Taking Care of Others’ Needs*
February '19 | William A. Cohen, PhD, Major General, USAF, Ret.
Fortunately, most careers do not normally require someone to lay down his or her life for people to take care of them. Some such as police, fire fighters and others may. But, make no mistake. The more that you take care of the needs of others whether in your employment or not, the more they and others will not only help you on the way to the top but will applaud your success. Of course, this does not mean helping others in unethical or illegal ways or that you should violate your own beliefs or standards in doing this. The real key is just to give the needs of others a higher priority.
What It Means to Give Other’s Needs Priority
Dave Whitmore joined IBM after leaving the Air Force. He was promoted and became an IBM marketing manager for a new region in New York that serviced utilities and telephone companies. The two largest accounts in Dave’s area were serviced by two of his most senior team leaders. These accounts represented a considerable amount of money, and the pressure was incredible. If any of the computers went down, Whitmore could lose his job.
One-day Dave became aware of a fundamental problem. Neither team leader had ever held a staff job. So what you may ask? Whitmore was told that if they weren’t assigned staff positions outside of his organization, the chances were they would never get them. If they never got a staff job and this experience, their future advancements at IBM were limited. Many large organizations have personnel policies in place to encourage the most qualified employees to seek assignments which will ensure they have the right experience for higher level positions. But sometimes policies backfire and employees don’t get the required experience that the company has decided is needed for them for further promotion. Then for no reason of their these employees may miss out and these individuals are not selected for promotion because other employees have this experience. That’s what the danger was here. It was unlikely that either could ever get promoted to a more senior position without the experience in certain types of staff jobs. Yet, these were talented hard-working people who deserved the shot at higher positions.
Whitmore talked to his two team leaders. He explained the situation to them. What did they want to do? Both were willing to stay if they had to, but both understood the necessity for obtaining the required staff experience and wanted a chance at future promotion if it were possible.
Whitmore was inexperienced in their work and had only recently assumed his own new job. He had no other experienced team leaders, and none would be available if Whitmore let these two go to staff positions elsewhere in the company. But it was Whitmore’s decision, and it was his responsibility to take care of his people and .to take care of their needs.
Whitmore’s boss, a branch manager, counseled him. “Who cares whether they become managers or not? It’s your fanny that’s on the line. If you let them go, you’re taking a chance on losing everything you’ve worked for. Screw up, and I can’t guarantee whether you can ever become a branch manager. You’re sending them to these staff positions may help them, but it may damage your own future chances at promotion in the company.”
Dave Whitmore knew what he had to do. He saw that both team leaders were offered staff positions in IBM immediately. They both accepted and left. What happened to Dave Whitmore? He made do without the two experienced team leaders. Later, due to his success at this job, he was offered what he called “my dream job”: international account manager in Brussels. Before retirement from IBM, he was promoted to Branch Manager and served in that capacity in Saudi Arabia.
Avoiding Layoffs – a Sure Action That Shows You Care
Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, better known as 3M, was at the time a $14 billion-dollar company when it had to address the possibility of layoffs for the first time. To avoid or at least minimize them, company leaders came up with a system called the Unassigned List.
The Unassigned list allowed employees whose jobs have been eliminated six months to find another position within 3M. Meanwhile, they continued to receive full salaries and benefits. Within the first four months, they had the option of taking an unassigned severance package. This included a week and a half’s pay for every year of service, plus six months of paid benefits. Those who were over age 50 but hadn’t yet reached retirement age could also receive a preretirement leave package that continued benefits until retirement. Those over age 55 received a special bridge to social security. For those that couldn’t find a position within the company, 3M also offered extensive help in finding new employment.
The senior vice president of human resources said that this plan was all due to some thought which also benefitted 3M, “We’re a company of long service employees. That long service translates into less than a 3% turnover among the salaried staff. And pride.”
That plan for taking care of employees translated into real results. Revenue increased by 11.7% after the plan was implemented, and there were record sales and earnings in 3M’s two business sectors and in their U.S. and international operations which the CEO partially attributed to these personnel policies which showed that the company cared for its people.
If You Really Care, Treat People as They Should Be Treated
CUTCO Inc. manufacturers and markets some of the highest quality kitchen knives in the world under the brand name “Cutco.” It was this company that first manufactured the K-bar knife, the official knife of the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. It is the parent company of CUTCO Cutlery Corp., Vector Marketing, Ka-Bar Knives, and Schilling Forge. Its primary brand is the under the name Cutco. Its sales today exceed $200 million worldwide.
But at the time Erick Laine took over as CEO in 1982, sales were only $5 million. That’s a 2000 percent increase in a field that older, established brands from Europe dominated. When Erick became CEO of Alcas, its old name, his manufacturing arm was in disarray. In a nine-year period prior to his becoming boss, there wasn’t a single contract that was settled without a strike! There were no less than 270 outstanding grievances on the books!
Right from the first Laine met with his union in a spirit of openness and listened. And when the union was right, he acknowledged it. And when he thought they were full of bologna, he was willing to tell them that, too. But then, a strange thing happened. This openness, honesty, and the willingness to treat people as they should be treated led to a spirit of comradery. They proceeded to work things through together. Over a period of years, they developed an unusual trust, and when they had a problem, they work together to solve it.
Every year at Christmas time during most of Laine’s tenure, the union initiated an unusual act. It’s wasn’t mandated, and neither Laine nor any of his managers recommended nor initiated it. No, this came from the workers and their union. What happened was this. The union leaders called Laine on the phone and requested a meeting. At the meeting, the union representatives presented a gift: money they collected from the workers on a volunteer basis. Ever heard of something like this anywhere else? The money was always used by management to purchase something that would benefit the workers A TV for the cafeteria or a clock . . . that type of thing. This practiced lasted throughout Laine’s tenure as president and CEO until his retirement.
Now why do you think the workers and their union did this? Obviously, they could just collect the money and go out and buy something themselves. Erick Laine didn’t tell me this, but I believe this informal ceremony during which Laine was presented with this money was a symbol of the trust between the union and its management; between the company leaders and their workers. It was rare and unprecedented. It happened only because Erick Laine really cared.
Drucker used knowledge in moving his career to the top. Any head of an organization can use the same principle to boost the careers of others and boost their own organizations standing as well. Drucker took care of his students in the same manner, even years after they graduated. He knew this was important to get the right people to the top of their organizations, and the right thing to do on his own way to the top of his profession.
*Adapted from Peter Drucker’s Way to the Top: Lessons for Reaching Your Life Goals by William A. Cohen (LID, 2019)
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