With Valentine’s Day just past, I am working hard to turn my attention from the chaotic and polarizing events in our country to something more positive. While Valentine’s Day focuses on romantic or “eros” love, our faith and spiritual traditions teach us that there are other forms of love, sometime called agape love, defined by Wikipedia as “the highest form of love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God.” There is also philia love, which is translated as “brotherly love” and defined as friendship and affection. So I would like to write about agape and philia love in the workplace.
It’s rare to hear conversations about love in the workplace these days. Work is seen more as a source of stress, burnout, and soul-damaging interactions. But there has been a quiet conversation about love in the workplace taking place for more than a decade. In 2002, Tim Sanders, a Yahoo executive, wrote an article for Fast Company Magazine titled “Love is the Killer App,” later published as a book by the same title. He wrote, “The most powerful force in business isn’t greed, fear, or even the raw energy of unbridled competition. The most powerful force in business is love. It’s what will help your company grow and become stronger. It’s what will propel your career forward. It’s what will give you a sense of meaning and satisfaction in your work, which will help you do your best work.”
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, said in a 2005 commencement speech, “The only way to do great work is to love the work you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know it when you find it.”
These leaders spoke about love as giving individuals and organizations a competitive edge while at the same time providing meaning and purpose, which are the highest enduring motivators of quality work. High pay and benefits can be motivating in the short term, but lose their allure when the price is your soul. It might be easy for very successful leaders to talk about love in the workplace, but do their claims stand up in the focused light of academic research. It turns out that they do.
Raj Sisodia, David Wolfe and Jag Sheath, all respected marketing professors, conducted research on companies they call “Firms of Endearment.” They looked for companies that customers loved. They looked for companies where employees love to work. They define a Firm of Endearment as “a company that endears itself to stakeholders by bringing the interests of all stakeholders groups into strategic alignment….These companies meet the tangible and intangible needs of their stakeholders in ways that delight them and engender affection for and loyalty to the company.” The way they found companies to study was to ask people, “Tell us about companies you love. Not just like, but love.”
The research team identified 30 organizations that met the final cut based on humanistic criteria and then completed an investor analysis to find out how they performed on the stock market. They were actually very surprised to find that the Firms of Endearment returned 1,092 percent for investors over a 10 year period ending June 30, 2006, compared to 122 percent for the S&P 500. That was more than an 8-to-1 ratio. Some of the organizations included were Amazon, CarMax, Google, Honda, IKEA, Patagonia, Timberland, and Whole Foods. They found common themes among the leaders of these firms who shaped their cultures around the idea that they “are here to help others live their lives with greater satisfaction, to spread joy and well-being, to elevate and educate, to help employees and customers fulfill their natural potential.”
I had a class team of MBA students create case studies of organizations they admired, and one of the teams reported on Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. They interviewed leaders and employees in the company, and the company actually sent a case of ice cream cups to the class for their team presentation! The most memorable part of their presentation was the description of the Joy Squad. A team of employees volunteer to serve for a few hours each month on the Joy Squad where they create ways to bring more joy into the workplace. The focus of their events and actions was on creativity and playfulness, not on productivity. And the result was employees who loved to work for Ben & Jerry’s.
In the 1970s, I was an internal consultant to a Honeywell Circuit Board plant in Arizona. The plant manager, Chet Kendrich, loved his employees and talked about them as family, and they would do anything for him. A very large order came in for circuit boards, larger than anything they had ever filled, and Chet asked them to be creative and to work as hard as they could to produce this large order in record time. He promised that once the order was filled with high quality circuit boards that passed inspection, they could have the rest of their 40 hours off. He expected that they might be able to make it by 3pm on Friday, but they actually discovered new ways of improving processes, and were done by 3pm on Thursday. After a brief celebration with pizza and balloons, he let the employees go home. From that point on, the plant broke production and quality records almost every week, and other employees from the Honeywell system put in transfer requests to work at this plant.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, I encourage us to think beyond the eros – romantic love of St. Valentine, and to explore other ways to express agape – universal love, and philia – brotherly love, in our workplaces. In what ways could you bring more love into your work? What could your organization do to be more like a “Firm of Endearment,” and how might you make that happen? In honor of Black History month, I want to end with a quote from Maya Angelou:
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”