Talent, not loyalty, counts in the workplace

Dear Joan:
Every week I find myself reading your column. Why I do, however, sometimes baffles me. You speak constantly about the loyalty and devotion employees should give their company. You talk about the effort each person should put forth to become a valued worker. But rarely do I see you remind employers that loyalty and effort needs to be acknowledged and awarded. Too often the response at review and raise time is always the same. "This is all we can afford this year. Everyone is limited to 3 percent." Or something similar.

Why would any employee attempt to give 120 percent when they are batched in with everyone else at 70, 80 or 90 percent effort? Why would someone give more only to be laid off at the first sign of a slow down?

I have 15 years of national and international procurement experience. I have saved my various employers over six million during my career. I have been out of work since 1991 and I am still trying to find that one employer who willingly responds to loyalty and effort.

Loyalty is a quality that I seldom write about for good reason; unfortunately, it's not as important is it used to be in corporate life. Let's not confuse loyalty with hard work, however. Companies value hard work but loyalty alone is a useless commodity in the workplace of the future.

You may think I'm hard-nosed but blind "loyalty" (a.k.a. longevity) is no longer a key currency in the American workplace. You are only renting your set of skills and talents. You don't owe your company loyalty...your company doesn't owe you loyalty. Here's the agreement: as long as you provide the skills, talents--and results-- that the company needs and can afford, you have a deal. And as long as you are treated with respect, are challenged and paid what you are worth, you have a deal.

Where did we ever get the idea that our company owes us a job? Companies don't owe anyone a job and employees don't owe any company their career. We can walk away when we find a better one and they can also choose to end the relationship if we don't produce what we agreed to or they have to cut costs to stay in business.

Since WWII, companies got fat and slow because there was little competition. Now that America is facing global competition, companies are realizing they must be fast on their feet, exceed customer expectations, and trim overhead costs. You can't do that with a bloated organizational chart, employees who don't produce, and structures and systems that serve the needs of everyone but the customer. Loyalty doesn't cut it in the new world order.

Work life as we know it is being turned upside down. Companies are scaling down to their core businesses; becoming "modular." They're keeping only a skeleton crew of specialists essential to the business and farming out the rest. They can't afford the overhead if they are going to compete and they don't want the heartache caused by lay offs every time business is slow. This is one of the reason temporary agencies are booming.

I agree completely with your point about the flawed reward system most companies still use. If, indeed, an employee gives 120 percent and heeds the "do more with less" mantra, he or she is worth more to the company and should be paid more.

Treating everyone the same at raise time kills incentive and rewards the wrong behavior. The poor performers make out like bandits because the organization didn't have the guts to give the best employees what they deserve. Instead, they reward "loyalty" by giving long-term people-- who aren't producing-- the same amount as the ones who have been breaking their backs. In the new workplace "time on the job" won't matter as much as "results on the job."

This new "freelance economy" is frightening. There are no guarantees. But the freedom it gives you can be exhilarating. It's one of the reasons employers have been scrambling to find new pay systems that pay for performance. If you are a successful skill merchant and the company benefits from your results, you can ask for more money and get it.

You say you are looking for that one employer who rewards loyalty and effort. Shrug off any bitterness you may feel and come to terms with the reality that RESULTS are the only hot commodity employers want. Repackage your talents, skills and results and sell them in the new, open marketplace. The old one has gone out of business.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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