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Organizations with Heart

Last winter spent a football Sunday with the father of a friend. He had spent his career at IBM, while I had spent 9 years at Procter & Gamble, and we fell into reminiscing. Both of us told tales of the two-way loyalty that defined life in those companies. Everything was expected of managers, but everything was given. They took care of their own. We were members of a tribe.

Oh my, how things have changed.

He told me how, when he got sick once, he was allowed three months to recuperate, full pay, no questions asked except “How can I help?” I told how when I quit, I gave 2 months notice in full confidence that I would not be pushed out the door sooner, and how when my plans changed they let me push my exit back another 2 months, then another, and how no one ever questioned my commitment or integrity during those six months of knowing I was a short-timer.

More recently, I experienced the opposite. My employer was looking to cut costs and offered me early retirement with a generous package. It was attractive, but so was staying to complete my mission. I took three weeks to reach a decision. My manager and I discussed the pros and cons several times. But then, when I told them I was leaving, I was given less than an hour to collect my things and get out of the building, while someone lurked over my shoulder observing me closely.

Now, if I had wanted to steal or destroy company property, I had had three weeks to do so. Perp-walking me out of the building accomplished…what? Well, it created ill-will. Now, rather than advocating for the company with professional associates, I’m inclined towards silence when their name is mentioned.

Sadly, this has become the norm in corporate America. Respect is gone. Mutual loyalty is gone. Employees don’t trust senior management because they know they’re not viewed as multidimensional people. Who hasn’t heard some company exec announce, “We invest in our people.” Hmmm. One invests in assets. Which are disposable.

Do you view your relationship with people as investments? Aren’t they, well, relationships? Shouldn’t they be based on respect and trust?

Companies that manage people as assets can achieve outstanding financial results. For a while. Maybe even a long time. But can they sustain?

I assert that it is the organization with heart that has the best shot at sustaining. It can still be tough minded and disciplined. It can still be cutthroat in competition. But it instills a sense of family, of community, of shared purpose.

That’s what I felt at P&G, and I miss it. That’s what my friend felt at IBM, and he missed it. We gave 120% every day and never felt we were owed, because we regularly were given.

Heart. Isn’t it central to the logic of business?

Caveat: I have written, and will continue to write, about the logic and strengths of our Free Agent Economy, which is the antithesis of the loyalty I describe above. It works just fine. It just feels a little cold.

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2 Responses to “Organizations with Heart”

  1. Mark,

    I found myself nodding as I read your story. There is a feeling of nostalgia in your words. Perhaps a bit of disenchantment with our current state.

    Thanks for posting from the heart.

    Best to you,

    Dan

  2. Mark P. Friedman says:

    Dan – thanks for the comment! Always nice to see you on the blog.

    I doubt we will get back to the old model. Even Japan has moved from that level of loyalty. And there are some powerful strengths in the new employer-employee model. But I suspect those of us who knew what once was will always miss it.

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