Whatever happened to good old-fashioned virtues?

A plea for more reliability

In the ‘old days’, were employees more reliable? Punctual? Equitable, fastidious, diligent and conscientious? It said so in their references. But some of these terms seem to have passed out of fashion. Is this why good old-fashioned values are ‘out’? The ideal employee these days has other virtues. They are flexible, dynamic, lateral thinkers, lean workers, team workers. In times of quality management, we and our contemporaries know that quality only lasts if it is linked to reliability. No one disputes that product quality is unthinkable if people are casual, nonchalant, or even negligent. But what about quality when it comes to human beings?

We dress more casually these days. We behave more casually. And we go about our work reliably. But can we be casual and reliable at the same time? If we enjoy being casual outside work, when we’re relaxing and having fun, then yes, we can. One thing we can be sure of: everyone wants to know they can depend on us, on a private and professional level. In this article I want to focus our thoughts on reliability at the workplace. For me there’s a clear difference between being quality conscious in production on the one hand and displaying the same virtues in administration or management on the other, even within the same company. But if my suspicions are right, which when we look at it they are, more casual attitudes can hinder success in the long term, independent of where the casual person is sitting (still).

Wherein lies the problem? An example: someone is unable to speak about an issue from a position of knowledge because somebody, somewhere, held back information. When people are too casual, the laissez- faire bug is much more virulent than the more slowly dispensed antidote: discipline. Casual treatment of others and casual behavior are fatally contagious at work.

What can we do about it? Think beyond the concept of quality management in production! There are still too many people “slacking it” in administration. In my opinion we should have reliable people on every chair, at every desk. They can still be flexible, dynamic, lateral thinking, punctual and hard-working. They are there (and allowed) to do their job as well as they can. If Reinhard Sprenger’s assertion (in his book The Motivation Myth) is correct, then everyone has enough intrinsic motivation and it is worth fostering and maintaining it. There are plenty of examples of, and reasons why, casual employees have a detrimental effect on the intrinsic motivation of others during their working career [...]

Thoughtlessness, indifference, pretentiousness, pomposity, casualness. When I take issue, I’m always told I’m being to harsh on people around me – they’re only human and we all make mistakes, and anyway: let he who is without sin, cast the first stone! But wait a moment. I’m not casting stones. I make just as many mistakes as anyone. But when I do – I’m not blase about it!

So I would like to make a few suggestions about quality management in administration and management. What should we be doing?

  • Everyone should know the goals of their company/organization and support them
  • There should be fixed arrangements concerning which information goes to whom and how: ask or provide? Casual comments such as “How am I supposed to know” are weak excuses we can do without.
  • Improvement suggestions should not be hindered if they have been well thought through and substantiated. It is tremendously frustrating to see a good idea stifled with nonchalant shoulder shrugging or headshaking.
  • […unflappable self management…]
  • Discipline and consequence in carrying out duties should not be idly pushed aside. People only do this when they do not feel responsible for something.
  • Delegating tasks should go hand-in-hand with delegating authority. Then the person identifies with the task and can take credit for success – or failure.
  • To stop people everywhere within the organization being over or under-challenged, apportion work according to ability and skills and gain a feel for the breadth and depth of performance. Performance reviews must be carried out with sensitivity and people must have the courage to replace cushy, rigid job descriptions with flexible task sharing.

Renate Fehrenbach (1933–2007)

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