume and a place to meet with a counselor is going to provide the support needed to land again is 1) short-sighted; 2) ignorant; and 3) cruel. The first time a worker submits a resume for that “perfect fit” and doesn’t get a call because the HR person had to sort through 400 resumes, you have contributed to the results of abuse: lack of confidence, low sense of self-worth, ineffectiveness when it’s needed most; and a steep learning curve to learn how the market really works. Mentally and emotionally, when people are tossed into the market place they automatically revert to the job-search skills and the beliefs they’ve always held. Both are outdated and extract a considerable price from even the strongest person.

I will always say personal responsibility is critical to security and success, and particularly today in an unsettled, highly-competitive economy that is global in scope. But it’s time that organizations pick up their responsibilities and shift the messages they continue to feed employees, through intention or ignorance. The sooner organizations begin to support their employees in learning how to stay on top of the information and service economy, the sooner those employees will ‘pay it back’ in action, initiative and engagement with customers.

Could it be so bad if all stakeholders win?