Do You Prefer a Loyal or Obedient Employee
Last month I was having a discussion with the Chief People's Ofcer of a large IT company in India with more than 100,000 employees. He was explaining me the challenges they face in managing such a large workforce and keeping each and every employee not lose sight of company vision and goals. His problem was more with managing senior managers and above who expect their reportees to be obedient to them and do not bother even if their team members are not loyal to the company. His plan was to create an ecosystem in the company whereby every employee is loyal to the company and not obedient to individuals. His logic was very simple. The greatest army in the world has soldiers who are loyal to the country and not to the commander who heads the regiment or great football teams have players and fans loyal to the club and not to individuals. The moment a disloyal member is found either he is advised to get out or thrown out. He is trying to apply the same principles in the company. A gist of what he shared during the one hour discussion is the basis of this essay.
When employee of a company feels responsible for the success and failures of the company, the foundation is formed for performance of team and not individuals and this atitude characterizes loyalty. On the other hand obedience is a trait shown by individual to another individual or group of individual within a company which lasts only so long as the individual to whom obedience is shown, is in a position of authority. Loyalty can be to tangible and intangible thing whereas obedience is to living things only.
A simple defnition of loyalty would be "faithful to the cause one has chosen to support without expecting any beneft" whereas obedience "faithful to a person with the expectation for future reward".
In our life, all of us would be loyal to one or more of the following - family, friends, community, country, political party or cricket team, but when it comes to being loyal to the company where we work many of us may not pass the test. What can be the reasons why most of us fail to be loyal to the company though loyalty is a trait which is very much exhibited by all of us elsewhere?
A simple test to determine who is loyal to a company will help to bring more clarity. A loyal employee is:
Happy when company performance is good but not negative about the company when performance of the company is bad; Defends the company when company is subjected to undue criticism; Is always proud of the company; Never fails to constructively criticize the company.
A not so loyal employee on the other hand propounds negative views about the company, colleagues and staf. More ofen than not such not so loyal employees talk about one another rather than talk with one another. The negative energy they generate is not limited within the boundaries of the company but permeates outside to customers, suppliers and all those who interact with the company. People who listen to the not so loyal employees usually empathize with them but nothing beyond that or few may also suggest such employees to change their employment without realizing that the story will be repeated in their new job. At many places of work, such not so loyal employees though all the time make negative statements about the company and individuals within the company do not look for another job.
In many companies absence of loyalty on part of staf may have a strong correlation with absence of loyalty on part of top management. In real life every individual may be loyal to more than one cause and in many situations 'loyalty conficts' may occur. A person may experience loyalty conficts between demands for your presence and commitment coming from your company and from your family and friends. There can also be situations when one may experience loyalty confict between what your company may ask you to do and what you know from your conviction is right. The loyalty conficts are faced by employees at all levels within a company and is not just restricted to middle and lower level managers.
Loyalty conficts do not have any match box solution and hence it becomes very difcult for an individual to take decisions when facing the issue of 'loyalty conficts'. Each individual is the best judge to decide himself on the issue of loyalty conficts. Adhering to strong value systems can ofen help an individual to resolve the issue of loyalty conficts. Value systems such as 'integrity' are those which do not change with time and remains same in any situation. This form of loyalty confict happens when your company expects you to do something that is contrary to your idea of what is right or wrong based on integrity test. In such situation irrespective of your position in the organization, you need to make up your mind on whether you would like to do something against your value system.
Loyalty to a company comes with 'respect' and should not be confused with 'obedience' to individuals in the company. People ofen fnd it difcult to be loyal to a company which they do not respect. Lack of respect to a company may arise usually due to mismatch of your value systems and the value systems of the company. In such cases the options for the individual are:
Try changing the value systems of the company so that you can respect the company and hence be loyal; a very few of us try this option.
- Learn to live with situation; most of us follow this.
- Leave the company; this happens when options are easily available outside.
- Stay in the company and be not loyal; an option that majority of us opt and in the process not only fail the company but also oneself.
Lastly loyalty should never be confused with obedience. Being loyal means acting by ones conviction in a manner that promotes the interest of the company. Loyalty can ofen lead to a situation where by you may act against the wishes of another employee who may be your superior. This should not be construed as disobedience.
It is perfectly possible to be loyal to a company even if you disagree with the methods of achieving goals. However it would be disloyal to suppress your views when you notice something is wrong. The way to express disagreement in a company has to be open, out of love and should be constructive.
Great companies are those where employees agree about achieving something together and not necessarily everything together. Such companies promote loyalty and not obedience amongst the employees.