All of us have witnessed or been involved in an “us versus them” situation or environment. This issue can lead to total disfunctionality in which “winning” internal battles can be more important than the overall success of the organization. Left unaddressed, it can significantly and silently impact the morale of an organization. The article in this collection “Silo is a Four Letter Word” discussed how singular department focus could significantly harm an organization. There is a more subtle form of “us versus them” that can creep into an organization that can lead to equally negative outcomes. This condition can occur horizontally across the organization, impacting personnel independent of their functional responsibilities. Horizontal or cross-functional divisions can evolve between management and staff personnel, exempt versus non-exempt personnel, or any other similar actual or perceived division. Certain members of a group may not even be aware of the division perceived by others. The “us versus them” situation can be created by either a real or imagined different treatment of individuals assumed by either one or both groups.
An example of a real difference is how the US Congress passes laws that include provisions that allow them to be exempt from compliance. Who among us feels that their approach is fair and equitable? An example of a perceived difference can be hourly personnel that observe sales reps “coming and going” at different times, not realizing that the sales reps are making sales calls. It does not matter whether the “us versus them” situation is based on facts or feelings, the resulting organizational issues can have the same negative outcomes.
One approach that can help to minimize this situation is to adopt a “fair” as well as “equal” approach to employees. On the surface and simplistically, it may seem that following only an “equal” doctrine is appropriate and even mandatory. Clearly, “equal treatment” as opposed to discrimination is always appropriate. However, adding a “fairness” component can significantly help build morale across the organization. There are a number of simple actions that a management team can take to provide an inclusive environment to help avoid a number of the “us versus them” situations. A technique that can be used is to simply ask, “Are we being inclusive in this even or with this portion of our employee population?” Examples include:
Provide business cards for everyone.
This may not seem to be a major issue for seasoned executives, but for young workers fresh out of school or administrative personnel with no customer contact, having their own business cards can be a major ego boasting feeling. Costing less than $10.00 for 500 cards, it a minuscule investment for a company.
Provide appropriate titles (but don’t use them).
This issue may seem to be paradoxical, but providing appropriate business titles can have a significant negative effect for personnel that happen to be “lower” in the organizational hierarchy. Avoid using titles that can seem to be demeaning. For example “Junior” Associate or Engineer, even for an entry level person, or referring to everyone as a “Manager” even though they have no management responsibility can cause unspoken bitterness.
In group settings with outsiders, not mentioning titles allows everyone to appear to be on equal ground. Senior leaders or managers can easily set the stage by not using their titles. The organizational hierarchy will appear naturally soon enough for the “pecking order” to be established without broadcasting it.
Establish goals for everyone.
Provide meaningful and quantifiable goals for every person in the organization. Try to provide individual goals for each person as well as group-wide goals. These goals will help each individual understand what the company deems important for them and helps them to personally answer the question: “How am I doing?”
Establish a variable compensation program for everyone.
Certainly the compensation associated with a variable compensation plan that is determined by an employee’s performance needs to vary based on their position within the company as well as their performance and, perhaps, the performance of the company. For entry level or unskilled workers, the target variable compensation can be very low whereas for senior level personnel, it could be a significant amount. The underlying goal is having everyone on the program so that it can be discussed openly to group or company-wide settings.
Provide stock options for everyone.
Similar to variable compensation, the number of options granted can (and should) vary widely. Grants should be based on an individual’s performance and not necessarily on their time in grade or level only.
Hold open “town hall” meetings.
Invite everyone to participate in general, open dialogue meetings in which key business issues are discussed. By instituting individual and team goals, variable compensation, and stock option grant programs across the organization, these subjects can be openly discussed in these company-wide forums.
Provide company-wide, timely communications.
We all know that the rumor mill travels faster than any other form of communication. Something as simple as holding a closed-door meeting when they are very rare can instantly create negative speculation about what is going on. Quickly communicate good news as well as bad news to everyone to avoid the perception of those that “know” and those who are purposely “kept in the dark”.
Publicly Post Goals and Results
Similar to the rumor mill comment above, virtually everyone in an organization either knows or thinks they know how the company is progressing in meeting their goals. Expect nothing different. Referring to Principle One: Stay in Business, every employee is concerned about his or her personal well being in terms of his or her employment stability. There are virtually no secrets in an organization. Some individuals at all levels, through their normal business activities, will know when a large order is lost, shipments fall behind plan, employee turnover has increased, or merger or acquisition considerations are underway. Post and update goals, performance, and forecasts in public places and keep them updated to avoid rumored numbers from being accepted as true.
The items listed above may seem to be almost trivial for senior managers. However, for the majority of individuals that are “lower” in an organization, they can be very real. All of these issues fall under Principle Two: Treat All Individuals With Dignity and Respect. Often, that notion is implemented with an unintentional defensive mindset of “Let’s not do anything wrong” to avoid the potential of litigation. Taking a more positive approach of “What can we do to make sure we are doing the right things for everyone” is far more effective and needs to be embraced by every manager and, for that matter, every employee.