When it comes to political matters, the two of us don’t agree on much. Bill’s a Republican from Kentucky. John’s a Democrat from Massachusetts. If we spent our time talking about elections or candidates or government policies, we’d probably be arguing every day.
So we don’t. Instead we focus on the right way to run a company, where there’s no disagreement. Transparency and trust. Economic engagement, meaning that everyone understands the company’s business and tracks its performance on key measures. Sharing the wealth that employees help create through an effective incentive plan.
This commonsensical approach has a way of bringing everyone on board, regardless of political views. Bill learned this lesson early in his career when he was hired to consult with a big mining company’s Australian facility. It was a union shop. When he began speaking to the employees, the skepticism was thick. So he figured he better cut to the chase.
“I’m a Yank,” he admitted. “And I’m the worst kind of Yank–a capitalist Yank.”
Someone immediately spoke up from the back. “Well, I’m a socialist.”
The socialist turned out to be the local union president, a fellow named Warren. Later in the meeting, after some of the employees had offered ideas about how to improve their workplace, Bill engaged Warren directly. The conversation went pretty much along these lines:
Bill: Warren, it seems like the miners think they know a lot of different ways to improve the operations around here. Do you think that’s right?
Warren: Damn right they do.
Bill: Great. I do too. Seems like a socialist and a capitalist do have things they can agree on. And do you think that management would be wise to do less talking and more listening to the miners’ ideas?
Warren: You bet they should. It would improve production and morale.
Me: Another thing a capitalist and a socialist agree on. One more question. Do you think this company would make more money if they listened and acted on the ideas from the troops?
Warren: They would make a hell of a lot more money.
Bill turned to the 40 others in the audience and said, “You heard it from his own lips. Warren is a capitalist. And he is the worst kind of capitalist. He’s a closet capitalist.” The room erupted in laughter, with Warren joining in.
Here’s what we think: you probably have a lot of closet capitalists in your company right now, and it has nothing to do with their political opinions. These are people–whatever their role in the organization–who care about the business, who may have invested much of their lives in it, and who have good ideas about how to better the company’s performance.
Are you listening to them, helping them learn and grow, and rewarding them for better results? Are you helping other employees, those who may not yet be so invested, get with the program? It isn’t hard; all it takes is a commitment to run your company so that it involves everyone as trusted partners rather than hired hands. Plus the use of a few tools like key numbers, scoreboards, and incentive plans.
Capitalist or socialist, Republican or Democrat–it really doesn’t matter. A business where people are economically engaged puts everyone on the same team.