What is your contract with the company?

Jan. 1, 2000

Keeping the competition outside the gates

2014 is right around the corner. Do you want the New Year in your workplace to be like 2013? If so, great! If not, it might be time to rethink your contract with your employer and/or your employees. I’m not talking about a legal document. Most of us don’t have contracts like that. We have a different kind – each of us honors a pact with his or her employer. In healthy organizations the organization honors the same pact that the worker does. In unhealthy organizations there are two versions of each agreement. When the two versions of the contract don’t match, everyone usually knows.

There was a widely quoted joke in Soviet Russia that went "They pretend to pay us, so we pretend to work." This differed from the party line, but it was, in fact, the relationship that many workers had with their employer. The Soviet Union pretended to be a "workers paradise," but it was run by a group of self-serving thugs, and the whole population had their number. Of course the system broke down. Anyone who has raised a teenager knows that it takes more than one person to perform effective 24 hour surveillance on an individual who is not with the program. Do the math.

A post-Soviet side effect of this failed system was that throughout the former USSR, there was a big problem finding employment for the 20 or 30% of the workforce who had grown up with no particular skills beyond watching other people and telling on them. My six-year-old granddaughter has that skill set nailed, and I don’t think she has any government training at all.

The simplest form of a contract says, "I will do this for you, and in return you will do this for me."  The more shared information the two parties have, the better they will be able to accommodate each other. The more commonality of goals they have, the more they will want the same things.

Perhaps this suggests a good exercise for everyone in preparation for 2014. Workers, examine what the company wants you to do with regard to safety, productivity, teamwork, housekeeping, learning, cost management and the other things that make up a workday. Which of them do you agree with? Which not? Are you satisfied with the reasonableness and fairness of the company’s demands, compared to the pay and benefits they provide? If so, cool. If not, maybe it’s time for a change.

Managers, maybe it’s a good time to ask whether the demands you place on the workforce make sense, and whether you are empowering them to meet those demands. Empowerment includes clear instructions, tools and training to do the job, appropriate decision authority, and a measurement and reward system that makes their performance and team progress clear to them. Can you tell them the truth about their work and have it help the cause? Are company objectives really as they are stated to the workforce?

More and more it is becoming obvious to us observers of industry that companies and workforces who share the same goals about the important things in work life progress together and outperform companies who do not. A mismatch in objectives calls for a less transparent operating style. This, in turn, tends to engender mistrust and disloyalty.

The things that are truly good for a company; safety, efficiency, predictability, profitability, are also good for workers, customers and investors. This is a good thing, since nowadays it’s pretty tough to hide anything from anyone.

For 2014, see if maybe workers’ and employers’ contracts can match at your shop. The competition lies outside the gates. Keep it there.

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