Most of the people who have worked for me over the years can attest to two things: I am always honest and I always have their back. Always. Partly it’s because it’s who I am and partly because I feel it makes up for my absent-mindedness, for having to be reminded of things many times over, for handing out recipes with a missing ingredient here and there which gets discovered at the most inopportune moments and for asking of them to be there when I really need them to. I don’t yell, I don’t get overly upset but if I ask for something to be done, I consider it done. My door is open but don’t bullshit me – you would be insulting my intelligence. It has worked for most of my working relationships – my team’s mistakes are mine entirely and our successes are shared. I am a pain in the ass when it comes to cleanliness but I am a pain in the ass not too difficult to live with. Or so I like to think.
What I found over the years, though, is that corporations don’t necessarily apply the same principles – I should know, I have worked for corporations most of my adult life and I have seen more than my fair share of colleagues treated unfairly, tossed out for having outlived their usefulness or, worse, for lack of training and support. Sometimes, the swim or sink approach can be warranted and even useful but it can’t be applied indiscriminately – not everybody thrives in such an environment.
It used to be that in Europe and Japan and, to a smaller extent, in the US, large companies were viewed, for decades, as pater familias, providing for their employees up to their retirement and beyond. It can be argued that a safe job might breed laziness or lack of motivation that, in turns, leads to lack of creative thinking. I might not agree with such a notion anymore. A few months ago I had the good fortune of doing a stint of a few weeks at Google’s Headquarters in Mountain View, CA, as a contractor. And I was blown away as to how well cared for Googlers are. In a different and interesting and challenging way. The campus is designed so that you never want to leave: 16 different restaurants that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner free of charge, gyms, golf course, swimming pool, volleyball court, doctor’s office, pet grooming, pets to work, dry cleaning, movie theatre and I could go on and on (and did I mention share options upon hiring?). You are free to work out at 11 am if you are so inclined or take your laptop to a lounge where you can think and play video games and sip on a fresh juice at the same time or do whatever else makes you tick and hence more productive. I am sure the jobs are demanding but it seems, from the outside, that a lot is given back. And the result is a company that is not afraid to think differently while still achieving mind-boggling success.
In these difficult economic times, when every major corporation is trying to stay afloat by laying people off, cutting budgets and painting themselves into uninspired corners, it seems that those who dare will thrive. And taking good care of the workforce might seem an obvious choice – not by necessarily providing until the grave but by fostering an atmosphere of coöperation and shared gains and pains that might lead to the next breakthrough idea.