Monday, 19 April 2010

Why is loyalty a four letter word ?

A very nice piece from Lucy Kellaway in today’s Financial Times touched me. It touched me because it could be me she was writing about. Lucy is a brilliant journalist and her pieces in the FT are something I always read – she brings a down to earth realism, without the spin, that is very refreshing.

This is a topic most readers of this blog will not relate to, for you are young and probably at the start of your careers. Some of you have progressed a bit and a double digit in the experience line is close or already there. Pause and think – is loyalty really an anachronism in today’s world.

I have posted before on this topic here. But Lucy’s column prodded me to muse again on this old fashioned concept.

All relationships in life have a certain degree of long termism to them. The majority of people on earth are loyal to their parents all through their lives. Ditto to their spouse. Ditto to their children. Just because there’s a prettier girl down the street (new exciting opportunity in business parlance), do you just ditch your partner and go running ? No. Just because your child’s classmate is a whiz kid (greater return for investment commercially), do you ditch your child ? No. Equally so with friends. I would look with horror at a friend who only wanted to be a friend because I had some value to offer at that time.

What about material possessions we own. Just walk into any household and we’ll find junk, decades old, which nobody wants to throw out. You own your house for most of your lifetime. You buy a house for “investment” and land up holding it forever. Equally so your TV, your fridge, your music system, whatever, until it dies.

Same applies to thoughts and beliefs and tastes. If you like curd rice and mango pickle, chances are that you’ll hold on to it forever, even if caviar and champagne is on the menu. You watch the same soap for years and years; you support the same sports team even for generations. If you like old movie songs, you’ll continue to like them for a long time (how many times have you said they don’t make movies/songs like the gems of the old anymore). Zeno will continue to be fascinated by Tamannah for ever !

The business world should be no different, at least up to a point. Man is a creature of habit. There’s some comfort in familiarity. Commitment (on both sides) is a virtue and not a vice. Its all very well to jump ship all the time and maybe you’ll get a little more money (that’s to be proven), maybe a grander title, maybe a faster promotion, whatever. But are people who jump around really satisfied ? Do they feel happier ? Do they make relationships that transcend their jobs ? Do they achieve something more than earning the daily bread ? What do you work for ? Not an easy question to answer.

Of course, it’s a two way street. Companies should also be worthy of loyalty and should be equally committed. Unfortunately they are not deserving as this post argues. But the onus is on us too. If we show some commitment we may be pleasantly surprised that it is reciprocated.

Oh; never mind. I know this is an anachronistic ancient view. Don't take too much notice of this nostalgic old foggy blabbering away.


gils said...

i dunno if reciprocation can be expected from the company's side. and sticking on to same company....i am not sure if it qualifies as being loyal. Its a symbiotic relationship where both parties get what they want.

zeno said...

I swear I wont be fascinated by T forever. My loyalty towards the likes of T are fickle and ephemeral! More on the post later!

ambulisamma said...

I would agree with you,my experience is still in single digit but,i started my career with a mid sized company and the truth i have grown with the company,i was regretting a lot to leave my job for marriage,was considering a sabbactical and return back to work few months later and so on,but for the sake of husband and a smooth married life i had to quit.
Recently i met my SME here in bahrain and was discussing about my interest in coming back,i did not want to go back,bcoz am not so comfy with the PM.
The company for which i worked in Bahrain is again a new estalishment,but sooner i got a lucrative offer,but stuck onto the same company in which i joined,later i was happy for being with them,i had to qit them for pregnancy.
Given a chance i would like to go back to my 'gurukul(first company)' again.
I was loving that company for n reasons.

ambulisamma said...

So far in my career of 5 years i have worked only for two companies.
One in India and one here in Bahrain.
Considering ppl who work in any company only for 6 months and change job for a salry increase of 1000 rs,i guess am still old fashioned.

zeno said...

IMHO,First, Equating Job with personal relations doesnt seems to be fair. it's just business and nothing personal :)

Coming to relations, yeah loyalty do exists all time, But if you look at the intensity of loyalty i think that would keep changing. One may not be the same son or daughter as he was at the age of 4 vs 14 vs 24 vs 44. I think even the equations with your spouse changes when you get a kid. [all the above are my assumptions as i am still single]

Similarly my perspective towards job or company changes on with years.

Coming down to the two-way street, I remember one of manager advising me, your company expects something from you, you expect something from the company when it matches you will grow, if not it is better to switch. so nowadays it is just the expectations dont match! and too much of opportunities at hand.
Once there was only maruti so one was happy with it for years. today you have lots to choose and switch!

I also read your past posts, yeah it is so true, if you stay long in a company you are looked down as touch wood rather than a talent.[touch woods stay but not talents]
and also always people leave managers not companies.

In one of the previous post i saw u mentioning jack welch staying on long and he achieved things. somehow felt he is not an apt example ;)

GE gave him all things he wanted.
but remember he was called neutron jack sold businesses and fired people for missing the numbers.

and he strongly advocated, if you dont share values, you must go
and all the contenders for his post should leave except for his sucessor![ i am not second guessing welch on his rationale and decision, just stating on leaving the company]

Full disclosure, i have been working in the same company for the past 5 years after my college!

Ramesh said...

@gilsu - you've truly become a damager. Look at your very "corporate" comment !!

@zeno (1) - Really ?? Thanks to you, I know of the existence of T :)

@ambulisamma - Yeah sometimes you have to leave for purely personal reasons and women disproportionately face this problem. That isn't a matter of loyalty ; so its OK.

@zeno (2)- Understand your position which you have articulated so well. However I come from the corner that you cannot separate your personal life from what work you do. The values that run your personal life are closely intermingled with that of work life. I know this is debatable, but I find it difficult to compartmentalise it so rigidly. And loyalties in personal life do not fade away - sure they change as we grow up and circumstances change. But there is a core value that remains the same. Hence my attempt at drawing parallels.

But your view is equally valid. that's the beauty of debate and having different views, isn't it ?

Deepa said...

On any given day I am on Loyalty's side. If one is indeed looking for an ideal career graph and aiming high, loyalty will be a key factor in getting you there. Again the same thing, it goes both ways. But I even agree with what Gils said, sticking to one company wouldn't always depict loyalty.

But I wonder how relevant this discussion is for the IT industry. The more they hop over projects, the more technically experienced they get. Even the companies keep people solely on the basis of project requirements.

Vishal said...

Very valid points, Ramesh! Can relate to your take on this "pillar of human character". You echoed my words in third last paragraph of this post.

I still ponder for hours answering these questions. I wonder how beautiful corporate life would have been, had everyone (on both sides) thought from your "anachronistic ancient point" of view.

Sadly, it is not. As Gils says it is a symbiotic relationship. Needs have changed, means have changed and so have objectives. There is no point building a home which is incompatible for both the parties. Having said that, I completely understand the parallels that you have drawn with family, friends, taste, beliefs and possessions. Do not know why this does not work here in corporates. Perhaps, the pressure of spectacular and exceptional performances (from all the stakeholders) is giving way to such a working environment.

zeno said...

(1) will try to enlighten you more on that front ;)

(2)Ahem Ji! Compertmentalization may not happen, when you love what you do or you really like wat u do!

@Deepa, In terms of IT,more you hop companies, more the salary at least in the short run.
IT people who faced the brunt of recession would have deleted the word called loyalty from their dictionary.if god could give them powers they would delete it from all dictionaries!

J said...

As I was reading your post I was trying to understand what it means to be loyal to a company that is a non-living, emotionless entity. But the article had one line that resonated fully "I have stayed because I fit". I guess the loyalty is to the group of colleagues and the understanding that you all share something in common - making the venture a success. So if is all about the specific group of employees in place, this whole discussion also highlights the importance of hiring the right people for the right organization. In a "loyal" organization, one restless person can ruin the dynamics for everyone else. At the same time if the group does not value loyalty, then hiring a loyal type will frustrate that person. I know the OB guys talk about organizational fit but I have never been convinced that you can identify it so easily in an interview. But, doing it right seems to be the key to fostering loyalty, I think.

Ramesh said...

@Deepa - The IT industry situation s unique in that its a lopsided supply and demand situation. Something similar exists in factory workers in China - you change at the drop of a hat. But I am willing to bet my last dollar that heavy switchers do no better than those who stay. Even in IT.

@Vishal - Beautiful comment Vishal. Set me pondering why it doesn't work in business. I don't think its he performance demand - there's something else sociologically that's at work here.

@zeno - You have already enlightened me. I know three names now :) Thats 300% improvement :):)

@J - I think its more than the affiliation with a group of people. There's something about the values of the organisation that matters too. I freely admit that In have been hugely shaped as a person by the organisation I worked for, for so long. It must happen to everybody. Wouldn't that be a factor too ?

gils said...

:) i spoke from my case. loyaltyngarathu standing by thick n thin..tht never happens..ellamay weather friends thaan in corporate. business impact varapo whether u r there for 10 yrs or 2 years..thookanumnu decide panita they wl remove

Ramesh said...

@gils - Thats more like the usual gils, but we like both your avatars ; so plizzz to alternate mokkais with corporate speak :)

J said...

I am not sure you can so easily separate the values of the organization from the group. For instance, the company that I worked for and felt quite loyal towards (you know which one) was deemed to have very middle class values to the point that we were coached to dress simply for the interview (only starched cottons as opposed to the silks for the bank interviews :)). But now I hear (totally second-hand) that the culture of the organization is much changed. Maybe I am mixing up culture and loyalty but they seem to go hand in hand in my opinion. Another instance is that the department of 12 people that I joined now 7 years ago, saw about half the faculty either retire or even pass on and now the old-world values of loyalty to the group seems to have been slowly replaced with a more self-centric culture. This makes me think that the value of the organization is constantly being shaped by the group and to maintain the loyalty of employees, there has to be an explicit effort to sustain those values. This all assumes of course that loyalty is a quality to desire in an employee. Is professionalism an adequate substitute?

Ramesh said...

@J - As always, a very thoughtful comment. Yes, I agree you can't separate values of the organisation from the group so easily. Prince, whom both of us know, is strongly in the camp that there are no values of the organisation; only those of the group. Yes, I know what you are talking of of the old organisation - its undoubtedly true that it has changed quite a bit. But there are some undelying core values which belong to the organisation, shaped over a long period of time, which won't easily change. For eg in the company we know, meritocracy (mostly !), no compromise on ethics, professionalism, etc were some of the core values that have stayed. Some of my values have surely been shaped by the organisation. And negatively some values have stayed - women unfriendliness is not something I am proud of, but it has surely stayed with that organisation.

Is loyalty desirable ? I am very firmly in the camp that a does of loyalty is important. Take another field - sports. Loyalty is a joke there. Yet some of the greatest sportsmen have stayed in one club most of their lives - Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Ryan Giggs. On the contrary look at Shaquille O'Neal - he has surely diminished his stature by going round and round. Arguable, but there's something to it.

Sandhya Sriram said...

How unlucky i am -- i always used to take pride on being one of loyal readers and missed this piece on loyalty :-( - thanks to some setting issues on my PC not letting me access your website!!

my father worked for his organization for 4 decades. given a choice, i would work for my organization till eternity.

But then, in life - there are other priorities and dimensions- family, situations, needs.... it dosent turn out the way they desire and people move on. for someone, it could be as small as a Rs.1000/- increase in the salary, for someone it could be as big as pursuing a life time dream.

But it is a very tough phase. if it hasnt been tough, then either one hasn't owned up the organization as his own or havent given his best, worth enough to the organization for it to own him up. in either of the cases, it wasnt a relationship that was worth to be called so. and if it indeed was a tough call, it is a moment of truth and will remain with one all his/her life (Like it would have been with any other close relationship)

Ramesh said...

@sandhya - I know how committed you are to your organisation. You embody everything I've written about in this post.

RamMmm said...

Very interesting post and comments Ramesh.

"Mayday" "Mayday" happens when something breaks in you that you feel is irreversible. I am in my 3rd company now, the first one for a year which shaped my career, the next one, a lonnngggg stint by IT industry standards (used to be in the second or third page of the roster of company employees sorted by employee numbers before I quit and it is a huge org) and the third a year and a quarter back, because I felt I stagnated and stalled and had no escape. I have no hard feelings towards my earlier company and they did all that they could to hold me back and I am in touch with quite a few of them still. I wish them well by all means.

If one keeps jumping for peanut increases, you are a monkey and no more. As others point out, it is more a two-way street and interestingly, in the IT world, a lot of blame rests on the manager for one who is quitting.

Ramesh said...

@RamMmm - The IT industry in India is still immature ; grown too rapidly and has had no time to really develop a good managerial cadre. People get promoted to managers as they threaten to leave otherwise, but very few have the skills to lead and manage. When faced with an ass as a boss, the impatient coder just quits.

Work life is such an important component of your whole life. The values in the work place cannot be so easily walled off from the values in general life. If commitment in work life is so difficult to come by, then how would it come in personal life. My argument all over again.

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