There is likely no more appropriate focus for business today than to deal with the idea of entitlement. Our workforce is pushed to consider self. And while it is necessary to consider self in the grand scheme of life, it does not equate to all policy and business direction being dictated as it relates to self.
In our schools, for example, we have acclimated to testing utilizing a variety of methodologies and techniques. If someone is a poor traditional test-taker, then we have allowed them to verbally take the test with the teacher or demonstrate a mastery of the subject matter is other ways. Now move that same student ahead 10 years into the workforce. How many different ways are there for the worker to demonstrate his/her mastery of the subject (work)? Most times, there’s just one. We assess in specific, often singular, ways. A product has to look and function in a certain way; even the service industry has parameters to stay within.
The point is not necessarily that we assess in various ways (though I would lean towards such a thought), but rather our workers are left outside of the process. They then slip into a fight or flight mentality. Turnover comes easier when I realize I can’t do the work the way you want. I will leave, no problem. If I am 24, I will find another entry level role. I’m young. No big deal. If I am 44, I will find another role. I’m still young enough (please don’t tell me that this is not still young…I might just breakdown). No big deal. Plus there is always unemployment insurance to assist me in the transition.
But, if I choose to fight, I will retreat to entitlement. I will call upon the god of entitlement and its minions - accommodation, leave and disparate treatment. How can I take care of me? How has this work environment been unhealthy? It cannot be that I am unable to do what’s required of me, but rather it must be how terrible it is here at work.
Sound familiar. Let me hit that nerve even more. How many businesses are living in fear of their employees? What if they sue? Complain? Gulp…call the Department of Labor? The organizations established to protect the American worker are viewed as the enemy of American business. How did this happen? Entitlement. (There are real situations where a breaking of the law is happening in some companies; it has to be addressed. Of course it does. I am not swinging the pendulum too far the other way.)
So, what to do?
- Address it – don’t be scared! Call it out. Say, “We all come from a position of entitlement.” Work through simple examples. Don’t accuse. Share general observations. Let people laugh at you. Let them laugh at themselves.
- Be transparent – as best as you can, share financials. Let people know that the pot is only so big. Yeah, I want to live at Google offices, too, but we can’t. Who’s going to pay for it? Once some more liquidity is in our hands, how should we spend it? Which of these three options makes better sense in light of our financials and our mission? Let employees engage!
- Coach – devise a plan to battle “me first.” How do we call it out in each other without irritating the stew out of each other? There is nothing wrong with asking a question about self, but is that the default position? Demonstrate business acumen and meet your employee where he/she is. Guide them through components of business decisions. Long term, this will pay off in huge dividends…and I don’t mean just money.
I believe we are better than entitlement. We have to be. Our business cultures, our family units, society as a whole needs us to move beyond this perspective. When we see it, we have to take action. Healthy, lasting business development comes out of a functional belief in the work to be done and the integrity it takes to do it. Encourage pride, speak to the struggles and affirm correct competencies. We are more than one.