April 20, 2015
Widgets, like The Management Myth and The Halo Effect, is a business book that takes on business book orthodoxy, and we love it.
Your people are not your greatest asset.
They're not yours, and they're not assets.
We work in a world filled with business jargon and corporate euphemisms. There are at least three "dictionaries" out there to decode (what their authors' call) all the bull**shit—the latest claiming to be "The World's Most Comprehensive Collection"—and one book that explains Why Business People Speak Like Idiots. But, really, most of it is relatively harmless, spoken only to make the speaker sound a little more important and intelligent. It's simply a bit of armor against the insecurity most all of us feel, and while it may be annoying (and we here at 800-CEO-READ try to eschew it even while we work in the midst of a veritable storm of it) it is very rarely actually harmful.
And, unlike most of the business lexicon, the way we refer to and talk about the employees in our organizations can really be damaging to the organization itself, and this is what Widgets tackles head-on. The words we use in reference to our people can set a tone that dehumanizes company, the employees within it, and the entire business process, starting with the now unfortunately ubiquitous term "Human Resources." I ranted a little on this in my review of the book last week, but Wagner hits the point more right on when he continues the quote above:
Assets are property. You don't own your people. Many of them don't trust you. Some don't like you. Too many won't stick it out with you. and the ones you need the most have the credentials to walk out fastest if you treat them poorly.
Above all, employees are not "human resources."
You might as well call them widgets, flesh-and-blood widgets. That's what the term "human resources" means. That how they are too often treated. In trying to get a better seat at the executive table with number-crunching departments like Accounting and Operations and Marketing, the executives in charge of hiring, culture, payroll, insurance, and training were seduced into using impersonal metrics for persons. Business lost its bearings in how to deal with people.
After documenting the rise of the employee engagement industry and where it has gone astray, Wagner brings us back to the fundamental human basics with a discussion of about the nature of "The Reciprocal Employee" and chapters devoted to each of his "12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees as If They're Real People." And, while Widgets is short on jargon, and as you can tell from the quotes above a little short on patience, Brenda Kowske—principal researcher on the studies that led to the book—tells us in the book's appendix about "The Science Behind the New Rules" that the book is definitely not short on research:
Companies and authors often succumb to the temptation to claim their engagement models were handed down from Olympus.
Ours came from Minneapolis.
As midwesterners, we're not given to hyperbole. When it gets as cold as it does in Minneapolis, one does not need to exaggerate; just reporting the facts makes enough of an impression. The book makes many bold assertions. To the degree that we make strong claims, we believe they should be backed by strong research, and questioning and testing of our own conclusions before we publish them.
Widgets is backed not only by many years of experience, but by hard behavioral science.
But, unlike so many others, Rodd Wagner and the folks at BI WORLDWIDE didn't let their metrics get in the way of their basic human sense of how to treat people as unique individuals worthy of dignity.
Writing about the "The Profitable Pursuit of Happiness" in the book's final chapter, Wagner once again calls out the employee engagement industry:
At the center of the war on worker happiness are some disdainful assumptions about human nature and the maturity of a company's workers. According to this line of thinking, rather than being responsible grown-ups, your employees are more like children at risk of being spoiled.
"The idea of trying to make people happy at work is terrible," said the CEO of one old-school consultancy. He compares employees to bears in Yellowstone National Park whose "natural instincts" are fouled up if they get a taste of human food. "Once the bears taste a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, they quit digging for roots and catching deer," he wrote. "Don't feed the bears."
"If you're measuring the effectiveness of your culture by your workforce's 'satisfaction' you're doing it all wrong," he declared (which was ironic, given that satisfaction has been the first question on his company's survey forever).
Reminding us of a timeless truth about happiness in the workplace that the industry has overlooked or forgotten in their pursuit of the perfect model to represent and manage us masses of working humanity:
One of the coolest things that pop out when searching the word "happy" among the responses in the New Rules research is how it's most frequently used to refer to customers. [...]
Happy employees create happy customers. It's been said enough that it seems trite. To watch it happen is actually quite profound. People are emotional creatures. Emotions are contagious. Happiness is an exceptionally powerful force. The executive who understands it, and genuinely wants to create it in his or her business, is substantially more effective than those who worry about spoiling their employees.
The measure of one's life, according to many philosophies, whether religious or not, is how you treat other people while you're on this planet. None of those creeds includes the opt-out clause "excerpt when you're at work."
And here he reiterates the "12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They're Real People" for emphasis, and to bring it home...
Get inside their heads. Make them fearless. Make money a non-issue. Help them thrive. Be cool. Be boldly transparent. Don't kill their meaning. See their future. Magnify their success. Unite them. Let them lead. Take it to extremes.
And go ahead—just make them happy. Trust in the power of human reciprocity. Feed some bears. Do some great things for your employees just because it feels great to make the day of someone who chose to join your organization. Chill out for a while about return on investment, because it will be there. Make them smile. Give them a great story to tell about you when they get home tonight. Sleep better knowing you did not do just the most profitable thing but also the right thing.
So, go get to it... right after you sign up to win a copy of this book, of course.
We have 20 copies available.