Employee Pride offers powerful force for operational improvement

There is a power lying at the beating heart of every facility, field office or location– a power waiting to be called forth, and yet one that remains woefully untapped, under-estimated, and even unintentionally undermined. That power is Pride. 

By Pride, I don't mean simply a response to being appreciated through a recognition program or what a union friend of mine calls "a hat and a hot dog" event given for a job well done– as positive as those can be. I mean something more profound and much more powerful. I mean the Deep Pride that comes from:

  • Pride of Craft: a person's connection to the work they do;
  • Pride of Membership: the collective pride that comes from being part of an organization that provides  a quality product that matters;
  • Pride of Place: a sense of belonging to a plant, an office, a facility that has a particular and special place in the world, especially the local community.

Leaders who sincerely and deliberately instill a sense of pride in their employees encourage them to give their discretionary energy– to go the extra mile– to drive operational performance and bottom-line results. Part I of this two-part Common Ground blog post explores three types of pride, and the second installment will feature ways that leaders have found to strengthen that force. First let's look at what it is.   

Pride of Craft

Adults spend their waking lives, their brainpower and their energy on the work they do. They want it to matter; to have meaning. Pride in that work is Pride of Craft.  

As we've moved away from a world of making things, and into a world increasingly focused on the financial, transactional nature of our economies, it has become easy to overlook this aspect of work; to think of workers as simply people who look for a paycheck in exchange for their time. While it may seem a bit old-fashioned to be concerned with pride and craft, I have seen over and over again how much pride plays into the ultimate success of the enterprise, no matter in which industry, profession or position.  There is a reason that people will work at a low wage to sweep the streets of Disneyland or sling frozen fish for 14 hours at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Their deep sense of pride has been summoned and sustained. When this happens, remarkable things are possible and the workplace shifts to a new dimension.

Tom Kelley, founder and CEO of IDEO and the author of The Art of Innovation, said, "When people feel special, they'll perform beyond your wildest dreams." 

A good place to make a start at using the power of pride to create new levels of engagement and performance is to reflect on how it shows up today. Ask yourself:

  • Do you know what it is about their work that inspires the people in the facility?
  • Do you believe workers and leaders are deeply proud of their work, the organization and the facility? Do you know how deeply? Do you know what prevents that pride from being even deeper?   
  • How is pride evident in the facility? What forms does it take?
  • What characteristics are natural to the people who do the kind of work done in this facility- and how can those natural tendencies be tapped to solve business issues?
  • If you have a union on-site, does the state of the relationship between labor and management bolster or inhibit everyone being proud of being a part of the enterprise?
  • What are you most proud of about this place?

Considering the work people do as Craft creates an opportunity for leaders to find common ground with their workers, and in workforces represented by organized labor, with their unions. In addition to protecting workers’ rights and assuring on-the-job safety, unions owe their very beginnings to Craft Guilds and they still care about members' skills being respected. Bolstering the notion of work as Craft enables employees, and the union leaders they elect, to actively participate in the quest for high quality and exceptional performance.

Pride in craftsmanship is not limited to shoemakers and silversmiths or mechanics and machinists. I have seen this same pride of Craft among people in less obvious trades– preventive maintenance, safety, product assembly, even benefits administration or planning functions.

Pride of Membership

Over the years, I've had the privilege of working with all kinds of people who were part of the Race to the Moon. They would enter a kind of zone when sharing their recollections of that work, something we called "the Glow."

The Glow was partly Pride of Craft– a deep sense of satisfaction in their individual contribution to manned space– yet it was much more than that. It was, and is, pride in being a part of something bigger than themselves alongside others; a larger effort that accomplished something significant, unprecedented. 

As human beings, we crave connectedness to work that matters. There is a famous story of a traveler who passes two masons at their work. He asks what they are doing. "Hauling stone," responds the first. "Building a cathedral," answers the second. Pride of Membership is the difference between a masonry worker seeing himself as one who stacks bricks, or as one who is part of a longer, larger effort to create structures that protect and nurture families, or who creates enduring monuments to great causes.

That same pride can come from belonging to any endeavor that matters to the people producing the product or service. I have seen "the Glow" in people who direct air traffic, build locomotives and maintain public lavatories.

I recall working with a small, local company that made nutrition bars. When the firm was purchased by a renowned, international candy maker, the new owners were astonished that the employees didn't rejoice in the affiliation or the increased job security it would bring. Instead, the workers were dismayed, fearing a loss of the strong sense of purpose they had in producing a product that provided consumers a healthy source of nutrition. They were proud of the specific product their small factory produced.

Pride of Place

Just as Pride of Membership is a compelling force for common ground between a company and its workforce, so too is Pride of Place. Facilities are where workers spend the bulk of their waking hours. Facilities are frequently iconic in their communities. Unlike top managers who are often cycled through as part of leadership development, the facility is often where employees “live” throughout their work lives. For example, the workers at a helicopter assembly plant referred to themselves as "We-Be's" meaning, "We be here before you came and we be here after you leave." In another client’s field office, there had been a new manager every two years or less, while the local union president had been re-elected for three consecutive four-year terms and the workforce had an average tenure of 20 years. There is nothing wrong with either of these patterns, but understanding Pride of Place can make an enormous difference in the level of commitment and discretionary energy employees put into their work.

People take themselves seriously as the face of the company. Pride of place can be purposely reinforced and when it is alive and well it has a self-generating snowball effect. When people can demonstrate their pride of place and experience the response from the community in return it swells that pride even further.   

Take the case of a 25-year-old tire manufacturing facility. For years management had declined employee requests for an Open House for fear of revealing proprietary technology. When the employees developed a plan that protected the "top-secret" areas, management finally agreed to hold one. The resulting event, attended by upwards of 2,000 employees and their families was spectacular, not only in "the Glow" evident on the face of every employee that day, but also in the way "the Glow" carried on long after and contributed to a heightened and voluntary attention to process improvement and performance. To the company's delight, the community became an active player as well, not only clamoring to support the event through cost-saving donations, but also serving, along with leaders and workers, on a permanent planning committee for subsequent events.

In closing, I’ll share one last story that illustrates all the aspects of the power of pride. We had been called into help turn around an aircraft maintenance facility. Executive leaders believed the workers were demoralized, didn't care, weren't paying attention, etc. and wanted them "fixed." What we discovered through a data-gathering process we use called an Aspiration Assessment was precisely the opposite. The workers were profoundly proud of the work they did. The direct quote we uncovered was "they (the aircraft) come in crap and we send them out cool. “ The issues that executives thought were a lack of caring were instead the result of frustration with things that got in the way of "sending them out cool." Once the pride of the mechanics and the rest of the staff was understood, it became the conscious, published centerpiece of what the facility was all about; to company management, to the workers themselves and to the customers. "No matter what you bring us, it will come back cool," became the watch phrase. Further, the mechanics' pride of craft in "opening up the hood and seeing the mess we get to fix" was applied to the productivity issues inside the facility. By engaging the workers, the real performance killers were reduced or eliminated.

I could tell many more stories much like this one. In all these places, local leaders developed an in-depth understanding of the sources of pride; craft, membership, and place. Using collaboration, including labor-management collaboration, and employee engagement, they built on that understanding to actively nurture and strengthen it. The return on their investment for paying attention to this aspect of work was exponential. The next Overland Resource Group Common Ground blog will look at how it was done.

peacock

Marc Bridgham is a member of the Consulting Consortium at Overland Resource Group, a 30-year-old firm specializing in helping its clients achieve operational improvement through employee engagement and labor-management collaboration. He is President and CEO of The Triskelion Group.  Founded in 2002, The Triskelion Group focuses on deliberately and effectively igniting the combined forces of Commitment, Creativity and Community that live within any organization, and aligning those forces to achieve rapid and dramatic improvement in business results. Marc can be reached at m.bridgham@orginc.com.

 

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