0 Comments | Apr 07, 2010

Bridging the Pride Gap

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I had a ham and cheese omelet the other day. I thought about that old joke – the cow and the chicken were involved in making my omelet, but the pig was committed.

If you’ll indulge a bit of a low-brow analogy, it struck me that executives and business owners have much more in common with the pig than the chicken. We’re married to our business outcomes, and personally committed to our results. The same isn’t always true of our employees, which gives rise to what I call the “Pride Gap.” While everyone clearly has a vested interest in company success, there’s often a big difference between owners/executives and employees from a passion, commitment, inspiration, and motivation perspective. It’s natural for business owners to take great pride in our work; it’s less common to find employees who do the same. The difference is the “Pride Gap.” I believe that an executive team’s ability to bridge that gap is the best predictor of long-term success in any market.

Bridging the “Pride Gap” is one of the fundamental employee productivity and business profit challenges. Motivated, committed, inspired employees clearly produce more, stay with your company longer, and generate better business results. You’d fill your staff with them, if that were possible, but employee motivation and productivity fall under a normal distribution just like all other human attributes.

You can’t turn everyone into a model employee, but you can raise the average substantially. How? Inspire. Lead. Care. Motivate.

Not by extolling the virtues of your product, service, workplace, etc – though some of that is necessary, it certainly can’t be the cornerstone of your leadership stance. Some people will be passionate widget makers. Most won’t. Bridging the “Pride Gap” – inspiring your employees to extend, stretch, innovate, and produce as passionate widget makers – only begins when you demonstrate your passion for their lives and wellbeing. There aren’t any leadership shortcuts, and you can’t fake it (they’ll know). If you don’t care about them, they won’t care about you, and they certainly won’t care about your business.

There’s an aloof formality that has come to replace the atmosphere of genuine teamwork in many businesses, and while it might be politically correct and contain all of the proper HR-approved terminology, its sterility and distance sap the life from your business. Its effect is precisely the opposite from its intent – bland generalization and neurotic attempts at total non-offense dehumanize the workplace.

Too little passion causes too little profit.

I’m not advocating inappropriate workplace behavior, and I’m well aware of the problem of the very small number of opportunistic malcontents who might eagerly take advantage of a slip-up. Protect yourself by being professional, and comply with standards. But you have to show that you care about the messy, entangled, encumbered, and complicated humanness that we all bring to work with us.

How, specifically? When you truly care, you’ll instantly and magically know how to make a difference for your staff on a daily basis, in a way that is uniquely your own as well as uniquely meaningful to the people who work for you. It’s as if the universe rallies to help you make your employees’ work life better.

If you demonstrate tangibly and consistently that you care about your employees, your employees will come to care about you. And when they do, they will naturally begin to care about the things you care about. Profit, productivity, innovation, efficiency, market share, and customer loyalty will all follow.

That’s the only way I know to bridge the “Pride Gap.”