Monday, March 06, 2006

3/6/06 Book Comment: Sirota's "The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want" 746 words

"The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want" David Sirota, et al, 2005

Moving on from Cramer's Wall Street to the real world of real work, despite its quasi-socialist, "Old Europe" sounding sub-title ("The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want"), Sirota and his co-authors are all long-time card-carrying members of the managerial class previously affiliated with such stalwart capitalist institutions as IBM and the University of Michigan's Institute of Social Research.

Sirota's book is based on very extensive, hard survey data ("we have been asking workers questions for more than 30 years....In that time, we collected over 4 million survey responses from employees around the world.") It makes the unequivocal challenge that "there are three primary sets of goals of people at work" and "that a manager does not need to know much more about human motivation at work":

1) "Equity. To be treated justly in relation to the basic conditions of employment." The authors contend that "enlisting the willing cooperation of a workforce in achieving the aims of an enterprise is impossible unless people have a sense of elemental fairness in the way they are treated."

2) "Achievement. To take pride in one's accomplishments by doing things that matter and doing them well; to receive recognition for one's accomplishments; to take pride in the organization's accomplishments." "Most people enter a new organization and job with enthusiasm, eager to work, to contribute, to feel proud of their work and their organizations. Perversely, many managers then appear to do their best to demotivate employees!"

3) "Camaraderie. To have warm, interesting, and cooperative relations with others in the workplace." "The quality of interaction in organizations is obviously greatly affected not just by friendliness and mutuality of interests, but also by co-workers' competence and cooperation."

Refreshingly and honestly, the authors say "the three goals we propose are distinct needs that, unfortunately, cannot be substituted for each other. For example, enriching the content of a job does not increase satisfaction with pay or cause an employee to minimize the importance of his pay dissatisfaction. Discontent with pay can be ameliorated only by more pay! Similarly, unhappiness with a boring job can be solved only by restructuring the job or transferring the employee to work that is more interesting."

Sirota's book is published by Wharton School Publishing, so it should be considered responsible and legitimate by corporate America, to whom I would highly recommend it, especially the three chapters on "fair treatment."

Since 1972, worker average real (inflation-adjusted) weekly earnings have declined 17% (according to the 2006 "Economic Report of the President") while CEO compensation has skyrocketed (to something around 400 times that of the average employee).

All during that time, CEO's have incessantly told their employees, with a straight face no less, that we're all in this together, that we all have to make sacrifices for the good of the company. Then they lay off large numbers of workers and demand "concession bargaining," sometimes under the threat of bankruptcy, on wages, pensions, benefits, working conditions, etc., while granting themselves huge stock options.

Has anyone ever heard of a CEO giving back his compensation due to mediocre company performance or a bad m & a deal? Once again, I ask, is that fair and honest? Who do CEO's think that fools or pleases, other than Wall Street and the mass media? And how can there be a "free market" for corporate executives when the results are so patently out of whack with reality?

As for whether CEO's truly "earned" their stock options, see "Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation" 2004. Written by two professors and published by Harvard University Press, it finally puts to rest, thirty years too late, the myths associated with so-called "agency theory" taught in academic economics departments and b-schools.

Such academic rationalizations for an increasingly speculative, unfair, even dishonest system are still being widely pushed in the mass media, including such venerable but inaccurate hoary myths as "efficient capital markets," "free markets," and "independent central banks." Ah, the "power of myth."

Imho, there can not be a fundamentally fair financial system, or society for that matter, without honest money and credit closely tied to real economic activity. Unfortunately, money and credit are being massively created by financial institutions with increasingly less tenuous connection to the real economy, mainly for the benefit of the "speculator class," which politically now includes the upper middle class with huge home equity gains, with any trickle down a mere secondary matter.