Note: I was motivated to write the following post based on interacting with a few ex-military people in the UK and getting a sense of their notions of loyalty in business.
In the late-80s, I took a college course on Business Ethics. I remember coming across a characterization of a type of employee that may be close to extinct in this world, the "Company Man" (or Company Woman). This is the type of person that is so dedicated to a firm that they breathe the company mantra, let the company guide both their professional and personal lives, and would fall on a sword to defend the reputation of the company. The reason why this type of employee may have come close to extinct (at least in the US) is in part due to the era of downsizing in corporations. Many companies let devoted employees down by laying them off without warning, without recognition, and without compassion. Some companies backed down from previously protecting their employees (which might have been ok), but then some companies went completely off the other end by being negligent and losing their employees pensions or retirement assets. Yet other companies squandered company resources at the expense of working employees and shareholders. All of these types of things rattled (if not completely shattered) the notion of loyalty from an employee to a company.
I can appreciate the notion of people being loyal to themselves before a company, but I struggle with that simple resolution a bit because I have seen a loyalty voids shatter business relationships. Legal contract asides, here are some areas where a lack of loyalty rubbed me the wrong way:
- subcontracting partner decides to go around the prime contractor and solicit the end customer directly, cutting the prime out of the loop of ongoing sales and taking away business
- customer verbally cuts a deal with a partnership, but then tries to go back on its word by edging out one of the partners through playing one partner off of the other
- project member that is key to a project proposal (and sets themselves up that way) decides to move to a competitor late in the ninth inning before a contract is signed
Whether a person is loyal to the business they work for is one thing, but I think that I have stronger feelings about whether a person should be loyal to others that they work with or that they work directly for. I think that loyalty, at a micro-level, helps to ensure that people are aligned to get actual work done. To me, a "new loyalty" in business lies between loyalty to oneself and loyalty to Big Brother.