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Paul Preston

I typically use my time on a flight as an opportunity for recovery.  I often nap, listen to music, read something for fun, or just reflect. Occasionally (although, to be honest, very rarely) I have a conversation with my seat neighbor; my last flight was one of these rare exceptions and I had a very interesting chat with the gentleman next to me. This gentleman was a trend researcher, which fascinated me. Having spent over 45 years in business in many parts of the world, in all different roles, working for quite a cadre of leaders, and working with more than my fair share of consultants, I feel like I’ve seen my share of trends come and go. As we shared experiences, he told me about one of his latest projects which looked at the relationship between companies and their executives and he shared a couple of trends he was seeing. His main observation was a clear shift away from loyalty to just commitment. Now my initial reaction was that this was just about semantics and some philosophical BS. But the more I thought about it, the more I got intrigued.

Loyalty is linked to a deep sense of caring. It is about devotion that is built and nurtured on long-term shared experiences and thinking. It is a combination of “I got your back” and “we are in this together”. Loyalty is about “we”. Commitment, on the other hand, is more about obligations and contractual agreements. It tends to be more short-term (as long as the contract says) and it’s about meeting expectations and “have to dos”. In many ways, loyalty is about the “we”, while commitment is more about the “me”. This goes both ways: the company to their people and people to the company.

As we finished our conversation, I fell back into my reflection mode. Only this time, I was reflecting on what he had said. If this were true, what would the implications be? It would clearly mean that statements like “people are our most important asset” would be mostly lip service. It would not inspire any real innovation from the person nor inspire any real investment in being great from the company. On one hand, it does significantly raise the degree of self-responsibility for the individual. On the other hand, it also means that the company can burn through people and feel no responsibility or guilt. After all, “They commit to the deal so this is their fault”. Statements like, “People make the difference, so make your people different” wouldn’t hold any meaning anymore. We (the company) don’t really invest in you to make you different or to help you grow. This deal-driven, commitment-focused trend feels funny to me. There is no stickiness and instead only a lot of selfishness and short-term thinking.

The question is: Is the trend guy right? Does loyalty still exist or has it been replaced with commitment? In many ways, it is a very fine line and so I accept that it may not be easy to see. It is a lot like a vitamin deficiency where you only see the signs and symptoms when a deficiency exists. So what would the signs and symptoms be of a loyalty deficiency?  In my experience, it would create a status quo work environment where leaders are in short-term survival mode. They would lack the energy or inspiration to go the extra mile or to bring innovative human performance strategies to the table. They would be afraid and uninterested in taking any quantum leaps. They would build silos and defend their territory rather than break down barriers and proactively collaborate. Oddly enough, this was the other trend my fellow traveler shared.

What do you think? Is loyalty a dying thing of the past? What is the impact that you see? Clearly, loyalty changes the game. It creates a winning edge for a company. The problem is this requires risk and it requires an authentic investment in people. Even more, it takes energy, resilience, mental agility, and stamina. That is why these things aren’t a nice to have, they are an absolute must.

Paul Preston
Partner // Strategy Advisor