Saturday, November 17, 2007

Where does your loyalty lie?

Whenever I travel, I try to strike up a conversation with my fellow passengers. This is a great opportunity to meet diverse people, learn new things and have interesting discussions. On a recent flight I was talking to a fellow passenger about a variety of interesting topics. When the topic of consultants/contractors came, he said that he hated consultants. When I asked why, he said that they are not loyal to their clients. That really got me thinking about loyalty.

I, for one, always feel that consultants when working for their clients and should be loyal to the clients. I strongly believe in establishing relationships. One cannot build good, long standing relationships by not looking after the client's interests. As long as I am working for a client, I am their employee and it is my duty to align myself with their organizational strategy.

What is loyalty? Who is loyal to whom? Who should be loyal to whom?

Loyalty does not mean that an employees should work for only one employer for all their working life. An employee can be loyal to an employer as long as he/she is employed by that employer. The same holds true for consultants. Just because consultants switch clients doesn't mean that they are not loyal to their clients.

Smart employees are loyal to no one but themselves and their careers. It is in the best interest of an organization to make sure that an employee's career goals are aligned with its own strategy and goals. That creates a win-win situation. This creates loyalty from both ends: the organization is loyal to the employee, and the employee is loyal to the organization.

How does an organization ensure loyalty? The answer lies in building relationships.

Organizations need to build a trusting relationship with their employees, and the employees will show their loyalty in response. Some short-sighted organizations believe that training and nurturing employees will result in the employees jumping ship. To the contrary, emphasizing employee growth ensures an organization's growth. As employees grow, organizations grow. Of courses, you will lose some talent, but you get to gain a lot more in terms of improved core competencies as well as loyalty.

Another aspect that ensures loyalty is transparency. How do employees see the value they are creating or adding? How are they affecting the bottom line? The more visibility they have, the more ownership they feel. The more ownership they feel, the more loyal they will be.

Gone are the days when one used to work for the same employer all their life. Gone are the days of blind lifetime loyalty. Job security, commitment, loyalty and lifetime employment used to define the Japanese labor culture. It is interesting to note the direction in which loyalty flowed: it was both ways. Recently, this culture has changed even in Japan, and personal goals are taking priority. Also, within organizations, meritocracy is reigning.

I feel that employees are always loyal to their employers, and that holds true for consultants too. Organizations that are loyal to their employees tend to retain their star employees, and grow with them.