I believe executives who give their employees the tools and the freedom to live the company’s brand would be Jim Autry fans. They fully understand the first essay in his, Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership: a very simple edict that flies directly in the face of today’s corporate culture of fear (i.e. Home Depot). He writes:
“I think I started maturing as a manager when I discovered that one of the oldest principles of organizational management was hogwash. That principle is stated in many ways, but the military guys used to put it best: ‘Nobody gets special treatment around here.'”
Later in the essay he writes:
“Some people do good work but are slow; some people do fast work but are sloppy. Some are morning people; some do better in the afternoon. Some have children who cause schedule problems; some have elderly parents. Some need a lot of attention and affirmation; some want to be left alone to do their work. Some respond more to money, less to praise; some thrive on praise. Some are workaholics; some work only for the livelihood….Who in the world could believe that all those special needs could be accommodated without some special treatment?”
Autry saw it in the executive suites of large companies, environments where these kinds of notions grow like mold, thriving on fear and laziness. Employers fear being sued by the employees who feel slighted. Or they’re too lazy to find trustworthy employees, so they let human resources write the rules and hope that the legal department signs off on them.
Like brand management, treating everybody special is hard work. It takes ingenuity and courage and time to discover and then implement strategies that address those needs in ways that don’t encroach on other employee’s needs.
For most of the last 20+ years, I’ve worked for people who treated me and my fellow employees feel special. They understood our needs. They understood what motivated us. And they created an environment of flexibility that allowed us to move the organization forward. We didn’t suffocate under so-called “fairness.”
I heard it formally addressed by an American Red Cross leader speaking at an International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) leadership conference in the late 1980s. He was talking about how to deal with volunteers by first understanding what motivates them. At the end of his presentation, I began to immediately apply his ideas to employees, and I began to wonder:
- If an employee has children that can get sick or have school functions, why not give them flex time?
- If the employee works better in the afternoon, why not shift his/her hours to later in the day?
- If the employee works slower, why not reassign some of their workload?
- If they thrive on public recognition, why not give them credit for a job well done in a public venue like a staff meeting? If they hate public recognition, why not give them a word of thanks in private?
- If they like to travel or get involved in community events, why not provide additional vacation days in lieu of pure pay increases?
You know the answer. “Because then we’d have to do it for everyone!”
You know what I say to that? Then do it for everyone! Hire good people. Give them the tools to do the job. Give them clear expectations. Trust them to do it right. And get out of the way.
If they abuse the special treatment, fire them. Show them the door. Make them pay for taking advantage.
But don’t make the rest of us pay. Leave that for the people at Home Depot.