In my first “career” as an engineer in the oil and gas design – build industry, it was accepted that with cyclical work load cycles to “hire and fire” [ sorry, not fire … “reduction in force” ] those functions as contracts are signed, then completed. For example, a new project may suddenly require an engineering contractor to burn 200,000 drafting man-hours in six months. Since any given firm’s workload was an outcome of winning a bid competition, the industry norm was for manpower to move back and forth from losing to winning contractors. The reality of adjusting “headcount” to match workload was an accepted practice that favored a contract employee’s freedom and ease of landing where their skills were required. Understandably, contract agency employees were loyal to their agency, perhaps more than the employer.
I think it is easy to extrapolate that practice to other less cyclic industries as a way of “making the numbers”. Simon Sinek has a compelling leadership context that speaks to the subject of loyalty. He poses that the best companies do not succumb to the temptation; instead he recommends that the best leaders operate their organizations in the same context as a family.
He writes: “great leaders never ever sacrifice people to save the numbers, they sacrifice numbers to save people. We talk about the trend of people not staying in jobs longer these days, well they do in good companies with good leadership. It’s not a trend of anything is just a demonstration of lack of good leadership in our companies. Good leadership will have people spending a long time there because people do not want to leave.”
I think the conundrum occurs because corporate results … revenue, profitability and market share … can be measured daily, but the investment in people causing us to sacrifice the virtues of a long-term investment in people … as is the case of family parenting … gets short-shrifted to the measures we (and shareholders) can see more quickly. Hmmm … maybe like report card grades!
Sinek’s second book, Leaders Eat Last, cites an e-commerce company that, because their CEO resists short-term sacrifices, has these long-term benefits:
- lower turnover (single-digit vs. industry 40%)
- quality of innovation
- devotion of people to each other
- problem solved organically
Sinek continues: “To lead means to go first – you’re willing to take the risk to trust someone first. They know you have their backs … then the biological and human responses kick in ( without bribery or incentives ) to give trust back. When a leader is willing to put the well-being of the people before themselves, what will happen is that people will give of their blood, sweat and tears to see that the leaders vision is advanced. They will sacrifice themselves to see the leader is safe and that they keep each other safe.
It’s a natural human response. We are naturally hierarchical, we are always looking to someone like a child looks to a parent for protection, guidance and direction, to point away, to give us something to belong to. So, we invest our energies in a cause bigger than us to grow. So we may feel like we belong to something. We are always self organizing – it’s just biology – you can’t trump it!”
Leadership is about putting the well-being for others ahead of ourselves like a parent.