Why your organization finds it difficult to be a better place to work

by rohit on September 27, 2009

Here’s an attempt to find an answer to the above, hope I’ve got it at least half right 🙂

A. The chances are, you work at an organization, not work alone

There’s no getting away from organizations. In a few fields e.g. say medicine or writing (as in this blog!), one can choose to work independantly.

However, today most human endeavour is accomplished within an organization. Companies, hospitals, clubs, courts, temples, m0sques and churches, the armed forces, professional associations, alumni groups, labour unions, political parties, NGOs, schools, universities and the government are all organizations. Love them or hate them, there is no getting away from them.

B. And the chances also are, that you aren’t really “kicked” about working at your current organization

Worldwide, (as the Towers Perrin study in the last post showed), only one of 5 people (21%) are ‘giving their all’ ( body, heart and spirit) to the organizations they work for. Nearly twice as many (38%) are actually disengaged or disenchanted.

The reasons for this disenchantment are poor leadership, poor career and professional development, and work culture, roughly in that order.

And it’s proven this is leading to lower financial performance.

Today's employee ?

Today's employee ?

C. People are not passionate about their jobs

The novelist E.M. Forrester once said: “One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested”.

Gary Hamel, the well-known management guru, talks of the above Towers Perrin study in his 2007 book The Future of Management. Hamel believes that the capabilities of people that can help organizations become successful can be all put in this hierarchy:







All organizations need some obedience and lots of diligence from employees but these qualities – at the bottom of the above ladder – are commodities. What differentiates one organization from another is the number of people with passion and creativity. This is especially true in today’s knowledge-economy.

B & C above beg the question: Why aren’t organizations doing something significant to increase employee engagement, specifically passion ?

D. Why it’s tough for all organizations to have more engaged, passionate employees

Presented here are three hypotheses, two of which find brief mention in the Towers Perrin survey.

I . Organizations are a new species

This surprising finding comes from Peter Drucker, from his 1993 book The Post Capitalist Society. Today everyone talks routinely of them, but prior to World War II, the term ‘organization’ was unknown.

England’s Concise Oxford Dictionary did not list the term ‘organization’ in it’s current meaning till 1950. Even the word ‘employee’ is new, earlier words like ‘labor’ and ‘management’ were used.

For most of human history, people did not work for organizations. Earlier, people who were employed working for someone else – whether they were factory workers, farmers, shop assistants, salespeople or even domestic servants – worked for a ‘master’ rather than for an organization.

And if people were educated, they worked as “independents” – what is now called ‘self-employed’ – not in organizations.

The corporation (joint stock company), one of the important organization types, is also a novelty. The modern corporation was invented in 1870 simultaneously in US, Germany & Japan.

The 20th Century employee ?

The 20th Century employee ?

The corporation is very different from the ‘economic enterprises’ that have existed for thousands of years viz. the small, privately owned and personally run firm. Typical firms here were job shops such as weaving or blacksmithy and limited to 7 to 10 people, since it became difficult to co-ordinate at larger size. The first-ever statistical study of business in England – in the year 1832 (the McLane Report) – found that nearly all firms were privately owned and had less than 10 employees.

This may partly explain why we haven’t quite got the management of organizations going right. Evolution takes time and there’s not been time (only 100-200 years 🙂 ) for the organization species to evolve!

II. “Engaging” employees is difficult when your organization’s big

The largest firm in Roman times had about 100 people. Anthropologists have noted that tribes tend to split into two when they reach 250 to 500 people. Robin Dunbar first formally proposed that the human brain (neocortex) is geared to maintain a maximum of 150 stable social relationships.

However, in the last century, with the introduction of joint stock companies and advent of mass production, organizations started scaling in size. General Motors under Alfred Sloan first showed how such an organization could be successfully managed.

We now have many organizations with even 100,000 plus employees.

Now, the above Towers Perrin’s study on poor employee engagement was done among mid and large sized companies, with size 250 employees upwards. And the mean employee size of organizations in the study was 6,318.

At this size, two problems occur causing poor employee engagement.

IIA. The organization is so large that senior honchos are not able to connect i.e. bond with the average employee.

IIB. The leadership team has come up through specialist ranks like engineering, finance and law, thus behave analytically or rationally, rather than exhibit empathy, communication and other interpersonal skills.

While in India the average size of the firm is smaller than the global average, (of 788,000 registered firms as of Mar ’08, many non-operational, less than a 1000 firms have over 1000 people each), this may not be enough to result in higher employee engagement.

Employees of Indian firms  are looking for “input into decision making in my department” and “managers who inspire enthusiasm in their work”.

With inputs from :
Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study,2007; The Post Capitalist Society, Peter Drucker, 2007; The Next Society, article in Economist, Peter Drucker, Nov 2001; The Future of Management, Gary Hamel, 2007 ; Mobilizing Minds
,Lowell L. Bryan & Claudia I. Joyce,McKinsey & Co., 2007

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anil Maheshwari September 28, 2009 at 7:12 am

Good post.
Congrats on this blog.


rohit September 28, 2009 at 10:57 am

Thanks for reading this blog, Anil. These are encouraging words coming from a Management Ph.D,ex-IBMer et al like yourself.


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