Previous month:
May 2009
Next month:
July 2009

June 2009

Are you giving your business air?

"Businesses take care to get the right value on the balance sheet for their assets, when they are useless without ideas and people. Ideas and people are the air that let your tangible assets breathe."

More words of wisdom from Anna Farmery's father as recorded in her Engaging Brand blog recently. Needless to say, I just loved the implication that businesses cannot exist without people and ideas. This is precisely the philosophy that I have always espoused for Zealise. Yet, somehow the way it is expressed seems more inspiring and brooks no argument. It both articulates and explains the concept of empowerment, beautifully and simply. In doing so it also implies two key lessons.

Firstly, the futility of spending so much time valuing and accounting for the tangible assets while completely ignoring these 'intangible' ones. Of course this is something that I have been challenging from day one, and why I believe human asset accounting is the only way to really beat the "war of talent" and win the employee engagement that will build sustained success.

Secondly, the inherent flaw of command and control management that still dominates current business thinking by placing so much emphasis on the top people. This was demonstrated again yesterday by the news that the new CEO of RBS will be offered incentives of £9.6 million in order to "maximise shareholder value" and oversee the bank's turnaround; reportedly enough to pay more than 50 senior civil servants.

The government is buying into this on the grounds that it is in the taxpayer's best interests as they have a 70% stake in the bank, thereby perpetuating the discredited shareholder value argument. Clearly the causes of the economic collapse have not been understood nor the lessons learned. Furthermore there is no attempt to stand by basic principles of proportionate remuneration for work done, for the major justification is that this is the "going rate" and thus the only way to attract suitable candidates. So not only is the first opportunity to start effecting meaningful change being squandered, but - more significantly - the command and control culture is reinforced.

Why? Because it perpetuates the belief of top down management and success only coming from the top. This attitude completely ignores the fact that the lower levels have more direct contact with the customer and a clearer understanding of the day-today business needs. It implies that only executives are capable of having worthwhile ideas and, in the process, cuts off the air supply from the lower echelons upon whom success ultimately depends. Employee engagement issues will never be solved until such thinking is eliminated.

Who do you really work for?

Who do you really, really work for? (Sung to the tune of "what do you really, really want?")

This may seem like a strange question, but it is a serious one, with enormous implications. Common usage suggests that "Who do you work for?" is identical with "Who are you employed by?", but there is actually a big difference between the two. The latter is a straightforward, ultimately rather superficial question, with a simple one dimensional answer that can be easily corroborated; "I am employed by XYZ Organisation." "Who do you work for?" however, is open to interpretation and thus more ambiguous. It could refer to the organisation you work for, the individual you report to, your departmental head or the executive who heads up the particular division in which you are employed.

More than that though, it also works at a deeper psychological level, and so has profound personal and organisational implications.

The fact is that ultimately everyone works for themselves. Whether your work is merely your livelihood, or whether it is your vocation and the fulfilment of everything you want in life, absorbing the bulk of your passion and commitment, it is ultimately an important part of your life, and controlled by no-one but you. You choose the type of work you do and the organisation you work for and therefore you cannot deny that ultimately you work for yourself.

As I said, this has organisational implications and is something that, if you are a manager, you need to be more alert to. Why? For two reasons:

  1. The recession might have created a lull in the war for talent, but the need for quality people has ultimately not diminished and thus there is a continuing need to pay greater attention to employee engagement.
  2. The global competitive pressures may, if anything, have been exacerbated by the recession, which (apart from offsetting the aforementioned lull) means that people are going to play an even more role in establishing your organisation's competitive advantage.  

Consequently, you need to rethink what "employer branding" means and move away from the traditional view of 'master and servant' employment contracts. While this ought to be an inevitable consequence of the shift away from 'command and control' management, it not only necessitates a more democratic approach, but a greater adherence to the Golden Rule, "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you."As a manager or business leader, you have to start considering managing people more in the way you yourself would like to be managed.