March 22nd, 2019
Younger Workers at Flattened Organizations Need High-Level Perspective
Meet Daniel Descalso.
Descalso plays baseball for my hometown Chicago Cubs, but he’s also an example of the type of player that a lot of door and window manufacturers want to have on their team. He’s a utility man.
What do I mean by “utility?” While with the Arizona Diamondbacks last year, Descalso played 52 games at first base, 37 at third base, 11 at first base, seven as a designated hitter, five in left field and even two as a relief pitcher. He also has lots of experience at shortstop, bats left-handed and is regarded as a leader in the clubhouse. In short, do-it-all Descalso gives Cubs Manager Joe Maddon a wealth of options to employ over the course of the eight-month, 162-game (plus playoffs) season.
You could argue that utility players are even more valuable in manufacturing than in baseball, given that so many companies are training people to perform multiple tasks, be it on the assembly line or in the back office. The trend toward flatter organizational charts takes this need even farther, by expecting employees to take on both higher- and lower-ranking duties than they would have in an older, hierarchy-based system.
These trends make a lot of sense, particularly with millennials. Studies suggest that today’s younger workers welcome the opportunity to show what they can do when given both responsibility for a task and freedom to operate. But I believe that, too often, company leaders fail to add something else that’s equally important: a mission. As a result, employees flounder.
One reason for this is that, today, talk about mission often gets swallowed up in more general ruminations over corporate culture. That can lead to over-focusing on relative trivialities, like whether buying a ping-pong table will boost morale. I think leaders sometimes forget this, because, for them, the mission is obvious. Why is it obvious? Because they’re closest to the profit and loss statements. They also typically see more clearly all the good things their company does, because they have a high enough perspective to take in all of the firm’s accomplishments.
Farther down the corporate ladder, the view is more limited and the connections to profit and loss are more distant. This lack of perspective makes it vital for the top ranks to give mid- and lower-level workers a sense of direction and purpose, if those workers are to succeed. And if these non-executives work at a place with a flat org chart, promoting the mission becomes even more important. Otherwise, employees will be expected to set a course without the benefit of a pole star.
So you need a mission. But keep in mind here that—for lower-level, typically younger workers—declaring that your goal is to maximize shareholder values won’t cut it. Millennials want to work at a company that helps make the world a better place, so it’s important for owners and managers to think beyond simply turning a profit.
A recent conference for wholesale lumber distributors showed a change in attitude. All three industry veterans on one panel had ready answers to explain why their companies help the world deal with problems, like climate change. “When people ask me what I do, I joke that ‘I’m in long-term carbon sequestration,’” one said. Another participant declared: “Our old philosophy used to be in a sign on the wall, and it said ‘work or be fired.’” Today, he said, “We’re passionate about our people.”
Even though he’ll ride the bench for much of the season, Daniel Descalso knows his organization’s mission is to win the World Series. If Descalso ever loses focus, the manager will make sure to remind him, and if Maddon ever forgets, there is an army of fans in Chicago who will loudly point Descalso toward his goal.
Descalso knows his mission and constantly hones his many tools, so that he can help the team reach its goal. I encourage you to devote this season to doing the same with your “cub” employees.