My good friend Simon, an investment banker, and I recently had brunch on a rare mutually free Sunday. The topic of work ethic quickly became the theme of the discussion. I always credit Simon immensely for his seemingly insatiable appetite for hard work, so when he admitted that he had begun to cast doubt on his job at the firm and had cut back on his level of intensity, I was caught with surprise. The Simon I knew had no problem working until 2 a.m. and resuming work at 8 a.m., working Saturday and Sunday, even sacrificing important family occasions if it meant completing the mission. I proudly witnessed that firsthand on the basketball court and in our university classroom, so the idea of him letting up was shocking.
Considering all other variables ceteris paribus, he attributed it one thing and one thing only: the inability of management at his firm to communicate the big picture. The associates and managers he answers to assume that everyone in the organization will immediately understand and implement the strategies that they determine. Rather than ensuring analysts and other subordinates at the firm understood and bought into the strategy, management was micro delegating tasks in such a way that the work Simon completed was in such isolation of what other team members were doing that there was no sense of duty or purpose. Had Simon been engaged in the creation of the strategy and empowered with understanding the team’s coherent strategic focus, he would not have minded being relegated with the daunting day-to-day reality of corporate grunt work.
Simon’s frustration with the firm compelled me to evaluate internal communication at my own company. Undoubtedly, I believe we have been doing a tremendous job of external communication with our target market in terms of conveying our values and emphasizing our unique selling proposition. However, at work the next day, I began to ask our employees why they thought I delegated certain tasks to them. Answers ranged from “because that’s what you pay me for” and “it’s what I do best” to “if not me, then who?” and even a semi-joking “to ensure the Bauer’s can have a nice vacation!”
I thought to myself, has ROYCE grown so fast that its internal communication had become convoluted, so much so that our problems were indistinguishable from Simon’s Fortune 100 firm?
Greatly perturbed by this, I re-evaluated how we had gotten to this point. For close to a decade post-9/11, we were in survival mode and that was communicated across all employees, as well as upstream supply chain stakeholders. We were on the brink of collapse in a recessionary period with a significantly income-elastic collection of products. If, in 2006, I asked the same questions to our employees, the near-unanimous answer would have been “for the survival of ROYCE,” with related answers about ensuring the continuity of our proud family business and being there for a company that had always been there for them.
Fast forward to 2016. A few million dollars later and feeling confidently beyond the abyss, our growing success and perhaps subsequent hubris may actually be costing us our company culture, our well-defined outlook and our time enduring ideals. It was time to re-cultivate a sense of pride in our employees and resurrect their steadfast confidence in our mission. Quite simply, I walk in every day and personally remind each employee “we do this for each other”.