Sunday, July 30, 2006

Disposable People: Readying for the Endgame

Since 1984, more than 30 million Americans holding full-time jobs have been laid off – permanently separated from their jobs. Millions fell victim to “foreign competition,” a euphemism for sending jobs to countries where wages are measured in cents, not dollars.

In the mid-1990’s when “offshoring” began in earnest, manufacturing employees who once held jobs providing middle class lifestyles found themselves working in low paid service jobs. Those sporting white collars felt insulated, but their confidence was misplaced. Soon, college graduates who worked in human resources, payroll, accounting, purchasing, materials management, and other disciplines began falling to the sword of outsourcing mania.

Now, 10 years after it all began, some wonder why so many have fallen so silently, and others have quietly accepted wage stagnation, elimination of retirement plans, and diminished health care coverage with nary a peep. The answer is fear. Anxiety is the prevailing emotion in the American workplace, and for good reason.

As Louis Uchitele observes in his recent book, “The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences,” most full-time employees who are laid off have to take jobs that pay far less, and it is pure mythology that the answer for displaced workers is found in new skills -- implying that there are jobs for everyone if they only had the right education. Even today there are not enough jobs for the college-educated employees seeking employment. This is why so many are working jobs for which they are overqualified and millions have disappeared from the unemployment rolls if only because they have been unemployed too long.

It is also why the unemployment statistics foisted upon us by government have been shot through the whiskey prism and do not reflect the reality of an educated, skilled workforce performing jobs far below their capabilities and often paid below a living wage, yet too afraid to speak out for fear they will join the 30 million who have left before them. These employees are whistling past the graveyard, hoping against hope that it won’t happen to them. It is why millions keep their resumes on and with headhunters 24/7/365 and will leave their current employers if they feel even slightly compromised or can make another few cents an hour. Why not? They know they are disposable. Why shouldn’t their employer likewise be tossed out with the trash when opportunity arises?

To date, the American employer has benefited if only because fear is a powerful motivator. Unfortunately, it is a motivator of short duration. The endgame remains to be played. The successful employers will be those who do not sacrifice their employees on the altar of quarterly results, who don't take the easy way out and balance the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it, but take a longer term view, err on the side of keeping their best performers rather than pretending they are replaceable “assets.” The employees of the post-modern employer, in turn, will come to work not because they are afraid but because they feel valued and understand the quid pro quo for quality, creativity, and longevity is the credible connection of security.

These are the companies that will stand the test of time.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Pink Dress

The town has no name. Or maybe it does. For sure there is no sign there and I have never stopped to ask what they call this place between San Miguel de Allende and places beyond -- just a wide spot in the road with a few tiendas spattered among dingy one room houses, some with no doors, and others with no windows.

We travel this way once a week to the animal shelter between the town with no name and Queretaro to decide which animals we can find homes for, who to save and who to leave, knowing that leaving means, for most of them, there will be no next week. The town with no name has come and gone in my rearview mirror many times with never a thought.

Until today.

Slowing down to avoid a burro walking on the road, I looked up and saw the open door on a tiny bare brick home. Framed in the doorway was a little girl, maybe four years old, not more. She was standing barefooted, still, staring toward the mountains in the distance. She was wearing a pretty pink dress and she was smiling.

I drove on but her image stayed with me. Standing on that dirt floor, barefooted, not knowing that she is poor, she does not lament the fate that she will likely always be poor. And, if she remains in the town with no name, stays close to her family and her friends, she will never be a victim of the Myth of More -- the mantra of western culture that more stuff equals more happiness.

If she is fortunate, she will not win the lottery. Rather, she will never be taught that with enough money her story will somehow work out. With luck she will learn that all happiness occurs in the present -- that standing in a doorway looking at the mountains that frame a glorious background is enough, that it more than enough. She will learn that she can be still and enjoy the wind that runs through these valleys, walk the trails, and love her brothers and sisters and friends whom she will never leave. She will learn to understand that everyone gets sick and and dies, and there is no pill that will change that, and she will not be afraid because she will understand it is the natural order of things. She will never be taught to feel less because she has less and she will never feel the pain of figuring out too late that there is no amount of money on the last day of our lives we would not trade for the life of the smiling child in the pink dress in the town with no name.

That is my wish for her.

Postscript: I will never forget the image of the little girl in a pink dress framed in the doorway, just as I will not forget the little worn out tennis shoe with no laces on a young boy shining shoes outside the Tijuana airport, just as I will never forget the faces of the animals who wag their tails and lick their human captors for the slightest affection even as they face their own deaths for no just reason, but only because they were born unwanted.

Each of these images haunt me and bring tears to my eyes but I after I wipe them away I feel blessed, not because I have more but because I have learned the limitations of more, that the chase for money, stuff, success, and power is doomed because we cannot buy immortality anymore than we can buy happiness, and that we can never run fast enough or work hard enough to change the endgame.

Perhaps the best we can do is to be still, to stop running long enough to reach out to others in the hope that our understanding and compassion will lead them to a soul-fed understanding that our credible connections with friends, family, and co-workers is where life satisfaction can be found.

I will be training in Europe, Mexico, and South America from mid-August until the end of September and available by e-mail.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Service--But Mostly The Lack Thereof

Travels over the holidays
took me to Dallas and points beyond. In the spirit of
the holidays, I ran from place to place, stressed in
traffic jams, shopped like it was my job, and burned
gasoline like it was going out of style.

In the
11 days of being flogged by the holiday experience, I
experienced “service,” but mostly a lack of service,
almost always in the context of doing business, trying
to buy something or getting someone to help me. And, for
the most part, I was disappointed.

“I can’t do that.”

“I don’t know.”

“I have no way of finding out.”

“I have to talk to my manager and he’s not here
right now.”

“No, I don’t know when he’ll come

“I know the door’s open, but we’re

“I can’t check you out. It’s not my

I heard all of those
and more. And, on reflection, I noticed that the larger
the company, the worse the service I experienced.
Indeed, the only positive service experiences this
holiday season were at smaller companies, to include a
computer repair store that not only went out of their
way to make sure my laptop was ready for my departure,
but even found the locksmith to come unlock my car
which, in the spirit of the holidays, I locked my keys
in. One family-owned jewelry store also bent over
backwards to see that my lack of punctuality didn’t cost
anyone their surprise.

Why? Do small businesses
attract people with better attitudes or who are more
service-oriented? I think not. Rather, I believe it is
because smaller businesses find it easier and more
natural to create a familial environment, to credibly
connect by knowing everyone with whom they work, and
from knowing and working closely together, empathy
results and from that relationships which makes these
employees happier and, it seems, better suited to
service customers like me.

Employees who know –
really know – their supervisors, who know their boss,
who know their owner, are happier for the experience. In
their minds, their managers are people, not positions.
These happier employees are better employees, and they
stay longer. Sears proved the point when they conducted
an 800-store survey that showed the impact of employee
attitudes on the bottom line. When employee attitudes
improved by 5%, customer satisfaction jumped 1.3%,
consequently increasing revenue by one-half a percentage

Of course, there are many employees with
large, public companies who are also happy. In some
cases, it is because their companies have made an effort
to make a large, impersonal environment feel smaller and
more personal. It may be because their manager has gone
out of her way to recognize the individuality of each
person for whom she is responsible. In other cases, it
may be the pride that some employees feel who work for
companies that are known for their social
responsibility, companies like Starbucks, Microsoft,
Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Build-A-Bear Workshop, just
to name a few.

In the end, work brings people
together. Those employers that do the best job of
bringing their employees together in meaningful ways
lead them to attitudes of care, compassion, and concern,
and these are the employers best able to make the case
for customer service because they are able transfer what
they do for each other everyday to those of us who need
their help on occasion.

Best wishes for a Happy
New Year, one filled with happiness, and service, too.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Tragedy and An Opportunity

Several clients are
pitching in and connecting with their employees in the
tsunami relief effort. Everything from matching
contributions to in-kind donations to time off to
volunteer, these employers should be proud of their

You do not have to be among the biggest
corporate givers like Pfizer, which is donating $10
million in cash and $25 million worth of drugs to relief
agencies, or The Coca-Cola Co., which is donating $10
million, or Exxon Mobil which is giving $5 million. Your
company can do something for the victims of this tragic
event and in the process credibly connect with your
employees, joining forces with them showing compassion
for those most in need. If you want ideas, please call.
There will be no fee charged for this service. If you
know what you want to do, do it and let us know what you
are doing.

We'll do a followup posting in the
next week or so with the specifics and the results from
many of our clients.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

U.S. Health: Spend More, Get Less

Here are some facts that don’t fit with the U.S. perception that because we’re richer and spend more on health care (by a long shot) than any other society, we’re healthier.

Nice try. No cigar.

The facts are as clear as they are ugly. Compared to Brits, who drink more, we Americans are:

- twice as likely to have diabetes

- 10 percent more likely to be afflicted by hypertension (high blood pressure)

- more likely to suffer from heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, lung diseases, and cancer.

Our money doesn’t bring us happiness. It doesn’t bring us health, either. The World Health Organization reports that of the 23 countries that spend the most money per capita on health care, only the Czech Republic has a lower ‘healthy life expectancy,’ that is total average years of life minus the average number of years of illness.)

And, while we’re dealing with mythology, let’s up the ante -- the U.S. health care system – the one reputed (by medical professionals and insurance companies mostly) as the “best in the world.” Again, without rendering the language meaningless, Americans are not receiving the world’s “best” care. If they were then rich Americans would not fall short of British health standards. Indeed, "differences in socioeconomic groups between the two countries were so great that those in the top education and income level in the U.S. had similar rates of diabetes and heart disease as those in the bottom education and income level in England," concluded the Journal of the American Medical Association.

With the study controlled for smoking, drinking, and obesity, differences in unhealthy lifestyles are unlikely the culprits. Which is not to say that lifestyle differences may not be a factor.

One difference between the Americans and the British that stands out is our work, with the average American working harder and longer than his British counterpart, switching jobs more often, and more worried about job security. It’s called stress and it is just a theory for the moment but it is a theory that should open a discussion about health care delivery in the U.S. as well as a dialog on whether our desire for more money is begin paid for with less life.

If you have an opinion, post it to this blog found at

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Case For Credible Connections Is Found In Our Absence of Friends

Human happiness and
satisfaction researchers have long known that human
happiness, in great part, is determined by how many
people one is close to -- that is how many friends we

The Gallup researchers, Buckingham and
Coffman, statistically proved several years ago that
whether one has close relationships with others in the
workplace is a predictor not only of increased workplace
satisfaction but of higher productivity.

We also
know the last decade has seen a precipitous decline in
overall satisfaction, especially workplace

We've known all this but could only
hypothesize why it was happening to us.

Now comes
new research from Duke University that finds most
Americans have fewer friends than ever before, and our
shrinking network of credible connections is leaving
many people lonely. Indeed, the average number of close
friends for most of us is down from three to just two
and the number who say they don't have anybody to
confide has doubled.

One of the studies' authors,
Lynn Smith-Levin, observed, "If we are depending on
fewer people for [] social support and help then we may
not have that safety net when we need it. If the numbers
of connections each person had goes down enough, we may
have groups of people that are relatively unconnected
and there aren't any bridges between them."

do we depend less on others?

The answer to that
question will have to wait for the next study, but
excessive work hours, long commutes, and a high tech/low
touch lifestyle have been linked to our diminishing
connections and rising levels of workplace
dissatisfaction and increased risk of disease and

One step at a time the fundamental
premises of Why Work Isn't Working Anymore -- Tools
to Transform Your Workplace As If People Mattered
are being proven. More importantly, managers are
proving through their use of our
relationship-development tools that just as the absence
of happiness is linked to the dearth of meaningful
relationships, so the answer is found in their creation.