VOLUNTARY ACTION. . .

Greenleaf writes: The strongest, most productive institution over a long period of time is one in which, other things being equal, there is the largest amount of voluntary action in support of the goals of the institution. The people who staff the institution do the right things at the right time – things that optimize total effectiveness – because the goals are clear and comprehensive and they understand what ought to be done. They believe they are the right things to do, and they take the necessary actions without being instructed.

Consider, gentle reader, this ‘voluntary action’ is action that the organization cannot ‘buy.’ It is the action that is ‘freely given’ to the organization. It is what I call, ‘discretionary energy’ – the ‘energy’ that one freely gives over and above the energy that one agrees to provide in exchange for some type of agreed upon remuneration.

One of the reasons, Greenleaf says, that folks provide ‘voluntary action’ is rooted in a desire to ‘support the goals of the institution.’ Not just any goals, but goals that ae ‘clear and comprehensive.’ This is the challenge: to emerge and codify goals that are both ‘clear’ and ‘comprehensive.’ These goals help the person choose to ‘do the right thing’ for the ‘right thing’ is clear.

In addition, because the actions are voluntary, people will choose to take them without being instructed (this also requires that the folks have developed the skills and capacities for the action required – this is also a charge that the institution must acknowledge and embrace and deliver on).

I am thinking of a well-known organization that had, at one time, the simplest employee handbook. It contained two directives: (1) When serving the customer use your common sense. And (2) When in doubt, ask. This company became famous for its customer care (not just service, but ‘care’). I am thinking of Phil A., a hotel doorman that I met in Cambridge, MA many years ago. He viewed his role from the perspective of an ‘owner’ (he was truly an ‘emotional owner’) and because of his perspective he freely gave his discretionary energy (he also put in writing many ‘suggestions’ for improvement and they were so good that many of them were adopted by the organization – you cannot ‘buy’ this from folks). I am thinking of an engineering company that in 1990 had to lay off 20% of their employees in order to ‘save’ the business. Almost to a person, folks made it clear that if the company ever recovered and were hiring again that no matter what they were doing they would like to return (and a few years later a number of them left other organizations to rejoin this one). I am also thinking of another company where nearly every employee (out of a thousand) each gave money out of their own pocket with no guarantee that they would get it back so that the company could keep its doors open (the doors were kept open and folks got their money back, plus…); again, you cannot pay people enough to take such risks.

How many organizations do you know where these things would happen? How many organizations do you know where folks give ‘voluntary actions’? How many organizations do you know where the goals are both ‘clear’ and ‘comprehensive’?

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