Monday, April 26, 2010

Beyond the ID number is a person....

I get asked often about why I got into consulting and started my own business. I can give you many cliché's and other random comments. What it really boils down to is two things: my family and my father.

First and foremost is my family. The only way that I knew how to protect the work/life balance that I want and provide for them was to do it on my own. I did become cynical of the corporate world though because of the example that I had from my father.

In 1978 three men, Ken Fisher, Gordon Mann, and my dad Dudley Morris started a company called USSI. They wrote automation software for insurance companies and were pioneers in their industry. USSI is still thriving and is privately held. I am not sure of the practice today, but when I was growing up, I could always remember the "Corporate Cruise" and the stories of the Christmas parties. The cruise was a reward to the entire company for hitting their goals. The company would take everyone and a significant other on a three day cruise to the Bahamas as a reward for hitting their sales and profitability goals. I never got to go on a cruise, but I loved hearing the stories about it. The other thing I remember was the Christmas party. Every year Mr. Mann would play "Let's Make A Deal" (which is funny since my high school friend Wayne Brady hosts that show now). I remembered how the company was a family. These days, everyone seems more focused on corporate liability than rewards. Christmas parties or gatherings like that are also a thing of the past.

I lost my father in 1992. A few months ago, I stopped by the office of USSI. Keith Fisher (Ken's son) is now running the company. He called in a couple of people that were still there that worked with my father. It was a special moment for me. I never knew how much growing up in the midst of my father's company impacted me until a few years ago.

My whole career, I had been searching for that "family" feeling. I had been on a search to be able to share those war stories and wear where I worked as a badge of honor on my sleeve. I believe I was born into the wrong generation for that. I fear that we have become just numbers, not people in many organizations. I came close to those family feelings only to have them not live up to my expectations in the end. I had several instances in my career that shaped who I am:

• One of my first real professional jobs pitched that family feeling. It turned out to be one of the most demanding and abusive environments. I remember being written up two days before my wedding for leaving the office 10 minutes before 9PM to pick up my tux before the tux shop closed. The quote that always stuck was, "I thought you were a team player."

• A colleague of mine had made a huge mistake. It was blamed on me. I thought it would pass and I was protecting my colleague, so I took the heat for it. I was forced to apologize in front of the whole branch office as to what I did. I also was subjected to what amounts to purgatory for the next 4 months until I eventually had to quit.

• I was 180% of my plan at a position. My colleague was 30% of plan. The company was forced to downsize. I was eliminated over my colleague because it would be more expensive on paper for the company to keep me because I had over-achieved and my bonus was more.

• I was running a team. Our first year, we had exceeded all expectations. When it came review time, I had rated them all as such. I was told that I could only have one person, maybe two exceed my expectations. If they all exceeded my expectations, then the problem was my expectations. I then had to find ways to score them so they fell below the grade. I had huge problems with that one.

• I was running a company that was really on the way up. The company had to shut down due to financial issues beyond my control. I felt like my family was ripped from me and my eternal optimism was almost completely shattered.

I am sure that many of you have had war stories like these. I think that this can change. I think that this economy and the recent difficulties can push us into a new era. The financial crisis that we have all faced has exposed quite a bit. We have been able to discuss "Too big to fail," executive bonuses, and how the corruption of so few can lead to the destruction of so many. I think it is time that we look beyond the employee ID and start valuing people again.

This can start with you. Find someone on your team that has really gone above and beyond. Stop by their cube and tell them how much they are appreciated. Do not use terms like productivity, focus, or other corporate jargon. Thank them for being who they are. Thank them for their contribution. Show them real appreciation. Make sure that when decisions are being made that we think of them as individuals, not as numbers on paper.

I recently watched an organization who was utilizing their staff at an average of 123% be told to cut 10% of their staff due to budget concerns. Any time there is an arbitrary number, that is just paper pushing and numbers games. It is easy to look at a spreadsheet and come up with those decisions. It is much more difficult to look others in the eye and come up with those decisions. I see companies make lump sum cuts to their staff, yet never cut projects or initiatives. They feel that the work will just become "absorbed." This means that those that are left are now working 150% of their time and are "thankful" just to have the position. I fear that the financial bubble is about to cause an employee bubble. If we keep seeing them as numbers, that is what will happen.

As for me, I know that my greatest impact is to have my own business so I can work with the executives of other companies and have frank conversations. It is what it is. I am seeing great strides out there. We are collecting data that shows it is time to invest in people again. We are seeing data right now that shows if you focus on the work/life balance of your employees, the numbers actually improve, not decline. Take time to talk to your employees, team members, or colleagues. Remember that beyond the ID number is a person and you can't go wrong!

If you have similar war stories or comments, please share!

This day is THE day,



Ken Armstrong said...

Bravo my friend. Bravo.

Henry Will said...

Rick, I have a few war stories too. Thanks for sharing yours and encouraging us to make a difference!

Ramsey Morris(His Daughter) said...