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Enhancing Organizational Performance

What Makes an Employee Proud?

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Are you proud of the company you work for? What makes you proud? Are you proud deep down inside internally or are you bursting at the seams proud wanting to tell everyone you meet about the great company you work for?  What are the potential benefits to the organization if in fact the employees of an organization are extremely proud to work there? Is it more than bragging rights? Does it carry any weight; have any impact on how the organization actually performs?

When you look at organizational survey results inevitably the senior management group shows the highest levels of pride in the organization. As you move through the ranks the most common finding is that pride declines, but not always. Some organizations are able to maintain high levels of pride throughout the ranks. Why do the senior managers typically exhibit the highest levels of pride? Let’s examine what is often different about them, as a group, compared to others within the organization.

  • They have more control over their own future and generally have more latitude in decision making; therefore, they are in some respects giving a self-rating and hence cognitive dissonance sets in. If you are the one calling the shots, how can you not be proud of what you have created or accomplished? If you are not, what does that say about your own perceptions about yourself and your own capabilities? The human mind facilitates the path of least resistance;
  • They generally have a clearer understanding regarding what the organization is about and what it hopes to accomplish down the road. And what the organization is about is generally very congruent with their own personal beliefs and values, since they are setting the agenda; What the organization is about then, is of course of great importance, further generating feelings of pride;
  • They generally can get what they need to accomplish their work, (at least more so than others) and can often leverage their efforts by enlisting others;
  • They often feel more positive about their future within the organization;
  • And, they are made to feel very valuable, critical to organizational functioning. Pay and fringe benefits are much more lucrative at the senior ranks and senior managers have people following their lead and doing what they say, an ego stroking that can go to almost anyone’s head;
  • Interestingly, it is not unusual for senior managers to score more poorly in the area of receiving performance feedback. Senior managers are often not moved into position because they are the best “people person” for the job. Most of the time other characteristics and capabilities takes precedence. And while some are good people persons, others are not, and find it very difficult to relate to or give constructive feedback in a helpful manner to their direct subordinates.

There is a story of an august group of scientists who scored fairly poorly on recognition received from their boss, the head of the scientific research institution in their survey results. Upon feeding back this result to the boss, the boss related that he was uncomfortable giving feedback to these brilliant people who worked for him. “Who am I to give feedback to people who have done such great things and are so accomplished? Many have them have won very significant international recognition rewards.” The boss was having feelings of inadequacy. And yet when you went and talked to the scientists they would say things like, ‘look what I have accomplished and my boss can’t even walk down the hall and say “nice job”’. People are people, (both the boss and the scientists) and they are all looking for many of the same things, recognition of their accomplishments being one of those things.

While this is not necessarily an all inclusive list, organizations that have managed to sustain pride through their ranks are:

  • Viewed as having effective leadership;
  • Have innovative (sometimes paradigm shifting), high quality products (dominating or with a significant share of their industry);
  • Have clear messages about who they are and the roles of individual employees in supporting who they are; often seen as serving a “higher” purpose;
  • Give people what they need to get their jobs done (in the broadest sense);
  • Give people a sense of future, that if they stick around with the organization good things will happen for them;
  • Make people feel valued and treating them with respect and dignity.

Have you ever noticed that when you visit the tourist shops in Washington, D.C. you can find t-shirts, mugs etc, with the names of various agencies emblazoned upon them? You see tourists parading around in hats and collecting all sorts of paraphernalia that say FBI, CIA, Marines, Air Force One, ATF, NSA, and Army, among others on them. But I have yet to see one hat or one t-shirt with the initials IRS emblazoned upon it, or how about one with the words Senate or House of Representatives across the chest? Not likely. Yet the IRS the Senate and the House are some of the oldest institutions of the US Government, without which we would not be able to function as a country. What gives? If an IRS employee were to meet some new people at a dinner party do you think they hesitate before answering the question regarding where they work? Do you think their first reply might be to answer that they work for the government, rather than specifically saying the IRS?

An IRS employee is just as proud as any employee working in the private sector for a Fortune company and when you investigate some of the unique drivers of pride for the organization you would find both similarity and differences to other organizations. (One website where Federal government employee survey results can be reviewed is http://bestplacestowork.org/BPTW/about/).  One driver of pride in the IRS is quite noble – employees that are proud to be in service to their country. They are serving a higher purpose. Without them they feel the country would not function – and you know what, they are right. What about workers at medical institutions, what are drivers of pride there? They are in service to mankind. They are helping the ill recover. They may be using techniques that only a few can use or they may have a reputation that this is the place to go if you really need good care, both of which would increase employee pride in the institution. Teachers are proud that they are preparing the next generation and helping to shape and develop young minds – serving a higher purpose. Sanitation workers are proud that they keep our communities clean and livable. (If you have ever been in NYC during a sanitation strike you would quickly agree with them). Police and firefighters are proud that they are protecting the public.

People in all different types of occupations want to be proud of the places they work. They want to take pride in what they do specifically and what the organization accomplishes. People can be proud of what they do, even though you or I may not find a certain job particularly interesting or it may be something what we would have a hard time relating feeling proud about. People are they same, they all want to feel pride, and yet they are all different and can feel proud of quite varied tasks, requiring quite different abilities and skill sets.

Instilling a sense of pride in your employees begins with instilling a sense of meaningfulness, a sense purpose, a sense of what they are doing as being important – and you know what, it is important, or they should not be part of your organization. Many organizations take advantage of this notion and use their organizational mission to help in recruiting new employees, sometimes employees who otherwise would not consider working at the organization. The Marines in their recruiting slogan “The few, the proud, the marines” are playing directly to that notion of people wanting to be part of something that generates pride. Join us and do something you can be proud of. And even going beyond that, is the notion that only a few, a select few get in (but that will be a different blog on exclusivity).

What the drivers of pride are in various organizations is not static. It can change over time. For instance today people can be proud if they belong to an organization that is operating in a “green” fashion. And in fact being green has become so trendy that many organizations are promoting their “greenness” publicly as part of their selling proposition to customers, even those that are really not green, not even a light shade of green. Eventually I believe that people will see through the sham and that marketing ploy will backfire.

When an organization does not function in such as manner that it instills a sense of pride in the employees it can be very damaging.  Turnover is likely to rise (also dependent on external economic issues) as will absenteeism, the level of quality declines, errors will increase, customer service and hence satisfaction will suffer and the organization as a whole will start a downward spiral. Organizational performance in general will decline.

Think of two questions that have been fairly regularly used to measure pride. Both are straight forward. The first “I am proud to work for XYZ” and the second is “I am proud to tell people that I work for XYZ”. One is measuring an internal component of pride in working for their company the other is measuring an external component, being able to speak publicly of pride in working for one’s company. Which would you answer more positively? Are you deep down inside proud? Or are you bursting at the seams proud, just can’t wait to tell others about it? Which do you think is better for your organization?

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 6, 2009 at 3:43 pm

2 Responses

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  1. [...] What Makes an Employee Proud? November 2009 5 [...]

  2. Reblogged this on Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog and commented:

    This is one of the most popular pieces in the blog.

    Jeffrey M. Saltzman

    May 14, 2012 at 7:41 am


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