A Lesson in Employee Expectations
Many HR people are familiar with the work of Dr. Stephen Covey. His work on principle-centered leadership has been lauded by many in the human resource management field. In the age of diversity, globalization and change management, Covey's work has given managers a clear communicative foundation from which to approach the process of managing change. In his teachings, Dr. Covey has created a thriving training business delivered through an organization, Franklin Covey Company, of which he is co-chairman.
For organizations looking to facilitate innovation and improve productivity through empowerment programs, Stephen Covey's work provides some useful insight on how to create a supportive corporate culture. His writings on how to facilitate principle-centered communication have served as effective training fodder for a number of corporate trainers. However, it is the company that he co-chairs, Franklin Covey which provides us with perhaps the most vivid practical lesson regarding the potential challenges organizations face when attempting to raise the bar of corporate expectations by empowering workforces.
A disgruntled Franklin Covey employee named David Melvin and his wife have established a web-site dedicated to disseminating negative information about what they perceive to be unacceptable human resource management practices at Franklin Covey (the web-site is: www.franklincoveysucks.com). This in itself means very little. Disgruntled employees are not uncommon in even the best firms. For example, a similar web-site exists for Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated (www.walmartsucks.com ), despite the fact that the mega-retailer is recognized by many industry analysts as the undisputed retail leader in generating employee morale.
While disgruntled employees are not uncommon in any industry, what is unusual about Franklin Covey's case is both the nature of the firm's business and the volume of support in terms of additional negative feedback the site has received from other ex-Franklin Covey employees. Franklin Covey is a world leader in providing workshops dedicated to developing principle-centered leadership skills. For such a firm to be accused of business practices that run contrary to the message delivered through their workshops is irony at its best. The fact that such accusations have garnered so much support from former employees certainly draws one's attention. This anti-Franklin Covey web site has existed for over a year now. In the United States where litigation is nearly as common as greeting your neighbor, the fact that franklincoveysuck.com has been allowed to continue in operation is either a testament to Franklin Covey's desire to allow everyone a chance to express themselves or implicit acknowledgement on the company's part that human resource problems do in fact exist.
The lesson that can be learned from this has nothing to do with whether or not these claims are true. Nor is it an indictment of Franklin Covey as a poor employer. The lesson to be learned is that organizations that preach empowerment and high principles must make sure that their organization is equipped to support such a program with consistent human resource management practices.
At the staffing stage, organizations that portray themselves as new age, horizontally diversified, communicatively enlightened entities should first make sure that they have the structure, training programs and leadership capabilities to support this claim. Firms that cannot match substance with claim risk the cultivation of a disenchanted workforce.
Performance management systems developed to encourage and facilitate empowerment must do more than delegate responsibility. Such systems must motivate employees to higher levels of accountability through adequate motivational programs. This includes the development of compensation programs and performance appraisal procedures that suitably reward people for innovating and for taking responsibility. Training programs that are designed to encourage interaction and innovation need to start at the senior management level. Underlings who are expected to commit themselves fully to principle-centered communication will expect similar behavior from senior management.
The bottom-line for any organization that is moving toward empowerment is to understand that high expectations run both ways. Organizations that expect morally proper, responsible, high-quality commitment from their employees must be aware that employees will expect the organization as an entity to adhere to the same standards. This is perhaps a lesson to be gleaned from the experience at Franklin Covey Company.
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