I love the New York Times “Corner Office” in the business section of the Sunday paper where they interview a CEO and often ask about how they hire and manage employees as well as there employee culture.  There’s always a nugget or two to be found around employee satisfaction or employee engagement. 

This last week’s edition was especially interesting because of the contrast between the interviewed CEO Vineet Nayar of HCL Technologies and the first quote on the same page in “The Chatter” section by CEO George Cloutier, chief executive of American Management Services. 

Nayar talks about their “Employees First” philosophy and his humility and desire to be seen as ‘just one of the employees.’  He says “The other thing we did was make sure everybody understands that the CEO is the most incompetent person to answer questions, and I say this to all my employees very openly” and he learned “how to communicate to employees to not look up to me, but to look within, to communicate that I’m one of you, to destroy that hierarchy.”

Cloutier is quoted as saying “Fear is the best motivator.”  I would hope that Cloutier was not referring to motivating his employees, because while fear may be the most effective motivator (hopefully what he meant by ‘best’), it is a horrible unethical one.  And this quote is out of context so there’s no way to know without researching further, but the context provided after the quote says that George is the author of ‘Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing’ – which is a fairly cut throat, non warm-fuzzy, book title.  And goes on to state that Cloutier “says he does not believe in coddling employees.” 

The Choose People philosophy says that not only to put employees first because it’s simply the right thing to do, but   also because it’s the financially brilliant because happy employees are the path to profits. 

Cloutier is correct that employees do not need to be coddled.  They are peers, not children.  And as respected peers, they need to know you care – and not just about profits.  They also need to be challenged and supported in new endeavors and efforts to improve the company. 

Nayar says that he destroys the hierarchy.  As long as a company has someone who is paid more than another, and someone has the right to hire and fire when someone else does not, for better or worse, a hierarchy undeniable exists.  I appreciate Nayar’s efforts to humanize himself to his employees, but at the end of the day he is still the “boss.”  Having been the “boss” and hating that word because it felt so oppressive (think Dilbert),  I understand Nayar’s desire to get out from under it.  But at the end of the day, many employees will tell you they want a dynamic leader (aka – boss) who is decisive and effective, as well as compassionate and ethical. 

Many employees are “okay” with the work hierarchy, as long as the hierarchy is competent and caring.   The happy management middle between Nayar’s employees first concept, and what would appear to be Cloutier’s heavy handedness, can best be summed up by one manager’s mantra of being “Firm, Fair & Fun.” 

Bonus:  *As a side note, one of my interpretations of Nayar’s golden nuggets is to teach employees to trust themselves to be valuable resources who can contribute on a strategic level as well as on a “make the donuts” level.