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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Loyalty in the workplace

I picked up a copy of some sheet music when I was a co-op student in IBM (1978, Havant U.K.)
These were of three old (1930's ) songs written for and about IBM. One of them here will give a taste. They were hilarious in the '70's, perhaps rather sad now, I think. Simpler days.

The idea that one would give up spare time to go and sing in front of a company rally is pretty funny. Wearing a company uniform? Hilarious. Aren't we all just wandering journeymen now? Well not exactly.

There is a lot of leverage in having a team that is loyal and in-harness so to speak. Very responsive to changes, willing, happy even. Most people will work like dogs if they are interested, engaged and have the respect of their peers. Even old farts like me will pull long days to get the job done, keep learning and try to be smart. And you do want your staff to be smart.

My observation, from working at IBM as a student in those long gone days (when that company prided itself on never having laid off a worker! lol) until now, is that the loyalty unit has got smaller and smaller. Sometimes to small companies, perhaps to teams, then to individuals. Obviously finally, to self. This subdividing of loyalty is not the most productive configuration. The power of one is, well, small.

There are some people, whom everyone respects, wants the respect of, and to whom people will be loyal. If you can hire and engage those folk, they will make it easier for other people to find reasons to work hard. They are not always the hierarchical team leads or ranking managers. They are not always the best designers or programmers. They are always smart. There's a light in their eyes when they get enthusiastic about something.

The rewards people get from their teams are simple. Respect. Sometimes it's just having someone you respect compliment you about something you've done. Sometimes it's being taken seriously when you want to discuss something. It's working alongside someone who can actually help you. Sometimes it's playing with a toy, or sharing a cool site or vid. It's about pleasure, sharing, joy and love .

We are exploiting the "belonging" slot in a person's mind. If we have to work, it is better than using goads! However it is exploitation at the end of the day, or manipulation at least. The question is perhaps, if the victims like it, is it wrong?

The test of a team is the reaction when the stress levels rise. When a team is stressed or has started to turn on itself (failures, layoffs etc.) there's often a mass-exit of the good people. The remaining people usually consist of the incompetent but politically savvy (can't find other jobs), and the competent but naive (don't know they should find other jobs), along with the usual group of turned-off and can't-be-arsed types who coast along regardless. The team binders' reaction is important. They can sometimes bring a team through a short crisis, even though the logical reaction would be for everyone to flee.

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