Business’ Lack of Soul

Wall Street Journal columnist Gary Hamel wrote a while ago about The Hole in the Soul of Business. He correlates the lack of passion many employees of big companies have for their jobs to the sterile language in their published goals and values.

I think the problem at hand is that, during the lifecycle of any company, a shift must take place where the commitment to product quality and customer satisfaction becomes no longer the emotional product of a few passionate individuals, but becomes part of the fabric of the corporation. This means that process and procedure takes over from actual people who may care about customers.

Said process and procedures bring with them the danger that individuals within the company become disempowered and demotivated. Sadly, it is the only way to scale an operation beyond a few individuals: process and procedures must be put in place to ensure customers have a consistent experience. You can’t put the burden on what few employees you have that happen to be the driven customer satisfaction rock stars. They will burn out and leave, and expose the rotten structure underneath.

There is a fine line between empowering and disempowering your employees. If you do it right, employees remain involved, passionate and motivated. If you do it wrong, the customer experience will be consistent, but it will be crappy. Taken to its logical extreme, the only continuing contribution your employees will make to morale is to post Dilbert cartoons on their cubicles.

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