Leadership: Organization Ethos vs. Warrior Ethos
While the U.S. Army's Warrior Ethos may look entirely unrelated to civilian organizations, the concepts behind it are perhaps an idea role-model for all organizations.
The Warrior Ethos are four principles of conduct extracted from the Soldier's Creed:
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
While we normally picture a warrior as someone engaged or experienced in warfare, the U.S. Army pictures it more as someone who is engaged aggressively or energetically in an activity, cause, or conflict. Thus it becomes the foundation of soldiers in both peacetime and periods of conflict.
Ethos is the spirit (esprit d' corps), moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a community or individual.
Missions are basically an organization's means of living out its visions. For example, in 1982, Johnson & Johnson was confronted with a crisis when seven people died after ingesting Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. News traveled quickly and caused a nationwide panic.
I don't think they can ever sell another product under that name. There may be an advertising person who thinks he can solve this and if they find him, I want to hire him, because then I want him to turn our water cooler into a wine cooler. — Advertising genius, Jerry Della Femina as told to the New York Times right after the crises.
However, Johnson & Johnson won the public's heart and trust with its commitment to protecting its customers during the Tylenol poisoning crises. They dealt with the crises by living their corporate business philosophy Our Credo (similar to an ethos in that it defines one's system of values and beliefs). It was crafted in the 1940's by Robert Wood Johnson who believed that businesses have responsibilities to society. The credo stressed that it was important for them to be responsible in working for the public interest.
Thus, they approached the crises by living their Credo. From the start of the crises they:
- informed the public and medical community
- established relations with the Chicago Police, FBI, and the Food and Drug Administration
- stopped production of Tylenol
- recalled all Tylenol capsules from the market
- immediately put up a reward of $100,000 for the killer
In turn, the media did much of the company's work by praising Johnson & Johnson's socially responsible actions. Johnson & Johnson's top management put customer safety first, NOT their company's profit or other financial concerns. In other words, they did the right thing. At first, it is easy to believe that such a move was against the best interest of the company's stockholders, but when you put customers and employees first, it actually benefits the stockholders in the long run.
Johnson & Johnson has effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster. This is no Three Mile Island accident in which the company's response did more damage than the original incident. What Johnson & Johnson executives have done is communicate the message that the company is candid, contrite, and compassionate, committed to solving the murders and protecting the public. — Jerry Knight, The Washington Post on October 11, 1982.
Once the crises ended, they started actions to put their organization back on track:
- New Tylenol capsules were introduced in November with triple-seal tamper resistant packaging
- Provided $2.50 coupons that were good towards the purchase of any Tylenol product
- Over 2,250 sales people made presentations to people in the medical community
Johnson & Johnson could have disclaimed any possible link between Tylenol and the seven sudden deaths. In other similar cases, companies put themselves first and ended up doing more damage to their reputations than if they had immediately taken responsibility for the crisis. For example, traces of benzene were found in Source Perrier's bottled water. Rather than holding themselves accountable for the incident, they claimed that the contamination resulted from an isolated incident and recalled a limited number of Perrier bottles in North America. When benzene was found in Perrier bottled water in Europe, an embarrassed Source Perrier had to announce a worldwide recall on the bottled water and were immediately criticized for having little integrity and for disregarding public safety.
Lesson learned: Discover your vision, set your mission, and then live by it
While the U.S. Army separates these two principles, for the purpose of this discussion, I will put them together since they are interrelated.
Going back to Johnson & Johnson, their executives wept not only out of grief, but some out of guilt. One top executive said, “it was like lending someone your car and seeing them killed in a traffic accident.” During the crises they performed a nation-wide recall of 31 million bottles of Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules. Many of their advisors told them that this was unnecessary as the tainted capsules had only been found in the Chicago area, thus it would be a waste of money.
Yet, not wanting to see even one more tragedy occur, the top executives stuck to their Credo. After seeing the media and public's positive reaction, opposition within the company all but vanished.
In January 1993, tragedy struck when the deadly E.coli virus was traced to Jack in the Box's Pacific Northwest restaurants. The 300 food poisoning cases were linked to undercooked beef in the hamburger chain. Jack in the Box initially did not handle the public relations crisis very well as it took two days before they removed all meat from its restaurants. Jack in the Box officials did not take immediate decisive action to shut down all the stores for a few days and teach employees how to properly grill hamburgers.
However, not too long after the incident, the company developed the most comprehensive and multi-dimensional food safety system in the fast-food industry. Called HACCP (hazard analysis critical control points), the program consisted of “farm to fork” procedures that included microbial meat testing by Jack in the Box suppliers and in-restaurant grilling procedures to ensure fully cooked hamburgers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has since called the program the industry model.
Once you are sure that a decision is morally correct, you stand by it. This does not mean you stand by mistakes. For example, after Jack in the Box's saw that their wait-and-see attitude was taking extreme criticism by the media and public, they backed away from it and learned by it this lesson helped them to become not only a stronger player in the fast food industry but also a leader in food safety.
Compare Johnson & Johnson, Jack in the Box, and Perrier's responses to crises:
- Prepared to act responsibly in a crises due to a deeply held belief
- Learns from their mistake
- A fiasco occurs because they did not want to hold themselves accountable
When you are sure that your decision is morally correct, stand by it
Do not only learn from your mistakes, but also grow yourself from them
While this principle was aimed at the battlefield, the philosophy behind of it reaches far into the boardrooms of corporations.
One of the favorite tactics of organizations to increase their value, especially in lean times, is to downsize. Organizations are famous for proclaiming that their workers are their most important asset, yet during a financial crises they turn 180 degrees and not only let their most valued assets fall, but also cause them to fall in the first place.
In a speech to the Academy of Management in 1996, Donald Hastings, CEO of Lincoln Electric, called downsizing and rightsizing “dumbsizing.” Note that Lincoln Electric is one of the leaders in its field and has not laid off since its inception in 1948. The company has been through all the hard times like everyone else, yet it chooses to redeploy people rather than lay them off, such as having factory workers selling products in the field. Another company, the Saturn Division of General Motors, did similar redeployments in the 1990s. Why?
Because innovations, productivity improvements, and other such measures are not likely to be sustained over time when workers fear that they will work themselves out of a job (Locke, 1995). Using the analogy of pruning, it is generally done to create new growth or to get rid of diseased parts. Yet, when organizations prune, they have no desire to create new growth (or they would train and redeploy) and they normally miss the diseased portions because the ones who got them into trouble in the first place (the executives and managers) are still there!
The evidence indicates that downsizing is guaranteed to accomplish only one thing it makes organizations smaller. — Jeffery Pfeffer (1998).
In fact, the consequences of downsizing are:
- stock prices that lag 5 to 45% behind the competition (in more than 1/2 the cases they lagged 17% to 48%)
- it does not necessarily increase productivity or profits
- downsizing tends to be repetitive (2/3 of organizations repeat it soon after)
- it does not fix or improve core processes
- it can be readily copied so it offers no competitive advantage
- it has unanticipated costs that limit its benefits
With all the negative connotations associated with downsizing, very few firms use other means to avoid downsizing (1994 American Management Association survey), such as:
- reducing work hours
- reducing pay
- taking outsourced work back
- building inventories
- freeze hiring and reshuffle workers
- do training, maintenance, etc.
- refrain from hiring during peak demands
- encourage people to innovate (product, services, & markets)
- transfer people to sales to build demand
One of the fads in management is forced ranking managers reflect on how each team member is performing, relative to others, and are then ranked in order from the highest to the lowest performers. The ideal is to identify top-performers and weed out the bottom-ones. For example, the top 20 percent might be amply rewarded, while the bottom 10 percent are shown the door.
It creates a zero-sum game, and so it tends to discourage cooperation. — Steve Kerr, a managing director at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Contrast the above with U.S. Marine Drill Sergeants, who are considered some of the toughest warriors on earth. Yet they hold one deeply held value on the human spirit they will never give up on any recruits who do not give up on themselves (Katzenbach & Santamaria 1999). Their value-driven philosophy allows them to train some of the most effective warriors on the battlefield.
While Marine Drill Sergeants never give up on those who do not give up on themselves, forced ranking schemes often pits employees against each other, rather than fostering a climate of a collaborative work environment, which often leads to dysfunctional and hyper-competitive workplace. Thus these employees who have not given up on themselves may be shown the door, indeed, they might even be better performers than some of their competitors.
You must truly value your most important asset
Never quit on those who do not to quit on themselves
Katzenbach, J. & Santamaria, J. (1999). Firing Up the Front Line. Harvard Business Review, May-June, 1999, pp107-117.
Locke M. (1995). The transformation of IR? A cross national review. The Comparative Political Economy of IR. Wever, K & Turner, L (Ed). : Champaign, Illinois: IR Research Association. pp 18-19.
Pfeffer, J. (1998). Human Equation. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.