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If You Want Better Employees, Be a Firm They Want to Work For

August 06, 1995|PHILIP E. QUIGLEY | PHILIP QUIGLEY is a manager at KPMG Peat Marwick in Los Angeles and an instructor in the MBA program at the University of La Verne.

A spate of recent articles in the business press have described the problems that corporate recruiters have been having with Generation X college graduates. The message has been that this new generation is not willing to work or to pay the price for success.

As a part-time teacher both in the Cal State system and at the University of La Verne, I have a different perspective. Maybe companies and their management are getting what they deserve.

Let's look at things from the students' perspective. Here's what they have been reading:

* Middle management is dead.

* The old employment contract is dead.

* The new management bible is downsizing and laying off. Another word for those is re-engineering.

* Companies are no longer giving awards for years of service because that rewards the wrong thing.

* Companies are continuing to lay off even if they are making record profits.

* Executives are continuing to receive huge salaries and bonuses no matter their companies' performance.

Students are also responding to what they are hearing from their parents, friends and neighbors. Local papers have been full of stories of people losing their jobs. Article after article has described people struggling, hurting, feeling betrayed and asking if all the long hours, weekends of work and neglect of their families meant anything.

In these articles, the companies' senior officials are quoted as saying they are sorry but that there is a new world out there. Often these are the same executives who are making the record salaries and bonuses.

Indeed, the students are only responding logically. They don't believe recruiters or management when they are told that hard work will be rewarded. Some students tell me they will work for a company only to get experience so that they can later start their own companies. Others tell me they will work for large companies, but only doing what they are told and not putting in the hours their parents did. Some are even thinking of seeking better opportunities overseas.

These are the young students. My older students--the part-time MBA students or people in their 30s completing degrees--are even more cynical. Every class has students going through a "re-engineering" project, but the majority of students are cynical about such efforts.

The consensus among managers seems to be that it's fine as long as things can be blamed on workers. But as soon as employee teams start pointing out problems caused by management, the efforts to solve problems suddenly stop and the people calling attention to the problems are soon "re-engineered" out the door.

But these same cynical students are intelligent, hard-working and creative. All they need is the right environment and leadership to excel.

I recently spent a week doing door-to-door selling of an information system to auto dealers with my one of my former students. At the start of the week, we were both inexperienced, unsure salespeople. By the end of the week--and 50 sales calls later--we had both learned a lot. She started off quiet and unsure and ended up a professional, assertive salesperson. In other words, all she needed was a real challenge and motivation to be an outstanding employee.

Harnessing this talent will mean taking the "rethinking the job contract" fad to the garbage can--where it belongs. Hewlett-Packard has "re-engineered' itself over the past few years and been very successful. It is making money and not had to lay off employees.


Companies say they want empowered teams that are constantly striving to improve quality and productivity, and bringing out new products. In other words, motivated, skilled employees dedicated to the company and its customers. Employees who are not cynical, passive or frightened. To achieve that, employees have to know that they will be given real work to do, be given the proper authority, be paid good salaries and bonuses and be assured of job security.

As their part of the bargain, employees have to take responsibility for their work, constantly try to improve processes and product quality, and continually improve their own skills by training and education.

Companies really have no choice. Today, on global basis, the only really competitive advantage comes from having an effective work force. The only way to have an effective work force is to lead it--by example, listening and caring.

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