#229 from R&D Innovator Volume 5, Number 8          August 1996

Five Principles to Revitalize Employee Loyalty and Commitment
by Jim Harris, Ph.D.

Dr. Harris is president of The Jim Harris Group, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida (813-596-5749) that helps organizations build a loyal, productive, and motivated workforce.  He is author of Getting Employees to Fall in Love with Your Company (Amacom, New York, 1996), from which this article is adapted.

Downsizings, outplacements, restructurings, reorganizations, layoffs, firings—whatever they’re called, their impact on employee motivation and commitment is nothing short of devastating.  All companies who want to thrive within today’s competitive marketplace must successfully address a critical question:

In an unstable, lean and mean business world, how can we regain the lost loyalty and commitment of today’s employee?

Here are five principles embraced by the world’s best-run companies that help revitalize employee loyalty and commitment.

Principle #1:  Capture the Heart

Is excellence possible with a disengaged heart?  Progressive companies embrace the advice of legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi, who once told the American Management Association that “Heartpower is the strength of your corporation.”

Companies such as The Walt Disney Corporation (“We create happiness”), Service-Master (“Honoring God in all we do”), and Southwest Airlines (“Have fun and make a profit”) capture the hearts of their people through compelling visions.  Other organizations such as Brinker International (headquarters miniature golf contests) and Silicon Graphics (water cannon battles) create heart power through celebration and injecting fun into the workplace.

Principle #2:  Open Communication

Employees only give their best efforts if they feel “connected” to the company, if they are “in the loop” and kept informed on all company issues.  Most important, they need to know that their opinions matter and that management is 100% interested in their input.

Donnelly Corporation opens communication through placing huge posters throughout their manufacturing facilities with ten questions for all employees to ask each other; questions such as:  “What took too long today?”  “What requires too many sign-offs?” and “What is just plain silly?”  The headquarters accountants at Ameritech eliminated over six million pages of financial report preparation and distribution by simply traveling to each office, holding up one report at a time, and asking field managers, “Do you need this report?”

Principle #3:  Create Partnerships

Webster defines the word employee as “one who works for wages or salary.”  He defines partner as “one or more persons engaged in the same business enterprise and sharing in its profits or losses.”  Under which definition would you give your best efforts?  Obviously, the 90’s workers are ones who will only give their best efforts to an organization if they feel they are a vitally important part of the organization.

To quash unnecessary status barriers between work colleagues, progressive thinking companies like Chaparral Steel and Nucor Steel have eliminated time clocks and docking worker’s pay—both seen as “distrust” rather than “trust” systems.  Organizations ranging from The Home Depot to East Jefferson Hospital operate on a first-name basis.  Even the MDs at East Jefferson use their first names on their name tags.  Many forward-thinking companies like Springfield ReManufacturing, North American Tool And Die, and Lincoln Electric openly share their financial numbers with all employees and have incentive bonus structures for every worker, sharing the good times as well as the bad times. 

The headquarters team at Kwik Kopy creates strong partnerships through serving their front-line first by calling every one of their over 1,000 franchises every month and asking them to:  1) rate the headquarters staff on a scale of 1 to 10, and 2) give us one thing we can do for you.

Principle #4:  Drive Learning

The only long-term competitive advantage for any organization is the collective brain power of its people.  With an entire staff of excited, brain-in-gear, cutting-edge thinkers, a company can be an industry leader.  But, without an entire staff of excited, brain-in-gear, cutting-edge thinkers, a company is always vulnerable to fast extinction.  Perhaps Michael Brown, Chief Financial Officer of Microsoft, says it best:  “The only way to compete today is make your intellectual capital obsolete before anyone else does.”

AT&T, Raychem, General Electric, Allied Signal, and Allstate Insurance offer their people the guarantee of lifetime employability (through job sharing, extensive training, and perpetual skills refinement and enhancement) rather than lifetime employment (an impossible promise of a lifetime job).  Johnsonville Foods promotes lifelong learning through encouraging all employees to attend any training class—regardless of its direct applicability to their current jobs.  Sequent Computers places “Bozo Boxes” (cardboard boxes with a hole in the top) throughout their facilities so that every time an employee complains about a customer, the employee must deposit twenty-five cents in the nearest Bozo Box to visibly reinforce the importance of not talking disparagingly about customers.

Principle #5:  Emancipate Action

In most companies, the concept of empowerment is seen as management giving employees “permission to follow policy.”  Today’s most successful companies understand that, in order to revitalize commitment and loyalty, they must give employees the “freedom to succeed,” to emancipate their actions toward world-class quality and customer service.

Hewlett-Packard walks the talk of giving employees the freedom to fail and try again through their operation principle:  “We reserve the right to make mistakes.”  MCI’s unwritten philosophy is that they don’t shoot managers who make mistakes—they shoot managers who don’t take risks.  Hershey Foods gives an annual award to those employees with enough guts to challenge the status-quo and stand up for what they believe in.  The award is called “The Exalted Order of the Extended Neck.”  Nordstrom has a one-rule personnel policy.  It reads, “Rule #1:  Use your good judgment in all situations.  There will be no other rules.”  The Ritz-Carlton allows any employee up to $2,000 to do anything they must to rectify a customer complaint on-the-spot—no questions asked!

These are principles that today’s best-run companies actively embrace and make a vital part of their culture.  By integrating these principles into your unique culture, you will untap and release your company’s one true competitive advantage—the passionate results-focused commitment of your people!

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