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10/9/2013
04:01 PM
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What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?

Talent management needs a new paradigm to better serve people hardwired to be loyal followers.

Resumes are for the young and the introverted.

And while I fall into that latter camp, I got to Big without one. I took the road more traveled, following the career aspirations of someone for whom I'd worked previously.

Following that leader wasn't a sign of naivete or selflessness on my part or of any lack of ambition. It was comfort food, a warm and savory choice that gently reaffirmed my tendencies: a stereotypical mix of nerdy introspection and extreme loyalty.

The obvious problem with my choice, and it's one shared across nerdom, is that the safety of followership lulls us even further into neglecting our own networks. We fail to build and deepen our own relationships across the industry (and industries) and instead let our leaders play politics while we play loyal builders -- heads down and focused on execution.

[ Does your company seek to innovate? Read Innovation Is Executive Porn. ]

But loyalty is the most complex of virtues, and as a quality in followers it deserves more and better than it gets. Leaders are profoundly unworthy of it, which is why introverts (and maybe even extroverts) need a better model for the IT career lifecycle, especially if they aspire to reach the corner office.

What follows is an analysis of loyalty in the context of business and leadership, and a proposal for a new loyalty model for tech and executive recruiting.

Loyalty On Its Deathbed

Our larger culture's lament about the death of loyalty has focused almost exclusively on the loss of economic stability: the idea that we can no longer trade in our lives for a gold watch and a pension. But work was never just about the money. Companies were, and in their finer moments still are, an invaluable source of identity and meaning.

The adult version of Mom's "you are what you eat" is -- somewhat regrettably -- "you are what you do." Where you spend your time defines who you are. And that has become spiritually catastrophic. Because as wages have stagnated over the last 40 years and the middle class has become the underclass, where we spend most of our time is at work. Both spouses. And if you're far enough down the totem pole, each spouse with more than one job.

With work consuming that much of our lives, it should surprise no one when our careers become our default identity. And that's the right light in which to view the deterioration of bedrock institutions such as church and family. Who has the time? Or any identity left for them to define?

In that context, the unconscionable failing of business hasn't been its shipping of jobs overseas, but its inability to foster the kind of values that would never let the jobs go in the first place. Business leaders have failed to tie value creation to actual values, leaving what little identity we have left bereft of depth, substance, meaning.

Pretty mission statements mock the idea of business as a source of real, shared values. Because the goal of business isn't to produce both meaning and profits. Just profits. Its goal isn't to foster a real sense of community. Just enough of it to keep employees shackled. Because the loss of employee loyalty is a cost, an inefficiency, some ethereal notion that needs executive attention or a best practice or a center of excellence or whatever cynical managerial process we throw at it so we can improve our retention ratios.

Outrage is too mild a reaction. What most businesses need are subversive executives colluding with bottom-up workplace activists. We need to get comfortable with the verb "foment."

Suffice it to say that the vacuum that was created when our fathers and pioneering mothers justifiably stopped being loyal to their employers wasn't simply economic. It was social, psychological, cultural, even moral. And it was driven by our larger need for identity and meaning.

Loyalty Is Dead. Long Live Loyalty.

The hole left by the loss of loyalty-to-company has left us with two equally destructive alternatives: loyalty-to-leadership and loyalty-to-self/career.

The first is the path I chose: Lasso a shooting star and hold on to yer britches; charisma as a replacement for meaning. Not unlike Scientology.

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The problem with this kind of followership is that most of us don't realize that we project our own loyalty onto the leaders we follow. And that leaves us somewhere between disappointed and devastated when they don't make the same decisions that we would, when they don't value the relationship in quite the same way.

To be fair, followers do tend to forget that leaders are human, fragile and have their own mortgages. The sobering reality, though, is that loyalty isn't always met with loyalty, especially when self-preservation is the other choice.

And the heartbreaking truth about this first alternative is that unless you’re living a black swan scenario -- following the kind of phenom that comes every millennium or two – loyalty-to-leadership is a one-way street.

The second alternative to loyalty-to-company is a rethinking of what it means to be employed, a rewriting of the social contract to be about trading fidelity for growth, interesting deliverables for learning opportunities, money for world-class resume filler that can be traded up regularly for more money and better resume filler.

Our friends at hbr.org describe things this way: "The organization will provide interesting and challenging work. The individual will invest discretionary effort in the task and produce relevant results. When one or both sides of this equation are no longer possible (for whatever reasons) the relationship will end."

The author actually calls it "the basis of trust between corporations and workers for the decades ahead" -- which is sad. First, because what she describes has nothing to do with the words loyalty or trust as you or I define them. Second, because as an aspiration "for the decades ahead" it lacks imagination. Third and most damning, because the whole idea is a deceptively perky repackaging of at-will employment, the kind you'd expect from a seemingly sweet HR exec suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

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RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
10/10/2013 | 1:58:44 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Most companies, at least the public ones, are only as loyal to their good people as their current financial situation and financial overseers allow them to be. Very short-term thinking.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/10/2013 | 2:01:37 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Maybe Michael Dell is on the right track then.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/10/2013 | 2:00:40 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Essentially, people need to stop looking to their jobs for identity. Trading talent and effort for money and a reasonable retention rate is only a bad deal if you also expect some sort of spiritual or social fulfillment from your employer.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
10/10/2013 | 6:57:42 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Your 4 points for where the career jump should start sounds a lot like what a good mentor provides. Find a mentor who believes in you and has contacts outside Big, and you're off to a good start, right?
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
10/10/2013 | 8:16:50 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
It certainly can't be the kind of corporation-sponsored mentoring programs at are in vogue. Participation in those is a tricky balancing act for both mentor and mentee.

If you're lucky enough to find a mentor outside of your company's context (function 1)-- the problem is that they can't perform function 3 -- negotiation/representation with your future employer.

We ultimately have to create structural incentives for recruiters (super-connectors) to represent the employee, not the employer.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
10/11/2013 | 4:22:50 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
I am a big believer in outside-the-company mentors. In some cases, they can introduce you directly to potential employer.
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
10/15/2013 | 8:43:15 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
So you have an outside mentor that steals you away from Big (loyalty intact to mentor). But now you have to find a new mentor because he is no longer outside the company. You find one and he professes the benefits of Upstart. You jump ship again. Loyalty to the mentor is intact, but your now past mentor? Last I heard we go through a dozen jobs and half a dozen companies in our professional careers. You now have a lot of past mentors especially if you are a "geographic" employee. So where does this leave loyalty (the topic of the article)? Looks like to ourselves.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
10/16/2013 | 7:03:07 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Who said the mentor "stole" me? I am talking about the power of introductions. You can meet mentors through professional and alumni organizations who will never steal you, but can advise you and connect you.
2sense
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2sense,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/11/2013 | 1:42:07 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
If you want loyalty, buy a dog!
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
10/11/2013 | 5:46:49 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Really? Is loyalty just for canines? I expect it of people too, understanding that today's commercial realities will allow only so much of it.
pbuhr537
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pbuhr537,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/11/2013 | 5:21:01 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Anything can sound edgy if you use enough half-truths and run to the next before the first one is seen clearly. Provocative (as intended, I would imagine). Some good insights, but mixed with a lot of noise. Then again, you did acknowledge it as a rant. The fact that "what have you done lately?" is the way a company will look at you shouldn't be a surprise and isn't all bad.
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
10/11/2013 | 6:29:58 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Fair points. The easy answer is to say that I'm ranting, not writing a book or dissertation. But I'm not sure that it would be any better, deeper or more thoughtful in book form.

These posts are the start of a discussion. Up until recently they never made it past my laptop. If there are half truths, I'd be interested in having them pointed out. Not because I yearn for debate but because it could steer my thinking to a better place.

Opinions (and I mean mine) do a disservice when they're framed as authoritative.
DAVIDINIL
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DAVIDINIL,
User Rank: Strategist
10/14/2013 | 5:00:52 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Great article Mr. Meshing. From a "normal" human psychological POV, people yearn to find a long term relationship w/ an organization that rewards their service and loyalty to that org. Most all of us want to align ourselves with something that is meaningful and bigger than just ourselves. There seems to be no place for that in today's bottom line driven world.
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
10/14/2013 | 6:45:23 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
David- Call me Coverlet. Mr. Meshing is my pseudonymous Dad.
GIGABOB
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GIGABOB,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/14/2013 | 6:50:00 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Employee loyalty was never dead...just misguided in an era where the value of the employee has moved from qualitative to quantitative in the eyes of the organization.
ANON1255450178610
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ANON1255450178610,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/15/2013 | 4:30:07 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Have you considered creating your own job (i.e. company?)
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
10/15/2013 | 7:20:01 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Yes. And that option is tied (for me) to the two alternatives for loyalty that I intentionally left off this piece because they each deserve their own light.

They are loyalty to clients-- something that can happen within Big but shines brightest in Small. And loyalty to employees-- and I mean those that you pay with your own money.

Starting a company offers something very special at the intersection of those two.
C6Silver05
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C6Silver05,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/15/2013 | 5:53:16 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
I think what is missing here is a definition for GǣloyaltyGǥ and how one views real loyalty versus self/business interest in name of loyalty.

If you are an employee and you have worked for the same company for 20-years does that make you loyal? By the same token if that company has allowed you to work for them for 20-years does that make them loyal to you? I would suggest that the vast majority of the time what we think is loyalty is really self or business interest. In my view for loyalty to have meaning it has to come with actions that rise above self/business interest and stem from a more emotional place where someone elseGs interests are put above your own.

In the example of the 20-year employee I would first really want to explore why that person remained with that company or leader. Do they really view that person or company in a way outside of self-interest? If you dig you are likely to find other factors that really led to their staying. Perhaps the burden of looking for a job was
not palatable, perhaps there wasn't anything out there perceived to be better,
perhaps the known has become so comfortable that starting over is unthinkable, etc. On first blush it is easy to say this employee is loyal but dig deeper and it is self-interest that has kept this person at this company or with this boss for so long. On the flip side, what does it mean for the employer? If they promote a long-time
employee or choose to lay someone else off it can easily be perceived as the
company being loyal to their longer-term employee. Yet, if you look closer do you find that it was perhaps easier and less costly to promote someone they know versus the cost and unknown of a new hire? Perhaps this employee was spared in the RIF process because the value they produce is actually greater than the value of the person they eliminated? Is the company really taking an action out of
loyalty or is a cost/benefit analysis that is then packaged and sold as loyalty?

In the business world loyalty has always been more marketing and perception than reality whether you are coming from the employee or employer view. While I am sure there are cases of true loyalty my guess is those are far rarer than realized. Every day you are making decisions about what is in your best interest and companies are also making decisions about what will most benefit it. If the results
come out to value both parties it can be called loyalty. If the results benefit one party it can be considered disloyalty. Neither is true. Loyalty doesn't need to be replaced in terms of employee/employer, it just needs to be exposed as a cost/benefit analysis. If we frame it that way than decisions can be quantified and explained rather than becoming emotionally irrational.
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
10/15/2013 | 7:13:16 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
First, appreciate your thoughtfulness and what was obviously an investment of your time. 500 words is almost a column. :)

I wasn't trying to explore passive loyalty (if that's even a term). The idea of staying at a firm for 20 years because you don't want the rollercoaster of career changes doesn't (for me) qualify as loyalty. Loyalty is an active virtue and metaphorically, like a muscle (ie., grows with exercise, atrophies without it).

That said, your first point still resonates because you're essentially saying that "intent is important." Can't argue with that.

I'm on the fence with your second point because of the emotional complexity to that cost-benefit analysis. As much as I like to believe that I'm a rational person (and I'll speak just for me), my experiences demonstrate otherwise. And I suppose that's part of the problem: only one side of the loyalty-to-company relationship can act without emotion.

Good points. Will have to reflect on them.
C6Silver
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C6Silver,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/16/2013 | 4:25:20 AM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
It would seem my record of never being called pithy stands. It's a lifetime achievement...

I actually wrote another few sentences which I decided not to publish but will come back to here. My concern was that my statements around cost/benefit would sound too mechanical and give the wrong impression that we should consider the relationship within business to be ripped directly from the planet Vulcan playbook. I believe this is what you are keying on within the final paragraph of your reply. I do want to suggest that while it comes down to a cost/benefit that doesn't mean that the relationship needs to be cold and inhuman. Even our most quantitatively based decisions can be handled with dignity and grace and we are allowed to have an emotional opinion.

Having said the above and employment is a contract between the employee and employer. It is our duty as employees within that contract to act in the best interests of the company as long as it does not cross moral or legal bounds (that is part of their side of the contract). So within the framework of a contract just what role does loyalty have to play? My definition says none. Once you get past the idea you have friends at work or people you look up to at work or people who look up to you, there still remains a contract. As a result loyalty is just a warm and fuzzy way to say that the benefits I or the company are receiving right now outweigh the costs and therefore the contract remains active.

To come back to my original question though, what is your definition of loyalty? I loved the article but I didn't get that one key aspect and as long as we may have different definitions, it is hard to discuss what should replace it.
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
10/16/2013 | 1:32:53 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
For me loyalty is about the long view, faith and trust-- an understanding that long term human relationships are more important than short ones (or institutional ones) and that history is as relevant in decision making as present and future concerns. This is why a lot of examples of disloyalty (in every context) are classic replays of short term gratification winning over long-term objectives.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2013 | 4:02:37 AM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Interestingly enough, Spock was highly loyal to his captain and to Starfleet (but they were equally loyal to him). Indeed, Vulcans, as portrayed in Star Trek, don't strike me as very good mercenaries.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
10/17/2013 | 11:52:41 PM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
Good rant. Most companies are not in the business of personal fulfillment, no matter what the HR folks say. The best ones treat you fairly and give you opportunities to learn. Your job/company will never fulfill all aspects of your life, and that's ok. I've seen friends let their jobs become their identities and they change. Loyalty to company strips away the sense of humor they had in younger years. But this can happen to the most self-aware, independent-minded people too, without them even noticing. Coverlet makes a great point that your job becomes your identity almost through osmosis because it leaves you so little time to create an identity in other areas.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2013 | 3:35:22 AM
re: What Should Replace Loyalty To Company?
I think it's perfectly reasonable and proper to be loyal to one's employer when that loyalty is reciprocated. But if the company is focused exclusively on the bottom line; employees and customers be damned (I don't think I've ever seen a company that treats its customers better than it's employees), then you probably don't want to be working there anyway, and if you do, then it's only fair to see to it that you are paid the absolute maximum that the market will bear (one good mercenary deserves another). After all, loyalty to one's family and self are important too. And loyalty up never exceeds loyalty down.
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