Last week I presented at the Knowledge Infusion Forum in Chicago -- an event for HR execs. One of the fellow speakers was the Bob Rosner, author and head of Workplace 911. Bob is a funny guy and his presentation was filled with story-snippets that made you smile. One snippet, however, struck me as potent.
PHOTO: Robert Reich, source: UC Berkely
Bob recalled an interview he conducted with Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor. Secretary Reich struck Bob as astute on so many subjects, Bob decided to toss him a curve ball and asked a question along the lines of,
"Would you be able to determine the health of a company by simply walking in the door?"
"Yes," said Mr. Reich.
"How?," asked Bob.
"Within seconds I could tell you by listening to pronouns the employees used while conversing," continued Mr. Reich. "If they used 'we' and 'us' the company was healthy. If they used 'they' and 'them' the company has a problem."
-------- Talk Back -------------
Does this ring true for you?
I'd give it a solid, "yes." I experienced this first-hand in my time at EMC, but had never really thought of the behavior in such an overt way. As I think back, most every interaction I had with fellow EMCers contained the word, "we." I could tell when newly acquired companies started to feel part of EMC when they stopped using "you guys" or "core EMC" in their remarks and started to use, "us."
While Reich may have worked as Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton, I think his comments are as wise as ever.
OTHER THEORIES FROM DAYS OF OLD
For other options to help determine the health of a company -- or a smile if nothing else -- I'm reminded of two other theories I encountered from investors during the 1990's.
Around 1993 (pre- mass market use of the World Wide Web!), one investor called our investor relations department to ask for a photo of our headquarter building. "May we ask 'why?'" an associate inquired of the caller. The reply, "I'll know you're a good investment if the building is basic and square. I never invest in a company with a fancy headquarter building -- a fountain out front is the kiss of death!" (The EMC Founder's motto was "put your money where your customers best appreciate it," -- so I'm sure our (then) basic, square brick HQ passed this investor test!)
In the mid-1990's, another investor called one day to remark about our parking lot. He said, "I just want to call and tell you I find your parking lot inspirational! I drove by a few times last week well after 5:00 pm and each time the lot was full. That is my primary test for buying a stock. I bought a ton."
Score one for the timeless theory of Reich!
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