Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is Loyalty Dead?

When I saw recently where Tiger Woods had fired his caddie of twelve years, I started thinking about the concept of loyalty. Is it disappearing from business and personal relationships? There are those who argue that indeed it’s long gone, as anachronistic and outdated as a music store.

Several years ago, I had an opportunity to visit a Midwest-based company who had been awarded a prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Over an hour’s presentation, the company’s manufacturing representative made a point of mentioning (and then twice repeating) the fact that “loyalty in business is dead.” I wondered why he embraced such a notion, so I raised my hand.

Me: “Are you married?”
Him: “Yes.”
Me: “Have you ever played on a sports team?”
Him: “Yes.”
Me: “Were you ever in the armed forces?”
Him (proudly): “Yes, Army airborne.”
Me: “Do you force your employees to wear those blue t-shirts, the ones with the company logo?”
Him: “No, of course not.”
Me: “Doesn’t it demonstrate some degree of loyalty that they wear those shirts?”
Him: “Not really.”
Me: “If they wore your chief competitor’s t-shirt, would you consider that disloyal?”
Him (smiling): “They can wear whatever they want.”
Me: “Isn’t the business world really just a cluster of personal relationships, not unlike relationships in marriage or sports teams or military units?”
Him: “I suppose so, yeah.”
Me: “Then do you really buy that drivel about loyalty being dead in business?”
Him (pausing): “Yep, it just doesn’t exist anymore.”

Okay, so we disagree. And I understand that companies can’t promise lifetime or unconditional employment anymore, given the cutthroat, global competition that predominates today. I also understand that companies will sometimes discard loyal and often older, better compensated employees without a moment’s hesitation when the “downsizing” occurs. The most successful companies, however, who care deeply about their brand and their growth and their ability to attract, develop, and then retain good people, also care deeply about those people. Is that an aspect of loyalty? I think so, yeah.

Cantor Fitzgerald lost 658 of its employees, or two-thirds of its workforce, in the September 11, 2001 attack upon the World Trade Center. On September 12, the company committed itself to somehow rebuilding its business, almost from scratch. The firm made a pledge to distribute 25 percent of the firm's profits for the next five years, along with paying for ten years of health care, for the benefit of those 658 families. Is that an aspect of loyalty? Sure looks that way to me.

Lots of marriages still stay together; Marines and soldiers still selflessly throw themselves on grenades to save their buddies; companies spend large sums developing their employees and making contributions to their respective communities; not all golfers fire their longtime caddies.

Is loyalty dead? No, of course not. It’s MIA sometimes, but it’s certainly not dead. After all, who would want to live in a world where there’s no loyalty, or no blue t-shirts with the company logo?

No comments:

Post a Comment