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looking backward to find a way forward – Part 1

May 19, 2010

A friend was telling me about the work he has been doing lately putting together a document that will set “how things are to be done” in a particular area. He is a passionate and dedicated professional who always strives to do his best.

In researching his document he came across a policy dated ten years ago that seems to capture the essence of what he was being asked to produce. Clearly it had not been implemented. I am guessing my friend is thinking “Someone similarly passionate and dedicated had spent a part of their life over a decade ago to produce essentially the same thing … but to what end?”

I think we all have days when we struggle to find meaning in our work. When you are faced with the bleached bones of those who have gone before and you see that they toiled in vain for nothing, well I am not sure how he finds the optimism to go on.

Our conversation got me thinking about a document came into my possession last year. At the time it made me stop and think and wonder what had gone wrong. The document is dated 2/9/1968 and is entitled “GUIDING PRINCIPLES AND OBJECTIVES IN EMPLOYEE RELATIONS”. (For younger readers, I have typed it like that because that is how it appears. In 1968 you couldn’t choose a font – the typewriter only had upper and lower case!)

It is a groundbreaking document created, I fear, some 50 years before its time. I say that because I am not sure many Companies would be ready to adopt it outright today and live the principles it contains.

Now, I want to acknowledge upfront that it is possible that back in 1968 a passionate and dedicated member of the Employee Relations Department worked very hard to produce a document that nobody ever implemented. I don’t care. Whoever they are they deserve to be recognised for their efforts.

Before you start thinking it is a product of the 60’s – all peace and free love let me share with you the first sentence:

“The Company is in business to make a profit.”

Now I think that is pretty clear and it places the document into a context that some people might not necessarily associate with me. That said, I intend over the coming weeks to share it with you my reader, section by section, and reflect on each to see if there is anything to stop my company from taking it on board as it stands. I am particularly interested in corporate values at the moment so I also want to drill down beneath the words and see what values might lie behind them.

The organisation that produced the document is simply referred to as “The Company” so I will be able to include scanned images of each of the sections as I consider them and still protect the innocent.

To give you an idea of where we are going here the section headings that follow the preamble:

1. INDIVIDUAL RECOGNITION

2. INDIVIDUAL OPPORTUNITY

3. INDIVIDUAL PARTICIPATION

4. FAIRNESS

5. SECURITY

6. RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS

(The capitals and the underlining are from the document – remember there was no choice of font size back then either!)

Right from the start it seems that this Company values the Individual. But in each of the sections there is this phrase:

“Accordingly, it is management’s responsibility to:-“

A Company that is clearly focussed on profit, that values the individual and sets out what management needs to do for each individual not the other way around! Surely not. Are we doomed to fail from the start?

Along the way I would very much like to hear from you why not just my Company should or shouldn’t, could or couldn’t adopt this entire document, but also what your views are on its application in your Company and the wider Corporate world. I am also keen to explore why it seems that in recent times most companies have retained just the first sentence. I hope that you will be able to offer some clear examples of where that is not the case.

I have no idea where this thread is going to take me so I am just going to be open to where ever it might lead …

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