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April 03, 2009


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As a salesman at a machine shop here in Chicago I found this an insightful post.

Putting the parts that machinists make into context - where it fits into a machine, what the equipment does - shows where the employee fits in the larger scheme.

And the dignity that comes from knowing what we do all day has purpose.

David, as a novice in employee communication, I've been following your blog (among others) for your thoughts on employee communication and writing in general. Having switched from a completely different field, it's very inspiring to have veteran writers and communicators sharing their thoughts and practices so openly.

I noticed you've been trying to find some background on the author. There is a 20 page preview on Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=HmSmAAAAIAAJ which includes the back flap of the dust cover, it gives some of his background. I'm curious about your decades-long search, though: Were you looking for this specific book and author, or were you looking for the first book every written on employee communication?

On your question of corporations being social institutions, perhaps there is or was a tech company of such socially unskilled workers that they had no social interaction, but 99.9% of workplaces have social interaction, and these social interactions create a corporate culture unique to each. You can argue that corporate culture means corporate social culture - how the work gets done, not just what work gets done.

Yossi misses the point. Not social in the sense of what we think of today as 'social media' or social interaction at work but social in the sense of the corporation's obligation to the society of which it is a part.

This was an acknowledged component of corporate life in 1959 when I first joined General Electric in my initial corporate communication job. There was a philosophy called 'Boulwareism' after a GE executive named Lemuel Boulware. (How's that for a Dickensian name for a corporate leader?) In any case, Boulware declared the philosophy that GE lived by for decades. Namely, that the corporation had a balanced responsibility to four constituencies--its shareholders, its employees, the commmunities in which it did business and its customers. The interesting thing is that the leadership truly believed this and did its best to live up to that philosophy. In practice, if truth be told, the employees sometimes came out on the short end of that obligation if and when push came to shove in balancing those sometimes competing interests. But for the most part these were the guiding principles the company tried to live by.

The result was a great company that earned the loyalty and affection of most employees. When companies sought to become 'multi-nationals' and 'too big to fail,' much of this went away. When Ronald Reagan (ironically once a GE spokesman)and others expressed the philosophy of a mean-spirited and unregulated capitalism, the die was cast for the cowboy corpoate leaders who have taken us down the road we're now experiencing. And so the 'middle-aged security' that Heron advocates has become a mockery as companies make the workforce pay for leadership recklessness and irresponsibility.

Here's my prophecy: it will take us a long, long time to recover employee trust and leadership credibility when this crisis is finally over. That will be the challenge facing today's corporate leaders and their communication professionals.

I didn't get into that because I see corporations doing a much better job of assuming social responsibilites to the community outside their walls than to their own employees. In 1942, philanthropy was the social conscience of corporations and their exectives, and they saw themselves as having social obligations outside of their company. It was in internal business practices that they overlooked social obligations to employees.

Your first excerpt reads like it was carved into stone tablets and carried down a mountain by Larry Ragan. Keep 'em coming, David!

@Yossi, thanks much for the steer, and your comments. To answer your question, what I've been looking for is any discussion of this subject that predates the "original" discussion. Roger has been one of my guides in looking for such stuff, and he's the reason I plowed a dozen years ago through a biography of Fredrick Taylor, the first modern management consultant.


But to find a well-written thing on this subject before it ossified at hundreds of IABC conferences and in a million communication trade newsletters

@Roger, thanks for that perspective. My grandfather was head of industrial relations and public affairs at once-mighty Armco Steel, and the social ethic there mirrored the G.E. philosophy. Not that we'll ever quite find that place in history again, but it's useful to know that"sustainability" and "corporate social responsibility" is not entirely a new thing, but very much an old thing.

@Ron, that's almost what I feel I've found here, and why I'm so excited.

And @ozzybeef:

"And the dignity that comes from knowing what we do all day has purpose."

Yes, this must be the focus of us all.

This was a very interestin post, and I too am looking forward to future excerpts and the discussions.

In particular I was struck by: "his claim that employers "must recognize our inescapable obligation to manage the enterprise in such a way as to furnish middle-age security for those who spend their years of youth in the enterprise as wage earners.""

We are now dealing with an employment environment demonstrating the results of the intentional and systematic dismantling of that unspoken agreement between employees and employers - that if they were loyal to the company, worked hard and put in their time, they would be rewarded with a pension that would allow them to spend their golden years somewhere other than a refrigerator box and working at McDonalds so they can eat.

So, it will be most instructive to go back and see how that contract was initially created, because it may help us understand what happened in the interim that got us to the point where it's now considered okay - even smart business practice - for many employers to treat employees like disposable office supplies, but still expect them to behave loyally, work hard and sacrifice their own best interests in supporting the company

My breath is bated for that next installment, David!

"My breath is bated for that next installment, David!"

I know I've drawn the right audience when, to you, a forgotten book on employee communication is a cliff-hanger.

Back at you next week,


It is a matter of opinion, I dont share that much information with my employees, they only know what they need to know.

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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