Dollars and Sense: Competitive advantage through people

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 28, 2006

People, in general, have lost confidence in corporate and political leadership. Employees are not confident concerning the motives and direction company leaders espouse. Recent studies done by the Harris Poll in conjunction in Franklin Covey are revealing:

– Only 37 percent of employees polled had a clear understanding of what their organization was trying to achieve and why.

– Only one in five was enthusiastic about their team and organization’s goals.

– Only 15 percent felt they work in a high-trust environment.

– Only 20 percent trust the organization they work for.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 to 80 percent of the U.S. workforce is disenchanted. Why do such dismal conditions exist in the most prosperous society in the world … in your company? The following findings may provide insight into the question:

-93 percent polled felt the systems within the respective companies are misaligned.

-92 percent thought their manager lacked the necessary skills required in the current environment.

-64 percent believe the company lacks a vision of the future.

-49 percent do not trust the manager they work for.

Wherever such conditions exist within an organization, employee ability to function in the most productive manner is significantly impaired. Perhaps it is time to quit listening for the next competitive &uot;advantage&uot; that Wall Street proffers and focus on the most productive assets of any organization.

Interestingly, statistics indicate that most mergers, buyouts, acquisitions and downsizings don’t work.

Let’s start by taking to heart the now trite statement, &uot;Our people are our most important asset.&uot;

In his book, Work Happy Live Healthy: New Solutions for Career Satisfaction Including More Time & Money, Tom Welch states there are four factors to career satisfaction.

People want the opportunity to use their core skills and talents. They want to engage in work that is congruent with their core values. It is important to work with others who share similar energy and passions. And most importantly, people want to feel they are making a difference in whatever role they play.

Possibly the best way to envision what a new paradigm might look like is to recall the past. Consider the early beginning of the venture. It likely started as a family business. The purpose of the business was the care and feeding of the family. Because it was family owned, pride existed, even if for no other reason than the name was on the door. Every member of the family was involved, creating a sense of unity. There was interdependence, which tended to foster initiative. Such enterprises were characterized by hard work, good morale, and a team attitude. These ventures were not successful simply because they were family businesses, but because they exhibited best attributes of family. Thoughts such as these are well recognized throughout the business world. Most CEO’s would love to have their organization characterized by the traits described above.

How then do so many companies lose touch with this sense of family? The tipping point is reached when the company stops existing for the care and benefit of the people who breathe life into it. The organization begins to see those same people as balance sheet liabilities that are there simply to insure the corporation’s survival. When such a leadership paradigm shift occurs, things like ethics, loyalty, morale, performance, and confidence begin to slip.

So what is the answer to this very serious problem?

First, stop competing externally and focus on continuously striving to improve internally. Trust in the competitive advantage of excellence. The &uot;New Society&uot; is about the knowledge worker. With those minds come the productivity advantages of the future. Second, provide the people with an environment that is built upon shared values, a vision that speaks of opportunity for continuous personal and organizational improvement, and the feeling they are making a difference in lives by being a part of this unique &uot;family&uot;.

If 70-80% of the people are disenchanted, simply imagine the productive potential and untapped creative thought that is squandered daily. Now you have an idea of the real competitive advantage that exists in every organization.

Jody Bicking is a partner with The Moser Group and can be reached at