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Physics, Psychology and Business

Physics  Psychology & Business 123rf.com_97637392_sNewton’s 3rd Law of Physics. You might not remember it is as that but you almost certainly know it or have heard of it:  “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Even if you are familiar with it, you are unlikely to think about it very much or very often. And certainly not in a business context.

This isn’t your fault. It is perhaps simply the inevitable consequence of our natural human need to label things. By categorising this as a “physical law” you inevitably compartmentalise it as “scientific” and so fail to consider its applicability to business. But perhaps you ought to.

After all science pertains to all life. It is only convention (that need to label things) that causes us to break science into different fields. We tend to treat these as discrete and distinct when in reality they are not. The boundaries – like any – are subjective and artificial. As a result we may be short-changing ourselves, as I suggest we are in this instance.

You may think it is taking the idea to extremes, but commerce in its broadest sense is typical of the failure to recognise this law. Why? Because if there is an equal and opposite reaction to every action there is fundamentally no such thing as profit. Perhaps you find that difficult to swallow, but – if you think about it – it makes perfect sense: our whole environmental crisis is ultimately the failure to properly account for all our costs of production. Even if you’re sceptical about this, you have to wonder if cycles of economic boom or bust are an inevitable consequence of the disparity between economic and commercial accounting.      

That is a big subject and beyond the scope of this article. I would, however, like to pick one particular example to encourage you to both think about it more deeply and to take corrective action. I am talking about human effort.

In business jargon this too often falls under the heading of “Productivity” and, as a result, is plagued with mixed messages. Even people-centric organisations that prioritise issues like Employee Engagement, Empowerment and Agility or classify themselves as “Learning Organisations”, fail to recognise to what extent productivity initiatives can sabotage these efforts.

Even the title Human Resources undermines your efforts. As Neville Pritchard and Richard Scott write in their recently published book, “Go Beyond” it, “came about in an attempt to show that an organisation’s people are essential business resources in the same way as its vehicles or IT. Unfortunately a move which was aimed at showing people as special has backfired to some extent, in that the ‘resources’ element has become more prominent than the ‘human’ part.” (Page xvii)  

The issue here is the fact that, unlike “vehicles or IT”, or any other resource, you create an emotional connection when you employ people. People identify themselves – who and what they are – with their jobs and/or their organisations. Everything you do which makes them feel less positive about themselves, their work or the organisation, is a psychological blow that impacts the relationship between individual and organisation and inhibits their contribution.  

This means that you subtract value from both your people and your employee development/productivity improvement efforts every time you:

  • Shed jobs or make people redundant;
  • Justify introducing new technology by proposing to reduce headcount;
  • Advocate unethical behaviour or act unethically;
  • Endorse pay or bonus inequity;
  • Promote shareholder interests above employees'.

 Now put this in the context of how much you are investing in your various productivity improvement and employee well-being initiatives and estimate how much money you are actually wasting. And, if that isn’t frightening enough, ask yourself:

  • How effective is your change programme? To what extent are you achieving the expected ROI on your individual change projects?
  • How agile, responsive and adaptable to changing competitive situations is your organisation?
  • How strategically aligned is your organisation?

If you don’t like the answers, you have a clear sign that you don’t have your people with you and that you need to do something to rectify that.

“There’s nothing new in that!” I hear you say. “These are perennial problems that I am perpetually struggling with and precisely what my efforts are intended to redress.” Exactly! That is the point I am making; you will not succeed until you recognise the extent to which you are self-sabotaging your efforts. Which leads on to the million dollar question, “How do I do that?”

For starters you have to eliminate the historic divide between employees and management and all the industrial conflict that flows from it. Commercially, economically or organisationally success stems from collaborative, collective endeavour. Key then is recognising this and changing the mindset from one of “working on the business” to “working in our business.”

Heart and mind 15817143_sThis implies the need for collective ownership in order to win employee hearts and minds. Only then will you have the psychological imperative you need for effective collaboration. In its most primitive form that is analogous to a workers’ cooperative, but my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model moves beyond that and creates a more adaptable framework. It can create universal employee ownership within the framework of other organisational structures and types and, significantly, offers it in a way that can be largely cost neutral.  This in turn should transform your organisation, your business and your results.


If you like what you have read contact me today to explore how my original thinking could help you break though logjams that are inhibiting your business or how my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model could help you value your people and provide the catalyst to help you create an organic culture where everyone cares and the business becomes our business, embedding continuous improvement that engenders ‘love at work’ and transforms – and sustains – organic business performance.


Bay Jordan

Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organizational culture model that helps transform organizational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement” and, more recently, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped.


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