The Importance of Being Important

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the results of a poll recently that’s surprising — and, at the same time, not surprising at all. Metro Atlanta employees at a wide variety of organizations were asked to respond to a list of 20 statements, grouped into six categories. Workplace Dynamics ran the survey to determine which were the “best” places to work in Atlanta.

The leading categories were not pay and benefits. Nor were they quality managers. Instead, “direction of the company” came in first, followed by “conditions and execution of the business” and “career aspects.” The article itself is available online at

At first, I found the relative unimportance of pay and benefits counterintuitive. Then I started thinking about some of the organizations I interviewed with when I was out of work. A depressingly large number of them were “zombie companies” — staffed by people collecting paychecks, with offices and cubicles exhibiting no energy and management teams who understood their challenges but not how to meet them.

That kind of behavior is a natural response to economic times in which any job becomes precious and not failing is its own sort of success. But it’s a lousy way to spend 40+ hours a week on an ongoing basis.

People like to be part of a winning team. They want to feel that their work effort is going towards something worthwhile. They want to see tangible results that come from clear goals, clearly articulated and ably led. From that perspective, the poll’s results make perfect sense.

What I expect is also the case, but the poll didn’t measure, is that organizations who have solid, achievable directions and know how to communicate those ambitions to staff also are adept at making their employees feel important. It’s great to be part of a winning team. It’s even better to know that you are an essential part of that team — and that the leadership recognizes and values your contributions.

I learned that lesson watching my father build his medical practice. His group found unusually good staff, then paid them above the going rate so that they’d stick around. Some might say that was inefficient. But no, it was smart business. The practice had far less turnover than most, which meant much less time and expense lost to training new personnel. It also worked wonders for patient retention. Years might go by between visits, but a new appointment was very likely to mean a familiar face at the sign-in window, another in the examining room and yet one more at checkout. The practice’s warmth and stability were powerful reasons why it thrived.

Sad to say, we live in a disposable society. For many workers, a job is no more permanent than paper cups or napkins. Employees know it. Management knows it. Yet management doesn’t seem to realize that their platitudes, unveiled with a flourish at off-site meetings, can only go so far to truly harness the energy and effort needed to build a successful organization. My wife’s father, long a corporate survivor, said it very succinctly: The last act of a dying organization is a new rulebook.

Smart organizations know how to buck this trend. Make your people important to your success. Let them know it and reward them for it. That way, everyone comes out a winner.

~ by jld0077 on April 28, 2012.

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