I remember when my grandfather retired many years ago. He had been at the same company for decades. My father, too, worked for one employer for the majority of his career before retiring.
Today, it’s not uncommon to change employers every few years. Millennials especially move around. After all, companies aren’t as loyal to employees as they once were, so it’s only natural that employees’ loyalties have also shifted.
What are the implications of these changes? What should companies do?
“Build a culture of value that consistently greens your own pastures.” -Lee Caraher
Lee Caraher has built several companies, and she’s an expert on Millennials. She argues that it’s important to create long-lasting relationships with your employees even after they leave. In today’s environment, you want them to be raving fans of the organization no matter where they turn up.
I love this philosophy. I followed up with Lee to ask her more about her experience and research into what she calls The Boomerang Principle.
The story may be unique, but it offers powerful lessons and insight into the changing nature of how we view corporations and what we expect as employees.
I recently spoke with the authors, Daniel Korschun and Grant Welker, about this story.
Loyalty is Demonstrated Every Day
This story has so many powerful lessons. One of those is about loyalty. What does the We Are Market Basketteach us about loyalty?
Arthur T. and much of the senior management team have been extraordinarily successful at engendering loyalty. But loyalty at this company tends to be viewed as a two-way street. Employees – they call themselves associates – we speak with tell us that they feel loyal to the company and top management because they feel a loyalty to them from that top management. So what we see at Market Basket is people who are reaffirming their commitment to each other over time. The result is these very strong bonds we see. The lesson for managers is that you can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself. You’re not going to gain loyalty just by changing the pay or the job responsibilities; it’s something that has to be demonstrated every day.
“You can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself.”
Why did Arthur T. inspire such passion and loyalty?
Arthur T. is beloved as the CEO largely because he gives all associates, customers, and vendors respect. He says explicitly that no one person is special at the company, and from what we’ve seen he walks the walk.
But it’s also important to point out his place in the protest. Bringing back Arthur T. was the central demand of protesters, but in our view, they were fighting to save the company’s culture. Reinstating Arthur T. became the critical step in making sure that this New England institution continued to serve those who have known it for years, and sometimes for generations.
A Lesson for Boards and Corporate Leaders
What does the Market Basket experience teach boards of directors?
Most business schools today teach that the fiduciary responsibility of directors is to look after the interests of shareholders. However, this idea is simply not supported by the corporate code in Massachusetts and many other states. The code states explicitly that the board is to be a steward of the corporation, which includes customers, employees, shareholders, and others. We need to hold our boards to this higher standard.
Leadership lesson: A corporation’s duties extend beyond shareholders to the broader community.
Do you survey your employees but ask the wrong questions?
Is corporate engagement one of your goals?
Widgets, FTE’s and Assets
What I think I love most about Rodd Wagner’s new book WIDGETS: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People is his clear, unambiguous writing that calls it like he sees it. He upends common practices and wisdom, throwing out what you know and replacing it with what just makes sense. Our conversation is likely to change your position on a few subjects and have you rethink your practices. It did for me.
Why did you call the book “Widgets”?
If you spend enough time at enough companies, the bad terms used to refer to people start to accumulate. “Human capital.” “Full-time equivalents” or “FTEs.” “Headcount.” “Aprons” at a home improvement store. “Blue shirts” at Best Buy. I could barely contain my shock when leaders for one temporary staffing firm referred to the people they place as “inventory.” And the department responsible for people? In most companies, it’s called “Human Resources.” At one company, a mass layoff is called a “resource action.”
These are euphemisms, and euphemisms are most dangerous when used to refer to people, because they make it easier to disregard that we are talking about someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, and they deserve the respect and dignity of being referred to as people. I used the title “Widgets” to take a hard whack at these bad habits and all the dehumanizing practices that flow from that perspective.
“Your people are not your greatest asset. They’re not yours, and they’re not assets.” –Rodd Wagner
What is wrong with many employee engagement efforts today?
Employee engagement is in a rut. It’s become hackneyed. It’s routinized.
Commission a survey. Beg people to participate. Get the results back. Distribute scorecards. Train some trainers; unleash them on the company. Cajole the CEO into using the word “engagement” in his next speech. Ask managers to do some team sessions, which maybe half will do before tucking the forms in a desk drawer. Leave the way managers are selected, coached, supported, and held accountable untouched. Let the executives feel good that they checked the employee engagement box. Go quiet for 9 or 10 months until it’s time to start the Sisyphean cycle all over again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
But the most pernicious problem with engagement initiatives today is the way some consultancies and companies talk about the people who are neglected and, when the survey comes around, tell the truth. So-called “disengaged” employees are vilified, their motivations and character questioned. They’re said to be “more or less out to damage their company” or trying to undo what the more “engaged” accomplish. Our research contradicts these assertions that those who are most frustrated are some kind of “cancer” inside the organization.
Of course, recognizing that they will be suspect if they give low marks to their company, many employees have realized it’s career suicide to tell the truth. So they don’t. Who would under those circumstances? “Just mark five to survive,” one admin advised her colleagues. In many places, it’s now difficult if not impossible to even get a true measure of engagement. That’s the mark of a fundamentally flawed and broken system.
If an employee does not give high marks on a survey, look first at the manager, not the employee.
Getting inside their heads is your first rule. It’s individual; it’s unique; it takes up significant time. And yet, it’s the most important of all. Would you share why this rule is the first?
I’ve been fielding and analyzing employee surveys and other data from more than a decade-and-a-half. Every time I plot the numbers on a new study, the first thing that strikes me is the massive range in individual responses. You simply cannot predict how a person will feel about his or her job based on generation, age, gender, race, tenure, industry, company, or any of the other group statistics that are used so often to stereotype employees.
Engagement is an individual phenomenon. Everything – how much money people want, what they consider a cool place to work, how they like to be recognized, what they envision for their future – is unique to that person. Therefore, applying all of the other New Rules depends on first understanding that one person and responding to his or her personality and ambitions. This is the reason that every good piece of research on employee engagement finds that a person’s direct supervisor is one of the key players. That manager is in a unique position to know the employee well and match him or her with the resources and opportunities inside the company.
“When recognition is common, employees develop resilience against adversity.” –Rodd Wagner
Having a best friend at work appears in most surveys, and we repeatedly hear that it is critically important. You argue otherwise. Help us understand.
First, asking about friendships – particularly sticking your nose in an employee’s “best” friendships – is quite intrusive when the relationship between company and worker is increasingly transactional. One week you’re asking about their best friends, the next week you’re sending a few thousand of them home with severance packages. So if they either had best friends at work or were the best friends of someone still there, you’ve opened yourself to some well-founded criticism that you abused their trust.
More important, in the studies my teams and I have conducted, the “best friend” concept does not hold up well in driving results compared with more
business-related questions such as trust in leadership, perceived future of the company, and collaboration. Asking about those is your business and is better connected to your results than asking what The Washington Post once called a “high school” popularity question.
“Transparency tells people you trust them and you can be trusted.” –Rodd Wagner
The era of employees signing up to work at a single company for their entire adult lives has long been over. The importance of differentiating and branding yourself has never been more important. The best employees have options. They are always on a recruiter’s radar. They often have a resume ready. If your best hope of retaining them is a counteroffer, then you have already lost the war. Consider these ideas if you want to increase your employee retention.
Helping employees only with their jobs and specific skills to improve productivity.
Helping employees with their lives, which recognizes them as individuals who have needs outside of work.
Keeping employees at arm’s length and in a strict business relationship. Getting too close clouds your judgment.
Taking the time to know them. Ignore the old advice and become friends. Employees are more likely to be loyal to someone considered a friend.
Telling employees that promotions are rare, that Jane is never going to retire and to “forget it,” that they will be blocked from transferring elsewhere.
Brainstorming various ways to boost earnings, potential and career options to move within a company.
Employees nodding their heads like parrots at everything the boss says.
Constructive disagreement, polite dissent, and compromise.
The rulebook. Everything has a strict procedure and no room for individual deviations or decisions.