Stupid Pet Tricks

Accountability Management Organizational culture


Key Point: We can’t gimmick our way to developing great workplaces. I remember the earliest trips to study Japanese companies in the 80’s, when they were kicking the heck out of many other Western companies in the market place. Millennials and others may not believe this, but Toyota, Mitsubishi, Sony and other companies known as “Japan Inc.” were taking significant market share and out performing North American and European companies on quality and most other dimensions. In response, a rush of western executives visited Japan and these great companies to learn why this was going on.

The more naive western visitors often noticed the superficial or singular elements of a comprehensive management system. So they returned home with one or more of the following ideas: Institute morning exercises (many Japanese companies did so), create a company song, develop suggestion systems, institute quality circles, establish company slogans and year campaigns, use company name tags and uniforms, apply statistical quality control, and rely on fishbone diagrams. (A bonus one: Drink copious amounts of booze on Thursday night with your team and ceremoniously puke on the sidewalk before taking the train home).

Of course the more sophisticated companies deeply delved into the entire organization system. They understood the impact of Hoshin Kanri, Kaizen, Total Quality Control (TQC), Toyota Production System, Total Preventative Maintenance, and much more. They noted that based on what the Japanese were practicing; they would have to reinvent their entire way of leading and managing. There was no silver bullet or magic pill. They needed to reexamine their companies systemically. The best like Boeing, Ford, and others reinvented themselves AND spiced the learning with powerful, innovative technological advances.

Employee engagement scores are currently at an all time low in the western world of work. Yet some companies are thriving. When naive visitors review these excellent companies, they see things like: Big kid toys in the workplace, free food and beverages, no dress code, Friday “beer wagons,” yoga classes, meditation rooms, concierge services, and of course the throw back to the .com era, pets in the workplace.

The harsh reality is that the only way people really become engaged is that they live and work in a place that allows them to flourish; somewhere to fully thrive, personally grow, and contribute to a meaningful purpose. Assuming that the organization they work for has an inspiring purpose and sustainable business model, they need four primary things to succeed:

  1. The knowledge, understanding and unbridled opportunity to contribute great work they are good at and like to do.
  1. Clear expectations and information to know in a timely way whether they’re really contributing value or not. 
  1. Access to total rewards (pay, benefits, recognition, and continuous personal development) that are fair and relative to what they provide to the business model. 
  1. Reasonable, respectful, personal autonomy and the invitation to fully engage with their head, hands, and heart. 

All the “things” that are superficial feel like David Letterman’s old segment, “Stupid Pet Tricks.” They may be cool, but only are beneficial if they are the “icing” on top of a beautiful cake, with a rich recipe as reflected in the framework above.

Character Moves:

  1. Be wary of the fluff and pageantry related to organization “air.” If the business model is not throwing off significant profit, net customer growth is stagnant, productivity is flat, the Glass Door score is low, voluntary turn over high, and most importantly employee engagement/ trust is low or not measured… Well… RUN! And take your loving pet with you!
  1. Ideally, great work and life are fully and richly integrated (forget about balance). You and I deserve to love the life/work we do now. The ability to thrive is what really counts. Scrape away the “icing.” Taste the “cake” first.

Smart Pet Owners in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: If there were a job petting jellyfish in the middle of paradise… Forget the crystal clear waters, and warm tropical beaches you’d be working in, because at the end of the day, you’d still have to go pet those jellyfish (and likely get stung). Well beyond the environment, great work and leadership beats a fancy coffee maker. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis