Integrity in the Workplace

Saturday lunchtime with my 4-year-old grandson is often the highlight of my week.  His incessant questions are as stimulating as any raised by my colleagues, clients, or my workday readings.  One Saturday with dark skies and high winds, while we were waiting in the drive-through lane at McDonald’s, he pointed to a tall building in the distance and asked, “Coach, if the wind blows real hard will it blow that building over?” “Great question, Moose,”  I replied, while trying to think of an appropriate answer.   Continuing my stall, I asked, “What do you think?” He  thought for a moment and said, “I don’t think so.  It’s made out of rocks, not sticks or straw.  Right, Coach?”  “Great answer, Moose!” I replied, not realizing at the time the wisdom in his explanation.   Architectural Integrity William J. LeMessurier (LeMeasure) was a structural engineer consultant to architect Hugh Stubbins, the designer of the Citicorp Tower in New York City.  When the slash-topped silver skyscraper was built in the early 70s, it was the seventh tallest building in the world.  LeMessurier was lauded by his peers for the innovative and elegant structure and elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the highest honor his profession bestows. To accommodate St. Peter’s Church located on the property,  Stubbins and LeMessurier set their 59-story building on four massive nine-story pylons.  Rather than placing the pylons on each corner, as one might expect, they placed them in the center of each side.  This innovative scheme allowed the designers to cantilever the building’s corners 72 feet out over the church on one side and over a plaza...

New Social Contract

“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an individual part of the whole.” —Jean Jacque Rousseau Eighteenth century French philosopher, Jean Jacque Rousseau was one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment.  Rousseau and his colleagues held that in the state of nature people are good, but that social institutions corrupt them.  One of the tenants of the period of Enlightenment was the desire to construct governments free of tyranny through social contracts.  The Declaration of Independence is a social contract between the people and the government of the United States that guarantees “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens.” The old, albeit inferred, social contract in the workplace ensured the worker continuity, compensation, and opportunity for advancement.  That is, if the worker was loyal, punctual, honest, and if he or she performed assigned duties with some degree of proficiency.  In a time, when each business year was primarily an incremental advancement of the previous year, the promise of continuity was easy for employers to keep.  The postwar sellers’ market years of the 50s, 60s, and 70s provided employers with a dependable workforce and workers with implied lifetime employment.  In the 80s and 90s all that began to change. The years of complacency, under the old social contract between workers and employers, had also created high-cost labor systems, with insufficient incentives for producing quality goods or providing quality services.  In many work environments, the old contract required that blue-collar and clerical workers check...

Identifying Workplace Ignorance

On an early morning trip from Nashville to Memphis, I stopped about half way for coffee and a sausage biscuit at Hardees.  I picked Hardees out of several fast-food places because there was only one car in the drive-through. Two large strapping teenage fellows, either high school football players or new hires at the textile plant, occupied the car.  I heard them eventually order four sausage-and-egg biscuits, hash browns, and two large colas, after changing their minds several times.  When they got to the window, they changed their order again, much to the consternation of me and the server at the window.  The young men seemed to find great humor in the confusion and delay they were causing.  One even looked back at me, just to let me know he was aware of the circumstance they were creating.  Their constant laughter and revelry rocked the little Chevette they were stuffed into. When I arrived at the window, the server looked harried from the experience and was shaking her head as she poured my coffee. “Those boys seemed to enjoy the problems they were creating,” I said. “Aw, them boys enjoy doing that every morning,”  she replied.  “If it wasn’t for some people’s ignorance, they wouldn’t have no fun at all. As I drove along consuming my biscuit and coffee, her words played over and over in my mind.  “If it wasn’t for some people’s ignorance, they wouldn’t have no fun at all. Ignorance is bliss.  Take away some people’s ignorance and they wouldn’t have anything to occupy their time.  That is true in the workplace, especially in the front...

CEO – Lighten Up!

Why is it you pay your employees the least amount of money it takes to keep them on the job?  Why is it you agree to a plan and change your mind in the middle of the execution of the plan, even if the plan is working?  Why is it you want instant gratification from the business and you expect those who work for you to wait for theirs?  Why is money the only measure for success you use?  Why is it you used to enjoy your work and now you don’t? Why is it that many successful entrepreneurs eventually become invincibly ignorant and engage in self- and company-destroying behaviors?  A bad attitude, especially from the boss, is the worse thing that can happen to a company.  It is infectious.  Yet many CEOs who have achieved a modicum of success turn sour and take it out on those who are trying to build on his or her achievements. All these questions have the same answer:  insecurity. When the company was small, the entrepreneur controlled most of the activities because he did most of the work.  The larger the company gets, the more difficult it becomes to control.  Most CEOs who find themselves in this predicament are insecure about their ability to make good judgments and to successfully manage the affairs of the growing company.  To mask their insecurity, they turn to controlling, sadistic, bullying, or abusive behavior to make sure employees know the CEO is still in charge. They turn to management-by-stupidity.  Stupidity is the deliberate cultivation of ignorance.  Though the company may continue to grow for a period...

The CEO is Dead

Saturn was one of three Titans who ruled the universe.  He was also the father of Zeus who defeated the Titans and became ruler in their stead.  After the defeat, Saturn moved to Italy and established a golden age of equality and plentiful harvests.  To celebrate their good fortune each year, beginning on December 17th, the ancient Italians held a seven-day festival called Saturnalia.  Unrestrained revelry and the crowning of the Bean King marked the festival.  The women gathered on the first day of the celebration to bake a large cake with one special ingredient:  an uncooked garbanzo bean. Just before sundown, the people would pause in their frolicking to gather in the piazza.  The women would break off pieces of the cake and serve them to the men.  The man who got the piece with the bean became the king of the celebration, and, for the next six days, he ruled the province.  He could have any woman for his pleasure.  He could eat or drink to his desire, make decrees of his liking, and was robed in the finest attire and bedecked in the most precious jewels of the realm.  On the eve of the last day of the festival, he was killed. The Bean King and the CEO are dead.  Like the blacksmith and the buggy whip maker, they are no longer necessary.  In this blistering, 24-hour business day, top-down decisions are too cumbersome and golden parachutes too obscene.  A global collection of quick-thinking experts will guide companies through the Internet age and beyond.  We must celebrate the death of the old way and rise out...

Leadership Mettle

A manager, according to the Handbook of the American Management Association, is one whose power is derived from the position he or she holds and who is accountable for achieving organizational objectives through the actions of subordinates. Behavioral Scientist Bernard T. Bass defines leadership as “the observed effect of one individual’s ability to change other people’s behaviors by altering their motivations.” Leadership, therefore, is something one assumes.  Management is assigned by others or by the system. Both are important to a successful enterprise and are not mutually exclusive.   There is a popular notion being circulated through the latest business books and articles that a manager is the direct opposite of a leader.  This notion suggests that managers and leaders sit at opposite ends of a continuum, with leaders at the preferred end.  The manager is portrayed as the caterpillar, the leader as the more desirable butterfly. During the past three decades, however, business in general tilted towards a preference for “manager types” to serve as CEOs of companies.  In the old seller’s market (as opposed to today’s buyer’s market), success was often derived through manager behaviors like control, formality, conservation, and analysis.   The new notion suggests that managing is no longer effective and must be discarded in favor of leadership. We’ve found that success in business requires a balance of both leadership and management.  The manager is the stone and the leader the fire.  Both elements are necessary to forge a successful business venture in the Outcome Management environment.  It is our contention, however, that because many who sit in positions of authority gained their position in the...