We noted last week that organizations cannot and do not come in to existence in order to provide for the benefit of their employees. Indeed, throughout the forthcoming discussion we will want to keep clearly before us the fact that organizations of the sort we are concerned with here are established to accomplish specifically stated large aims – not merely to assemble numbers of people together for the simple purpose of visiting one or another visionary utopia on them. There is, surely, nothing inherently wrong with caring about and for your staff. Just remember that that isn’t the reason for which they were brought together.
So, let’s turn for a moment to the question of how we reconcile the apparent conflict between the organizational mission being the managerial priority, and the welfare of the staff being secondary to that – per the military’s fundamental maxim about the relationship of command to the organization, which we’ve been using to drive this discussion over the past few weeks.
On the face of it, we might be forgiven for assuming, as many do, that an apparently heartless focus on purpose to the cost of the welfare of the staff would set up strongly unproductive – even destructive – dynamics within the organization. In fact, probably many of us can testify to having seen precisely those dynamics in a number of such heartless outfits.
Why, then, does this not seem to be the general case in the military? Far from it; as we’ve noted, the military is widely regarded as firmly dedicated to the welfare of its members, even as all of them, the members included, acknowledge the supremacy of the mission.
As it turns out, in such environments these “irreconcilable” instincts don’t merely inexplicably coexist – they actually reinforce each other. Moreover, they tend to do so vigorously and positively.
Let’s review the situation, then: in our daily work lives, just as in the military, a concern for the welfare of employees that is systemically equated with or elevated above – sometimes even divorced from – the welfare of the organization that employs them can lead to the degradation or even the demise of that organization. This routinely results in reductions in compensation – or even in unemployment – for the putative beneficiaries of the misplaced managerial solicitation. Unrealistic utopian ambition inevitably leaves very real dysptopian misery in its wake.
On the other hand, accomplishment of organizational goals surely can be jeopardized by the outright negligence of employee welfare.
So, back we go to the question we eagerly want to believe must be answered in the affirmative: shouldn’t we put employees first to help ensure we have a loyal, motivated workforce for pursuing organizational goals?
Which in turn brings us right back to the inescapable fact we must soberly and frankly acknowledge: if you fail to focus sufficiently on your mission you risk failing to accomplish it, thus jeopardizing the health – or, even, the existence – of your organization. How good is that for your employees?
And the only way to avoid hopelessly repeating this dialogue is to pose the question that really needs answering: how do you resolve the apparent conflict in the organization-first maxim?
Here’s a brief go at the answer (there will be some elaboration of this subsequently in this series): what you do for your employees, you do in order to help them better contribute to the accomplishment of organizational goals. This starts most obviously with equipping and training them, but can also extend into many quasi-“enlightened” practices ranging from health and retirement programs to on-site exercise facilities, day-care centers, and the like. The key is to be sure you justify (not rationalize) and design such programs with regard to how they provide a net positive contribution by employees to organizational goals.
You will find that it takes little managerial effort to help your employees fully appreciate the connection between these efforts – which might previously have seemed oddly disconnected, if not downright conflicting – and henceforth to support their reciprocal strengthening of the organization as a whole
So, let’s be sure we have that right: organizational goals are first; employee welfare comes second.
By organizing the latter, within the limits of your organizational resources, to support staff ability and efforts to accomplish the former, management helps ensure a healthy organization within which the employees can find both fulfilling work and the means to care for themselves and their families.
That is, the former tells you how to, and disciplines your efforts as you, go about the latter.
But once the focus shifts from the organization’s net benefit, under whatever guise, to employee welfare in its own independent right, you place not just the organization in jeopardy, but the object of your misplaced attentions as well.
Okay, enough of that. Next we’ll offer an outline of the remainder of this series, which I hope you’ll find intriguing.
See you next week . . .