Dale Dauten: Speaker, Author, Innovation Consultant [an error occurred while processing this directive]

The Whiners and the Hummers

"Why delight in work? Fundamentally, I suppose, because there is a sense of relief and pleasure in getting something done -- a satisfaction not unlike that which a hen enjoys on laying an egg."
-- H.L. Mencken

(What follows grew out of the research for my book, "The Gifted Boss," my search for the best bosses in America, and was crystallized by conversations with Bill Leslie and Dan Hagerman.)

Hey, Boss...

To you suits up there on the top floor, I suppose I'm just another one of your foot soldiers, just one of the grunts who makes it, delivers it, fixes it. But I am a great grunt and proud of it, and there are a few things I can teach you. I suppose that you'll resent me telling you how to do your job -- I know I detest it when you try telling me how to do mine -- but you need to understand this truth:


I produce more than I have to, not because you "motivate" me, but because of the satisfaction it gives me. It's not a once-a-year satisfaction at performance review time, but the everyday satisfaction of having put in a good day's work. That may seem narrow-minded to you, to see life in days instead of quarters or fiscal years, but maybe the truth is that it's just the opposite. Maybe my life is richer because I'm free from your obsession with ambition. Oh, sure, you're getting rich and I'm not -- but is your life richer? I don't know. Not for me to say.

What I want to do is to look back on my workday and know I've earned my pay and then some. I don't need a spreadsheet to tell me how I'm doing -- my spreadsheet is right there in the eyes of my co-workers and customers. I work for them, not you. That's important to understand, Boss: I don't give you my heart and mind because you manipulated me through your silly policies or pep talks, but because giving myself to my work is what I do. I'm no pigeon in a box; I'm a worker. I bring with me my worker ethic, and my quality ethic and my take-care-of-the-customer ethic.


Perhaps you think that employees like me don't really matter, that with your controls and your management, you can require good work. You may even believe that with enough rules you can ensure quality. If so: oh my, that's sad.

Here's how NOT to do it:

When performance goes down, you institute more rules. You make the jobs smaller and the controls tighter. You get smaller people. Little feet fill little shoes. And those shoes are little tiny loafers. You get employees who don't work at working, but at getting out of work. Their brainpower goes into thwarting your rules. What can you do? Hire stupider workers? No wonder you learn to hate your employees. No wonder you dream of robots.


But, on the other side, you have the employees who make the robots look like... well, mere robots. You have the employees who implement solutions before you even knew there was a problem. You have the employees who delight the customers, who make work a pleasure. In other words, you have me. And that gets us back to the beginning, the part about your job is to be worthy of me.

If you're interested, here's what it takes:

When I walk through a workplace I can tell in a minute what sort of organization it is. I hear it. In some of the lousy places it's a whine; in the good ones it's a hum. And we hummers won't work with the whiners. It's up to you to create a place that we'll agree to be part of.

We great grunts know which executives care about the company, and which are nothing more than sucking wounds of ego. Great employees always work with management, not for management. If you want to hire me, you have to prove to me that you want to be the best, together. I only work on first-rate products and services. I only work for people who look up to me, even from the top floor. Thomas Carlyle wrote, "He that can work is the born king of something." That's us, the kings and queens of productivity. That's how to treat us.

Well, I hope you get it, because that's all I have time for -- I've got work to do.

© 1999 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Popular Past Columns