“Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?”
For years, Rodney Dangerfield made a living as a comedian by saying, “I get no respect.” And he gave thousands of anecdotes to back up his claim. For example, when he was born, he said his doctor took one look at him and slapped his mother.
Later in life, when Dangerfield needed to get his annual physical, his doctor told him he was fat. So Dangerfield asked if he could get a second opinion. The doctor said, “Sure, you’re ugly too.”
We can laugh, but in all seriousness, respect is not a laughing matter. Every successful business and every health family is undergirded by respect. And yet, respect seems to be lacking in so many organizations.
I suppose that’s why ABC News wanted to check it out when they found a corporation that was known nationally and internationally for the amazing respect it showed its employees and customers. So ABC News sent Peggy Wehmeyer over to the R. W. Beckett Corporation to get the scoop and send a story back to Peter Jennings for him to report.
She opened the interview by asking CEO John Beckett what made them so special. John knew that what set them apart went beyond the fundamental success factors that characterize many other fine businesses … quality products and extraordinary service. It was a different quality, one that is often missing in today’s workplaces. So he answered, “Peggy, it’s probably in how we regard our people.”
“Can you be more specific?” she replied. “Every business I know talks about the importance of people, but there are a lot of employees out there who have really been burned. They feel their companies care about everything else more than them …the bottom line, shareholder value, return on investment, or whatever.”
John said the success of the R. W. Beckett Corporation could be traced to one of their “Enduring Values,” in particular “profound respect for the individual.” So let’s dig deeper into what is meant by “profound respect.”
1. “Profound respect” starts with an in-depth interview that ensures a proper fit.
John personally interviews every final candidate for every position in his company. Peggy was amazed, asking, “You interview them all? That’s pretty unusual. Why do you do that?”
John explained that … over the years … he’d heard some very sad stories as to how people had been mistreated in their previous jobs. He realized they needed to start trusting again, and he could think of no better way to do that than have each new potential employee spend fifteen to twenty minutes with him. So they would talk about themselves, their interests and hobbies, what they’ve done and what they’d like to do. After all, it’s the beginning of a relationship that might last for decades.
As John went on to explain, he noticed that ancient walled cities had gates, and elders would sit by them, determining who came in and went out. In his words, “I saw a parallel. Those who come through our ‘gates’ as employees will have a profound impact on the success of our company. I try to assess character issues like a willingness to work, respect for authority, basic temperament. Will this person fit in well with our other employees? Basically, is he or she right for us? I even try to meet the spouses of candidates for senior-level positions, helping them understand our company.”
Peggy asked, “And your track record for doing all this?”
“Certainly we make mistakes,” John answered, “But I believe the thoroughness has resulted in an exceptional workforce. Many have made the company their career, and we find a consistently high level of morale and pride. A good indication is how positively they speak about their work with friends in the community.”
Once you’ve done your best to ensure a proper fit…
2. “Profound respect” places a high value on each individual.
You may not “buy” John’s spiritual perspective on respect, but you can’t refute the results he has gotten from it. He said when he realized that God formed men and women in his own image and likeness, “It really changed the way I viewed not only myself but other people. I concluded I must place a high value on each person and never look down on another, regardless of their station or situation in life. There’s something sacred about every individual.”
With that kind of respect for the individual, the Beckett Corporation works at making their work and work relationships as dignified, challenging, rewarding, and enjoyable as possible. They make the well-being and continuous growth of their employees a top priority.
A part of the “high value” placed on each individual is seen in those times when the leader corrects by example rather than by criticism, put downs, and shame. Don Hamburg, one of my “Tuesday Tip” subscribers provides one such example.
He writes, “In the mid 1960’s, most of Baldwin County near Foley, Alabama was a farming community, and the main spring crop was potatoes. Our family had a packing shed where the farmers’ potatoes were washed, sorted, packaged and loaded on semi-trucks or railroad cars for shipment. Our company provided good jobs for many of the locals, especially the high school students. The hours were long but the work gave people a good positive feeling about themselves. One of the jobs was taking five of the 100-pound bags of potatoes, loading them into a two-wheeled buggy, rolling them across a narrow ramp, and then onto the trucks or railroad cars.”
Don continued, “One time a guy pushing one of the buggies got too near the edge of the loading ramp, and one wheel went off the ramp. The bags toppled off and fell 7 feet into the drainage ditch below. Several guys gathered around and started laughing about the guy running off the edge and losing the load. Then my granddad, a slight man who was the manager over the whole packing shed, came along, saw what had happened, and jumped down into the ditch, grabbing one of the 100-pound bags. He hoisted it over his head and said ‘Grab it boys.’ Then one by one he shoved the other four bags up to the boys. He could have scolded them or even fired them, but he didn’t utter a word other than say ‘Let’s get back to work.'”
From then on, you can bet the crew gave its very best to the potato operation as well as each other. Because they were given respect rather than retribution, they continued to give respect to one another.
As Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, proclaims, “If you don’t understand that you work for your mislabeled ‘subordinates,’ then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.”
Taking it a bit further…
3. “Profound respect” recognizes the growth potential in each individual.
Of course, the ABC team wanted to go beyond the “nice sounding words” being given by the Beckett Corporation. They wanted to see how they were lived out in the day-to-day atmosphere of work. So they delved into Beckett’s educational policies and found many of the employees who were taking courses to advance their skills. They chose Eric Hess for their interview.
Eric’s father had worked at the company as their Director of Quality, and when Eric graduated from high school, his dad recommended that he apply. Eric began on the plant floor and showed very good work habits and attitudes. In time, an opportunity opened for him to become a lab technician. But after several months in that position, he concluded it was not right for him.
Now many companies would consider it the end of the road for an employee when a promotion doesn’t work out, but not Beckett. They believed in the growth potential of each individual. So they encouraged Eric to return to his job in the plant, telling him he simply hadn’t found his niche, and sometimes that takes a little while. Later, Eric expressed interest in supervision, and the tests confirmed his aptitude for leading others. He entered a supervisory training program, paid by the company, and in a short time he became one of Beckett’s most capable supervisors.
Hopefully, the same thing could be said about your company. You’re always looking for ways to grow your people’s talent.
4. “Profound respect” means that everyone is doing something that is so much more
significant than merely following a job description.
I saw it when I spoke at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Whenever anyone answered the phone, he or she answered within 3 rings and gave me their name and department. Everyone answered the phone with an enthusiastic but professional tone, and everyone asked my permission before they put me on hold or transferred me to another number.
When you think about it, each of those employees probably had a job description that included something like … “Your duties include answering the phone.” But it was obvious to me that these service providers were doing something so much more significant than merely answering the phone. They were building positive memories with me and all their other guests … by putting “profound respect” into the way they answered the phones.
I saw more of this “profound respect” at the Ritz when the employees were more concerned with doing what is right instead of worrying about whose job it was. For example, as I walked throughout the property, I saw everyone, from the executives to the part-time hourly employees, picking up any item of debris they might of noticed. No one said or even thought, “That’s not my job. I’m not paid to clean this place. That’s the responsibility of the housekeepers.” They believed and behaved as though cleanliness was everyone’s responsibility … because one again they were doing something so much more significant than picking up a piece of paper. They were creating an atmosphere that “wowed” their customers.
And I see it at Beckett, where everyone is encouraged to protect and care for the company’s supplies, equipment, and assets as if they were their own. They are encouraged to use their resources wisely, to eliminate waste, to seek opportunities to improve the facility, and spend money as if it were their very own money. As John Beckett puts it, “I’m convinced most employees want to see their companies prosper. They know their success depends on their employer’s success, and they will work hard to contribute. But they must be provided a dignified and supportive work environment.”
5. “Profound respect” goes beyond the workplace and becomes a way of life.
As Kent C. Nelson says, “I have observed that the people who care only about winning, who live and die by the numbers alone, end up losing out on the biggest prize of all. That prize is the job of being an important part of something much larger than yourself. It is the comfort of knowing that your actions will touch the lives of others in a positive way. It is joining with other people in working toward worthwhile goals. It is a prize that has nothing to do with winning or making money. It has everything to do with life.”
The Beckett Corporation believes in this as well. And Peggy from ABC News wanted to see if Beckett really practiced what it preached. For example, she picked up on their unusually respectful policy for the parents of newborns.
As John explained to her, his management team had learned that the first three years of a child’s life are critical in establishing a close bond between mother and child … a bond that can produce lifelong benefits. Once the mother is away for more than twenty hours a week, that bond is noticeably weakened. As a result, Beckett established a policy giving employees the choice to stay home … up to twenty-six weeks after the birth of a child. During this period, the employees are given one-quarter of their regular income, and Beckett will loan them an additional one-quarter if so desired. Then the mothers can return to work part-time, sharing their job with another or doing work at home, for up to three years after the birth of their child.
Peggy got excited when she heard about this and wanted to capture it on video. Her film crew went to the home of Nancy Borer. Nancy and her husband explained how much it meant to them that Nancy could be at home with their child.
The camera crew then visited the home where Chuck and Patty Visocky proudly presented the children they had recently adopted from Colombia … four orphans from the same family. To help in the adoption, the company gave the Visockys paid time off to travel to Colombia … as well as $1000 for each adopted child. As John said, “In a day when the value of children seems to be diminishing, we want to take a different direction, emphasizing their value.”
Unlike the media that so often beats up on companies and corporations and lumps them all together as being “evil,” I have to give ABC News credit this time. ABC’s viewers were able to see another side of business, a human side, one based on dignity and intrinsic worth. The viewers were able to see that the human side and the economic side of business aren’t mutually exclusive. After all, Beckett has also produced above-average profits and excellent returns for its shareholders, decade after decade.
I like the way John finished his interview with Peggy. “Our employees must be viewed as valued, important, worthy. They bear God’s own image. If they are of infinite worth in his eyes, they certainly deserve no less from us than our profound respect.”
Take a survey to see how “respected” your coworkers feel at work. And make a list of all the ways you express respect or could express respect to your coworkers.