A few years ago I was teaching a leadership class for graduate students in an MBA program. The class was being held off-site at a company’s Corporate University facility. I noticed and commented on a brass plaque that was proudly displayed on the wall – “Our shared value is to treat all associates with dignity and respect.”This company had been honored just two years before as one of the best places to work in America. The CEO proudly gave several reasons for this honor and cited the shared value of respect as being a core foundation for everything they do. Of course I referenced this honor to the students in the class, most of who were not employed at that company, but three students were employed there. After the class two of the students came up to me with a tone that reflected sarcasm and cynicism! Their experiences with each of their supervisors were quite the contrary to this purported value and expected behavior from all managers. Their stories were all too typical in organizations: “my boss never says good morning,” “she makes me feel like I can’t think on my own and makes all decisions for me” and “during my last performance review I was told to sit and listen and if I had problems I should go to HR – I was shocked, confused and extremely demotivated.”
There is an expression related to employee retention, “people join organizations but they leave because of their supervisor.” Every company should strive to be recognized as being one of the best, but no person or organization can rest on their laurels. Gaining respect takes hard work and commitment and it is like keeping an inflated balloon in the air – you can’t stop punching it or else it will fall to the ground!
One of the best descriptions of respect is:
“Genuinely care for others. Show you care, respect the dignity of every person and every role. Treat everyone with respect, especially those who can’t do anything for you. Show kindness in the little things. Don’t fake caring. Don’t attempt to be “efficient” with people.”
Every organization needs to ask the question as to whether they are consistently treating everyone with respect. Maybe the way you ask is through Employee Attitude Surveys, focus groups, CEO Town hall meetings, or just walking around and observing. Regardless of what assessment tool is used, organizations must probe to assure these perceptions and assessments are grounded in observable data. Once this is done, leadership must identify the key drivers behind employee engagement and develop all managers on the expected behaviors that reflect respect.
Every major religion in the world has a saying regarding how to treat people, all are variations on the same theme – treating people the way they want to be treated! Some managers consider this topic as being one of the “soft skills” in management. On the contrary! Employee retention (the cost of turnover), customer relations (losing customers), community affairs and good will (bad relationships with the community creates litigation and bad press) are examples of the financial impact to the bottom-line.
One of my favorite expressions summarizes it succinctly, “If I treat you with dignity and respect, you are morally and psychologically bound to treat me the same way.” Yes, of course, this maxim is not always the case, but I can assure you that the contrary will always be true! The overarching principle of respect is a belief in the intrinsic worth of individuals – the importance of each human being as a part of the organization. Demonstrating you care goes a long way to building employee engagement.