We have just “discovered” this amazing book written in 1993. Its author, John O. Whitney, spent most of his career as an executive and CEO of several companies and then became a professor at Columbia Business School. We’ll quote more of his thoughts but let’s start by two of them which he qualifies as “harshly stated yet of familiar tune.” They are about the reward systems.
The first quote is about the “carrots and sticks” rewards, which are common to most workplaces. Whitney writes that this statement was made to him by the personnel director of a large well-known firm and not in jest:
“To keep the people at bay, throw them a bone— even a piece of meat from time to time.”
What kind of animals people at work are then? If you wonder whether reward systems do treat us like pets, there are systems in which that’s is really the case. Here is Whitney’s second quote:
“More advanced reward systems might be compared to the humane treatment of pets: Make certain they are well-fed and also have a comfortable life—shelter from the elements, medical treatment when needed—and give them a hug or a pat on the head from time to time.”
We don’t want to be harsh ourselves but these reward systems can even have their workplaces on the “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” list. As we wrote earlier, treating employees well is not the same as treating them as whole human beings (read our California Management Review article on this site).