According to researchers Meyer and Allen, our commitment to the organization shows up as want to, has to, and ought to. It’s a way to describe who’s psychologically invested in the business.
Want to describes what most consider to be the ideal employee, the one who cheerfully takes on every new task or challenge and gives 110% no matter what. This employee identifies with the organization and has internalized its goals essentially making the business his or her own. Has to characterizes the employee who sticks around only because it’s less financially or psychologically costly than leaving. Losing not-quite-vested retirement funds or close friends, for example, discourages a painfully alluring exit. Ought to defines the employee with a sense of obligation to be loyal to the company or repay some kindness. He may feel that as long as he has his job he owes the company his loyalty, or he may have taken a few college classes paid for by the company and feels indebted. This employee stays put because leaving would trigger feelings of guilt.
Needless to say, employers hope to somehow find themselves with teams of want tos. Ideally, they try to build a want to team in the early years of the organization. I happened to stumble across a recent Inc Magazine article with an example of an employer like this known as the king of blackjack, Bill Kaplan.
Interestingly, Kaplan is probably best known as a professional gambler. His exploits of beating the house at blackjack tables have been Hollywood-ized in the movie Bringing Down the House which hit the silver screen a few years ago. According to the article, Kaplan is now an entrepreneur who runs his business, FreshAddress, using lessons learned from his successful blackjack teams. Those lessons include treating each employee as an integral member of the organization to create a team of psychologically invested members.
Unfortunately, not every leader starts out like Kaplan. Most simply wake up one day to discover that they have ended up with an organization of have tos and ought tos, and need to do something about it. Whether starting out, or retrofitting, the principles are essentially the same.
Like Kaplan, most leaders want more than anything to have a want to workplace where everyone pitches in and helps each other. If the order takers are overwhelmed, someone in operations jumps in; if phones aren’t getting answered, a salesperson offers to help. Even though this level of work skill diversity may not be feasible in any but the smallest organizations, the principle can be applied anywhere. To build broad capabilities and promote a culture that supports this kind of workforce, Kaplan hits the proverbial nail on the head by insisting on intense training for every employee in all aspects of the business. But it doesn’t stop there. Competence is paramount, so training is coupled with testing. In Kaplan’s case, it means employees demonstrating to co-workers over and over that they’ve mastered critical skills. So when a customer asks about an order, product or process, employees can talk intelligently about it regardless of where it is in the system.
Likewise, all information, except salaries, is shared with the whole team. And weekly meetings involving the entire FreshAddress team focus on the big picture supporting whole business thinking across the company.
Also, compensation almost always becomes a sticking point when it comes to promoting skin in the game of business. To discourage employees from sacrificing the interests of the whole to pad their own paychecks, some component of pay is usually linked to the goals of the overall group. A common practice is to combine lower than market salaries with substantial bonus potential paid out on how well the whole business fares. This was one of Kaplan’s strategies. While there are no magic templates when it comes to creating psychologically invested, or want to, teams, proven principles consistently show up in the businesses that have them regardless of industry, product, or region. After all, a Harvard student discovered them in route to becoming the king of blackjack. Now, he applies them in a small technology firm. Application of the principles just doesn’t get much broader than that.
Trying it on for fit: Below are some of the key principles applied in the examples above. Not surprisingly, they echo many principles presented in previous columns. Consider how they might be employed in your organization to promote teams in which employees are psychologically invested in the success of the whole.
- Competence (both technical and business expertise)—including developing and demonstrating it.
- Inclusion—ensuring core employees assume major roles critical to the organization’s success.
- Transparency—making all business information and concerns common to the entire workforce.
- Whole business thinking—inspiring a driving focus on the successes of the whole unit.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!