Loyalty, shmloyalty

Some historians don’t like using the term ‘revolution’ when discussing the Industrial Age. Their point is that the transitions between Ages was more evolutionary. Chronologically speaking, I agree with this point of view. But I still prefer the term revolution as it refers to the social effects humans experienced.

With change came an unwritten contract. As people accepted the idea of spending their lives doing machine-like work, their expectations for security grew. Increased power of the worker manifested itself in the form of unions. And over a few hundred years of ardent and often violent interaction, advances on the behalf of the Industrial Age’s laborers continued to improve the workers’ standard of living. Businesses did pretty well too, history shows.

It became easier for individuals to accept the sacrifices of personal freedom. Over time, workers began to feel loyalty to many of the companies who employed them. Thirty and forty year careers with one company became common. Good paying jobs and benefits created safe families and opportunities to better the lives of future generations. Children and grandchildren often looked to follow their parents into the same companies, trusting in the status quo.

But a funny thing happened on the road to efficiency and productivity. Labor unions drove great improvements. But power corrupts. Labor unions were no exception. Soon, one ‘top-down’ boss was replaced by another. The influence of labor unions quickly began to wither.

In 1981, when newly inaugurated president Ronald Reagan fired every striking air traffic controller across the nation, the death knell rang. Corporations began in earnest to redraw the lines. They increased pressure on unions by moving jobs off shore.  As mothers entered the work force in far greater numbers they added substantially to their families’ fortune thereby postponing the real experience such consequences bring. But the writing was on the wall.

Today, the consequences are plain and painful. Mathematics proves that changing one side of an equation necessitates an equal change on the other side. Working conditions— where work still exists— have declined. Yet, over the past 28 years, executive compensation increased from 40 times the pay of the average worker to more than 360 times the pay of average workers by 2007. No one should be surprised that employees are less loyal than they were a generation ago.

While the power of well-organized unions has greatly diminished, workers are now discovering the power of networked associations. Bottoms up. Transparent. Authentic. Power is spread between groups and individuals alike. Nimble. Immediate. Scalable. Regardless of how you label it, we live in a new and equally revolutionary Age. Loyalty to any big power is dead.

‘Engagement’ is the new word. If you believe in meaningful data, take a look at the work Gallup has done in this area. Gallup presents a new kind thinking aimed at the most relevant business management practices for today’s work forces. It is non-intuitive to most current corporate leaders and managers. One key survey question they ask of workers is “do you have a best friend at work?’ The answer is a key indicator of corporate success.

They’ve titled their thinking Human Sigma. Here are the five basic principles:

* Employee and customer experiences must be managed together — not as separate entities.
* Emotions drive and shape the employee-customer encounter.
* The employee-customer encounter must be measured and managed at the local level.
* Employee and customer engagement interact to drive enhanced financial performance. This interaction can be quantified and summarized with a single performance metric.
* Sustainable improvement in the employee-customer encounter requires disciplined local action coupled with a company-wide commitment to changing how employees are recruited, positioned in roles, rewarded and recognized, and importantly, how they are managed.

When the media is the message and your company must be innovative to compete, any leadership discussion of loyalty will be viewed as propoganda. That includes ‘accountability’ and ‘responsibility’ and ‘commitment.’ If it is not transparent that these conversations are two-way processes, then leaders and managers who try to force these messages will lose credibility and relevance.

Loyalty is dead. Love live engagement. Thanks Gallup.

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