Friday, September 29, 2006

The Myth of the Puritan Work Ethic

Over the years, I have talked to lots of executives who, like myself, back in the early 90's were around when IBM announced to the world that they too were going to have RIF's. That event came as a bit of an epiphany to many executives who finally realized they had to face the reality of the fact that the Puritan work ethic notion with which most of us had grown up was really a myth. We wanted it to be true, but in our hearts we knew it was wishful thinking.

Once that reality had set in, management gurus of almost every stripe wondered out loud and in print how the loyalty which had been the currency of the implicit contract between employer and employee for so many generations, could, if ever, be replaced in the psyche of the executive workforce.

Sometimes, I suppose, when we read Fortune's list of the 100 best companies to work for, etc. we think there actually are organizations who understand that the biggest competitive advantage any company has really resides in the hearts and minds of its employees. One would hope this is the case.

Then again, we are reminded when we read articles such as the recent AP story that Radio Shack, which had previously announced they were going to cut some 400 jobs had implemented the reduction and in an "interesting" utilization of modern technology, informed the 400 employees via an email that apparently read: "The workforce reduction notification is currently in progress, unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated."

Even though a company spokesperson told the press that employees had been told that the RIF notices would come via email, the story went on to say that a management professor at the University of North Texas, Derrick D'Souza, commented that handling the communication in this way could be seen, as "dehumanizing to employees." (A great candidate for the understatement of the week?)

Not that I would offer it up as scientific proof, but the last time I checked ExecuNet's membership stats when we asked members employment status, 70% indicated they were currently employed.

Message recieved.

I think all of us at this stage of the game understand the implications of a global economy, etc. We understand that the "contract" never really existed. We can live with that, but when I read articles such as the Radio Shack piece, and I think about the management process and the responsibilities of leadership, it also reminds me yet once again that it is always much more about the "how" than the "what."

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