New Workplace attitudes



Self management - Workplace democracy -Personal accountability - Consensus decision making - Zen Bhuddism - The search for significance - Organizational strategies - Search for a global culture

Economics has based its calculations on the three fundamental components of any economic structure, land, labour and capital. The variable of labour, more specifically, the successful work ethic, has now superseded the study of economics as the determinant of economic profitability. In THE HEART OF BUSINESS, Peter Koestenbaum stressed the importance of ethics, philosophy, the winning of employee loyalty, and self development, as the essential factors. Economics is to be considered more of a descriptive or historical study, rather than a prescriptive study. The study of the medium, the organization, becomes the paramount study. How are people motivated? What structures and organizational strategies produce positive attitudes?

For example, to an economist in the early 1970's, a comparison between General Motors of the U.S. and Nissan Motors would indicate that General Motors should be the more efficient and profitable. General Motors had large capital available and a skilled workforce, raw materials were close by, and a huge market was at its doorstep. The latest technology was available to both companies and the only economic difference was that Nissan's labour costs were cheaper than General Motors. The economist's assessment would be completely in error as of 1983 due to the human variable of labour. Nissan's organizational ability and instilled motivation reversed the apparent economic advantages of General Motors.

In the nineties the industrial products of Japan are the most technologically advanced and have the highest degree of preference by global consumers. Japan's steady advance to the forefront of industrial technology and the American decline in technological superiority has forced many Westerners to be aware that an attitudinal change is necessary. Eastern nations have shown that the best strategy is an attitude of cooperation with, and concern for, employees. Inter-dependence and the use of consensus decision making fosters greater productivity. It is the dominant model and the Japanese, as its principle exponents, prevail in the marketplace.

It is the strategies that create real control and participation that must be sought. North American organizations have been held hostage to the demands of the bottom line. They have too often dismissed Japan's success as due to a completely separate culture that cannot be applied to North America. Such a dismissal is, at its worst, racist, and, at its best, a misguided sense of superiority. That Japan's success is due to an authoritarian ethic does not detract from its obvious merits. It is these merits that must be cross-pollinated into a direct, not representative, democracy.

A more democratic workplace ethic is evolving. It is strange, that the Westerner (claiming superiority in the democratic political system) have agreed, so long, and so meekly, to an autocratic workplace. Western workers are now rejecting this model. One of the ways the old model is rejected and real control is gained, is self management.

Self management

Real control has meant, among other things, a change in the work place to self management. As Severyn T. Bruyn has pointed out in an article in the December, 1984, edition of the Review of Social Economy, it is changing the social structure of business organizations.

A major change has been taking place in capitalist and socialist nations over the last thirty years around the role of the worker in the hierarchy of economic life. This change is being described by some scholars as a movement towards worker self-management. It refers to new degrees of authority and power being achieved by the working class in the economy of modern nations. It is clearly a social trend visible in many nations which is antithetical to the traditional hierarchy of management. It suggests that a significant step is being taken toward employee equality in corporate life.

Self management reflects the desire for autonomy and control in the workplace. As part of the movement towards participatory democracy it gives the responsibility of benefitting the organization to the worker. The manager shares responsibility with employees and that over-used putdown, "Let me do the thinking", is consigned to the garbage heap. It also means that one's peers assess the contribution.

Self management can be a source of friction where there is not a clear agreement on the benefits to the organization. What one worker considers as important and of value to an organization may differ wildly from the expectations of another. Older organization where `the boss' determines what is important and of value have the initial advantage of a quick and binding decision, but only at an unacceptable loss of motivation. Self management can be achieved by teams, such as quality circles, where the individual must provide support or leadership, and gain commitment, from others.

Self management focuses attention on achievements normally beyond the power of the individual. There is a striving towards excellence on both a personal and group level. It fosters an appreciation for joint efforts and de-emphasizes individual self-importance.

Kirkpatrick Sale extensively surveyed self management in HUMAN SCALE. He cites the example of the Cooperativa Central of California where seventy-five Mexican Americans, working on a large scale farm, have successfully achieved economic gains four times greater than other Mexican American farm workers. Each worker manages a separate part of the operation and calls on the help of others only when needed. This farm is also a cooperative and ruled by majority vote.

Economist Richard Tawney, when writing about worker ownership and self government, stated that the basic problem of the contemporary social order is that industrial governance and the use of capital and land are `autocratic'. Liberty, he believed must include the freedom to build up a social organization with a consciousness and corporate life of its own. Tawney further argued, that all workers in an industry constitute a political community and as such must have the right to establish within each enterprise a constitution securing an effective voice in its government.

Yugoslavia introduced self management in 1952 and extended it to all non-agricultural enterprises employing more that five persons. From 1954 to 1964 its national income increased by almost 9% per year and placed it among the fastest growing economies in the world. These enterprises were run by worker councils and since 1968 they have had the authority to hire and fire their managers. This democratization of industry is what Charlers E. Lindblom in POLITICS AND MARKETS: THE WORLD'S POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC SYSTEMS, believes to be the great surprise, - employee management of private enterprise.

Workplace democracy

Closely allied to self management is workplace democracy, a personal stake in the economy and politics of one's workplace. John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene have pointed out in RE-INVENTING THE CORPORATION, that the best people want a sense of psychic and literal ownership in a company and see their personal growth and the company's growth as a compatible and mutually nourishing arrangement.

The thrust of workplace democracy is to give workers a psychic investment in their product through such arrangements as employee stock ownership plans. These plans, however, must be accompanied by the workers being involved in the management decision making process. The autocratic `boss' who determined every function in a factory has proved to be inefficient of human resources in the global market.

Although stock ownership plans are popular, they do not necessarily mean that the relationship between a stock investment and responsibility is apparent to every worker. To many people, stock is like savings in a bank and does not have the emotional investment of ownership. In addition, money investment has had, in the past, an autocratic power, that is now subtly rejected by many. Psychic investment must be tailored to individual or group situations - perhaps through monthly meetings - there is no set formula.

Workers who have a psychic investment in a group respond with feelings of involvement and commitment. The technical ability, capital investment, and judgment, in the automated industrial world gives technical workers political power not evident in the human muscle power factories of the 19th century. Unless that political power is directed to pursue a unified goal, there will be labour unrest.

Personal accountability

Another new workplace attitude is where workers question the value of a particular type of product. This is called personal accountability.
Personal accountability forces a worker to determine the inherent worth of the task and their motivation. If the production of diamond studded chopsticks does not seem useful or socially responsible to a worker, motivation will be low. Motivation springs from the skill involved in a craft, the learning opportunity, the social benefit derived from work, or its contribution to the general good. Based on these, and other factors, the worker must determine her or his level of commitment.

With personal accountability one can develop a yes/no switch of considerable sophistication. One says "yes" when involvement reflects the belief that there is an equal benefit between worker and organization. One says "no" to reflect desires that are separate from organizational desires. Involvement should benefit the organization and the individual; an agreed trade-off between equal partners.

A worker's external desires often conflict with the desire for self fulfillment in the workplace. As in the common saying, "I'd like to do it, but I have a wife and four kids". This dilemma has to be resolved in terms of personal accountability. The desire for a large income to pursue external interests can conflict with a satisfactory level of involvement and self fulfillment in the work place. A trade-off is then made where income replaces a satisfying work situation. Personal accountability forces the individual to see the interconnection between the organization and the self as an equal trade.

Consensus decision making

Another part of democratization in the workplace is consensus decision making. Consensus decision making is an attitude that seeks to hear all voices prior to a decision being made. The movement towards a decision is then based on the shared common interest. Consensus is a form of thinking, not a fixed dogma. It seeks to forge agreement and should not be used as a socio-psychological tool to pressure uniformity when agreement cannot be reached. The opinion of the thoughtful dissenter and the outsider has to be accorded respect and value.
Consensus is a process that firstly clarifies the matter under discussion. This can be achieved by having everyone concerned repeat back their view of the subject matter. When everyone is clear about what is being discussed and why a change is required, then the discussion moves on to how it is going to be changed. Options are encouraged to be put forward and if a body of opinion develops then the main elements become the resolution of the discussion. When all are agreed on a strategy or mode of action, consensus has been reached. Consensus is an art of listening and formulating, not a fixed procedure.

Consensus thinking accepts that society as a body moves at its own pace and there will always be some who are ahead in their attitudes and some who favour conservative views. It seeks to have the main body agree on movement, however small, to a goal commonly shared. At the same time consensus thinking does not alienate those who cannot agree with a decision. Elaborate rituals and gift giving are the usual way that consensus thinking seeks to bind the allegiance of those that cannot agree on a decision to the larger group. In Japan, gift giving is an art, and although there may be disagreement with a decision, the receipts of gifts, or other forms of respect, allow those who disagree to continue as contributing members of society.

Zen Bhuddism

Spiritual attitudes can also be compared in the global market. Zen Bhuddism, as an attitude to life and work, has shown surprising strength in the West. In particular the Bhuddist doctrine of acceptance has firmly found root in the West and has penetrated the attitudes of many people, especially in California. In nut shell the Bhuddist philosophy demands that its adherents accept an event that has happened no matter what its emotional impact may be. The doctrine of acceptance, like all doctrines, has shades of meaning ranging from the resignation of always being an Indian streetsweeper in Calcutta, to a monk closely pursued by a tiger seeing the most beautiful lily he has ever seen on the bank on which he is scrambling. The monk immediately accepts, in wonder, the beauty he has seen. This is very much the idea of being present in the moment, or being `here' now.

Acceptance of this idea has not manifested itself into large scale action but it exists, strong, growing, subterranean, and silent. It is not yet found in the boardrooms or centres of power but it is in the streets, it is found in groups like the Briar Patch in California and the Naropa Institute in Colorado. It will undoubtedly penetrate business in the United States as it struggles with its problems of trying to improve productivity.

This doctrine promotes an attitude that underlies many of the Japanese responses to industrial problems. It enables a person to have a clearer vision of the circumstances when faced with an emotional/financial problem. The person can then, with a clear vision, act resolutely.

The search for significance

Automation and computerization increases the emphasis on flexibility and entrepreneurship. Knowledge skills are personal and the individual with computer skills can sell them to the highest bidder. If the price isn't right, those skills can be moved to other areas. He, or she, is selling knowledge; they are not cogs in the machinery. Knowledge skills allow workers to become entrepreneurs and seek work that is personally rewarding.

With greater self actualization in the workplace, and the desire for significant work, there is a desire for authenticity, for an avocation ethic.

Part of this ethic is evident in Japanese, Koreans and Chinese. University of Michigan economist Paul McCracken has said, "If John Calvin came back to earth, the nation he would feel most comfortable in would be Japan, that is where his real children would be." However, Calvin's work ethic has now acquired an additional dimension from the Eastern attitude of consensus. The avocation work ethic at the present time is composed of five main elements. These are:-
1) A proclivity to be industrious and efficient.
2) A willingness to learn and adapt to new situations.
3) An ability to take the long term view.
4) The use of consensus as the prime motivator for group action.
5) A commitment to work for the collective betterment of a social or cultural group.

Bhuddism, consensus decision making, personal accountability, workplace democracy, self management, and the search for significance, melded into the avocation work ethic, are essential elements of a new organizational strategy.

Organizational strategies

The personal politics involved, the forging of inter-personal agreements, in allowing people to achieve satisfying ends within a community, has fallen into disuse. We have grown accustomed to the authoritarian approach in its modern dress of management. The image of people coming together to achieve something has been lost. The easy way, of paying money and instructing people what to do, has become paramount. North Americans are now paying the price for that sloth. We now have to consider what motivates and inspires a group if money has lost its power to persuade.

Sut Jhally, co-author with William Leiss and Stephen Kline of SOCIAL COMMUNICATION IN ADVERTISING, has commented that with the end of unbridled consumerism in sight that;
... if goods alone are the major means of achieving satisfaction, their limits as well as our limits to consuming them are becoming apparent. ...there will be two possible reactions. On the one hand, people may become angry that the lifestyles that they have been promised are not available, not within their reach. ... leaving bitterness and anger. Or, on the other hand, people may become more critical of the consumer society and learn to seek genuine satisfaction in other areas, perhaps demanding more real control and participation in the workplace, the community and the political process, so that there will be less impetus to overburden consumer products with the demand that they satisfy all our needs.1

An outline of these organizational strategies has already been canvassed to some degree in books such as IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE and THE ONE HUNDRED BEST COMPANIES TO WORK FOR. However, most books have concentrated on companies in isolation. They have not addressed the major problem of the culture in which organizations operate. The American experience and emphasis is therefor on the isolated genius, the individual achievement, instead of on a beneficent culture that produces excellence as a natural flowering.

Robert Oakeshott in THE CASE FOR WORKERS' CO-OPS has suggested that the four conditions that must be met to inspire communal work. They are, a) management and labour must achieve the greatest possible degree of team-work, b) that motivation to achieve goals must be as strong as possible, c) internal responsibility and control must be acceptable to everyone, and d) external arrangements - the surrounding culture, or politics, must be acceptable to as many people as possible.

Robert B. Reich has commented that a "social organization based on equity, security, and participation will generate greater productivity than one premised on greed and fear". He further states, "at a more fundamental level, the goals of prosperity and social justice cannot validly be separated"2.

The importance of social justice, and how equity must be spread into the surrounding culture, is dramatically illustrated in Mondragon, a village in the Basque region of northern Spain. In this area, nearly 400,000 families deposit their money in a cooperative bank. The Bank creates worker-owned jobs for the community. Since 1958 nearly 20,000 guaranteed for life, worker-owned jobs have been created by the community. Terry Molnar offers this description.

They have formed a hundred and eighty-nine cooperatives of which eighty-nine are industrial. Collectively they are the top producers of appliances (from refrigerators to toasters) and tools (from dye presses to plastic rulers) in Spain. The productivity per worker is the highest in Spain. The profitability of the cooperatives is nearly double that of their competitors.

In a study by the Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of Industrial Society, the management was found to be one of the most aggressive and innovative ever seen by the study's staff. The other worker-owners were found to be highly motivated and fulfilled by their jobs. Yet the salary scale is restricted to 4 1/2 to 1, that is, no one can receive a salary plus overtime in excess of 4 1/2 times that of the lowest paid person. In the U.S.A. the salary ratio exceeds 100 to 1...

Mondragon has a 100 percent success rate in forming and making loans to industrial cooperatives...

The people at Mondragon believe we are all in it together: worker-owners, consumers, bank depositors, and community. If we arrange it so we are all eventually successful in the worker owner business, then the worker-owners will have jobs they can control for life, the business doesn’t sink into wasteful crisis management, the bank depositors never have to worry about defaulted loans, and the community will never have to worry about disruptive plant closings or absentee owners ...

People are given the highest priority and things are given the lowest ..

No business can go before the bank’s Board of Directors for approval until the Community Development Division of the bank is confident that all housing, park, commercial, and other community services will be provided for, given the maximum number of worker-owners that could find work in the planned facility.

..the Basque people who founded it have a very strong, collective self-identity as opposed to an individual self-identity. When an American reflects who he or she is, he or she dwells on his or her particular body and personality. When a Basque person reflects on who he or she is, he or she dwells on the Basque people. The “I” is very much inside the “us” rather than outside it.3.

Many have argued that the Mondragon experience is not transferable. – The Basque cultural cohesion is unique and the Mondragon experience cannot succeed in an individualistic culture such as the United States. It is the same argument that is applied to Japan’s success. This argument arises from the cultural trance and although the experience may not be completely transferred the essential elements can be incorporated into any culture. It is often adaptation and cross-pollination that results in improved strategies. To deny possibilities because of cultural arrogance is to encourage moribund conservatism.

The search for a global culture

All the attitudes referred to in this chapter are indications of likely attitudes in a global culture. That there must be a new cultural belief system has been strongly felt in the West with the United States being in the forefront with a proliferation of new studies. Centers such as Ocean Arks disseminate ideas of ecological sustainability while Lindisfarne is dedicated to fostering the emergence of a new global culture. Another group, The Other Economic Summit, provides alternate economic views and the Earthstewards Network provides an alternate environmental view.

The technical and electronic communicative flowering of the twentieth century increasingly shows that national social, economic, legal and political structures are outmoded. A new culture, a synthesis of the best in our present cultures, is already emerging. Potent and appropriate new cultural strains will thrive in this new global territory. The web and new attitudes to business, the environment and relationships carry indications as to the form of a new global culture. The values of a global culture will necessarily cover a broad spectrum - individual attitudes, national work ethic, and artistic expression to name a few. A global culture has to be appropriate in dealing with global realities. As such, it will be a pragmatic adaptation of emotionally vested interests re-invented to deal with global concerns – a slide from national or individual concerns to a pragmatic and secular response to the realities of global consumerism.