The Success Formula - Part 2

In part 2 of The Success Formula, we will look at Respect.

When I came to IBM back in 1977, one of the three Basic Beliefs was Respect for the Individual. The other Basic Beliefs where: The best Customer Service and Pursuit of Excellence, and together they formed the foundation for IBM growing into one of the worlds true and great industrial giants, and by many viewed as a “best managed company”.

The following are three quotes on respect from Thomas Watson Jr., the former chairman and CEO of IBM.

“There are many things I would like IBM to be known for, but no matter how big we become, I want this company to be known as the company which has the greatest respect for the individual. (1957)” – Thomas Watson Jr.

“If IBM is to continue to be strong, to grow, and to bring profit to all of us in the company and to our customers and stockholders, we must be certain — constantly — that we are headed in the right direction, making the right decisions, and treating every employee with respect. (1961)” – Thomas Watson Jr.

“We accept our responsibilities as a corporate citizen in community, national and world affairs; we serve our interests best when we serve the public interest. We believe that the immediate and long-term public interest is best served in a system of competing enterprises. Therefore, we believe we should compete vigorously, but in a spirit of fair play, with respect for our competitors, and with respect for the law. In communities where IBM facilities are located, we do our utmost to help create an environment in which people want to work and live. We acknowledge our obligation as a business institution to help improve the quality of the society we are part of. We want to be in the forefront of those companies which are working to make the world a better place. (1969)” – Thomas Watson Jr.

Though many viewed the three Basic Beliefs as some of the reasons that IBM started to fumble back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I personally don’t believe that. I firmly believe that it was rather the loss of focus on the three Basic Beliefs, together with a change in the core business model that was the root of the problems. The key to IBM’s success was never about computers or technology, but about people and processes, and a mindset in the “pursuit of excellence”. As Jim Collins, the author of Good To Great, points out: “IBM stumbled badly in the late 1980s because it drifted from its core values (which it should never have abandoned) while remaining too rigid in its strategies and operating practices (which it should have changed far more vigorously).”

Personally, the three Basic Beliefs of IBM are so ingrained in me, and I strongly believe that if you adhere to these beliefs you just can’t fail. But this is where so many organizations fail. Since leaving IBM in 1997, I have come across a number of executives and companies that haven’t got a faintest idea what respect stands for or is about. Just as the three Basic Beliefs of IBM was part of IBM’s DNA and made it a great company, the lack of respect in an organizations DNA is a severe handicap.

So what does Respect mean?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words treat others the way you yourself want to be treated. Unfortunately though, many employers regard their employees the same way as they regard any other assets or products that may be used, abused or discarded at will. But on the other hand, some employers like i.e. IBM did, have embraced their employees and made them partners in the growth of the company.

As I said in part 1, everything starts and ends with leadership. So also when it concerns respect. It is my duty as leader to instill the values and create the circumstances/environment for the team or organization to succeed. If I have done that, I can expect the team members to function to the best of their ability and fulfill established, well defined, and obtainable goals. Under these circumstances, we may very well expect success from the individual or the team. However, if we for various reasons, place an individual or team in an untenable or impossible situation in which the individual or team will fail to fulfill expectations, that would be an act of disrespect.

I have met business leaders, that treat their employees with utterly disrespect, and as though they are less significant than themselves. They lie, cheat, deceive, and harass others as though they are supreme and more important than others. They don’t seem to understand, that any time they are behaving deceptively or cruelly they are acting with disrespect and disregard for others.

Two other core values, trust and honesty, goes hand in hand with respect and I will come back to these in part 3 and 4.

Here’s a famous song about respect.