Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Job Creation, Societal Teamwork by Defiance

with 3 comments

“Freedom begins with an act of defiance.”

What if one company out there thumbed their nose at the generally accepted practice of laying off staff that are deemed as unnecessary during this recession/mini-depression and kept as many of their workers employed as they possibly could? Heresy? Financially irresponsible to shareholders? An act of defiance against standard business practice? SunGard Data System of Wayne Pennsylvania is doing just that, betting that as the recession winds down that they will be in a better position to capture market share, rolling out new and improved products that they have worked upon during this slower time (WSJ, December 24, 2009). There is plenty of research data to suggest that they are making a pretty good bet, research that could be summarized with a single statement, “You can’t cut your way to prosperity”. I applaud Cristóbal Conde, the CEO of SunGard. He is doing the right thing because he believes that it makes good business sense to do so. SunGard though is privately held and so may feel more latitude to take a longer-term view than public companies.

There are times when the status quo is just not acceptable. This is one of those times. We need to do extraordinary things right now in order to get people back to work. There are huge numbers of good people out there today who are suffering. Suffering economically, physically and mentally, and yet certain elements of our society who can impact this and make a difference seem to be turning a blind eye to the situation. You want the federal government to stay out of meddling in the private sector? One sure way to do that is to start creating a significant number of jobs. So what if the profits are a bit lower this quarter or this year? So what? One response may be that investors will pull their money, investing it in companies with a colder-heart, able to cut staff to the bone to shore up their bottom-line. Or that executives who refuse to operate in a cost-cutting fashion will be let go. If one company defies the standard wisdom and then another and another, keeping as many of their people employed as they possibly can, this act of defiance may be the one thing that can right the economic ship we are all on, for if the ship is not righted we will all sink together.   

If people do not have jobs, there is no one able to buy your products or services; it is as simple as that. Are we all so short-sighted, chasing that immediate bottom-line number that we forget that we are all enmeshed in a larger society, a larger organization if you will, that must function, succeed, in fact thrive, if we are all to prosper. If our society does not thrive as a whole, what happens to any one sub-organization, any company, within that society is more-or-less a foregone conclusion. You want people to buy cars? Let’s create jobs. You want people to buy houses and all the items they need to furnish them? Let’s create jobs. You want people to frequent restaurants more? Let’s create jobs. The list obviously is more or less endless.   

How I felt about this was brought home to me a few weeks ago by a friend I met for an afternoon cup of coffee. He had been laid off from his corporate job in Manhattan and I had quit my job a few months back to work on a startup. He asked me what I would most enjoy about the startup. I thought about all the different things that I have done so far during my career and what I really found to be most rewarding was creating jobs. I have worked on mergers and acquisitions, I have done CEO-level coaching, I have helped organizations with change efforts including radical culture change, I have developed selection procedures, created succession planning systems and I have grown a company approximately 3-fold, adding international operations. Yet the one thing that I have found most rewarding is when I have been able to hire another person to the team, welcoming them and their families into the organizational family. That, I told him is what gave me the most pleasure.

Company after company keeps talking about how critical employees are to the success of their organizations, their most valuable assets, yet company after company lays off these most valuable assets without any real attempt to make as many jobs as secure as possible. The public image is of organizations whose sole concern is the ongoing well-being of the organizational entity, having little concern about the individual’s who were let go. That is the government’s problem after all, right? I know I am being somewhat harsh and there are many managers out there who agonize over what they have done. I suggest we all act a little defiantly.    

There are numerous acts of defiance within various societies that have become burned into the social fabric of consciousness some of these include; A lone person standing in the path of a tank on Tiananmen Square, the marchers behind Martin Luther King being hit by water cannon and attacked by dogs, school girls being escorted into a newly desegregated high school in Little Rock by National Guardsmen, the people of Berlin tearing and dismantling the wall that had kept that city separated and firefighters raising the American flag on the ruins of the World Trade Center. The images leave one breathless.

Less known is the image of Tuvia Belski and his brothers welcoming to the Belorussian forest escapees from the Nazi ghettos. Rather than accepting only the young and strong who could fight, only those they absolutely needed who would add to their ability to survive, they took in everyone, providing as best as they could for all, an act of defiance against the Nazis. Twelve hundred people, the young, the old, men, women and children survived in the forest camp that the Belski’s created.

A group of managers at a GE management development course a number of years ago came up with a definition for teamwork that we should all keep in mind these days, “Teamwork: Not allowing others to fail.” I would like to see Teamwork as an act of defiance on the parts of CEOs out there who I know care – create jobs, even if it hurts. If enough do, you could create images that will become burned into the social fabric of our society, the CEOs who pulled us out of the grips of a recession, rather than the blind-to-risk, in-it-for-themselves image that now exists.

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

3 Responses

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  1. I understand that Henry Ford paid his workers enough to allow them to buy a car. Unfortunately as the speed of life increased business horizons got closer and now our banks require reports and progress delivered monthly…it’s cultural and it changes our entrepreneurs vision from long term to the immediate.
    I don’t think there is an easy answer but I am convinced that the strength of our economy is vested in the family business so perhaps helping those business owners bring a culture of a long term view to the family business culture will help.
    Thank you for an interesting article.
    Peter Brown

    Peter Brown

    December 27, 2009 at 12:59 pm

  2. You simplify the situation, Mr. Saltzman. This company Sungard has been saddled with huge amounts of debt in a dubious LBO transaction that has no guaranty of any immediate economic benefit to anyone other than the ‘wizard makers’, those responsible for the very malaise on Wall Street today, those who looked the other way when bad mortgages were being sold and when people like Mr. Conde were marketing those ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as Warren Buffet calls them, i.e systems of derivatives. The fragility of the financial system is due to people like Cris Conde who spin a good spin but bottom line is they have created havoc in the financial stability of our economic system. And there are many of them. Let us hope that with this new administration we will have regulators who actually do what they are supposed to do and watch out for the spinmeisters like Kravis, Conde and company as well as the Madoffs of the world, who lie and cheat through accounting slights of hand and believe they are so clever when in fact what they have done is bring the entire system close to economic collapse. Only the printing of money which will ultimately lead to high rates of inflation has staved of this economic demise but the underlying reality is that until we have more responsible CEOs who aren’t ego driven and selfish, such as Mr. Conde, then we will have a safer and sounder economic system that is truly responsible to its systems in the way our original founders intended and which leads to a beneficial capitalism. If not, beware for the floodgates of revolution will begin brewing – in defiance of the twisting of the truth of what Wall Street and corporate america has done to the economic soundness of our society.

    Susan Berko

    January 4, 2010 at 12:38 am

  3. Positive deviance almost always looks risky precisely because it challenges accepted practice and assumptions. And it’s true that deviance – or defiance – is no guarantee of success, but neither is conformity. It makes a big difference why a company or person is deviant, and the best reasons include that they perceive the risks of following the herd and that they have objectives in mind that the common wisdom ignores or considers to be impossible to achieve.

    We/they are not going to restore the old economy, which was already broken before the invention of dubious financial instruments. So we are all better off using our ingenuity to create an economy and society based on the definition of teamwork you cite – not allowing others to fail. We might also cite the US Constitution, which postulates that it is good to “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

    Deborah Gavrin Frangquist

    January 4, 2010 at 6:10 pm

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