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Hi Steve, first, sorry to hear that your wife's progress wasn't as fast as projected.

Second, when change hits it can be slightly or terribly stressful... people need to feel valued as they grasp the skill and energy to adapt, which means encouragement through the process rather than a fast wink... Well said, Steve!

Steve Roesler

Thanks, Robin.

No shortage of joy here...we're thrilled about the result and what it will bring. But I started thinking about the "straight-line" nature of Western thinking and the fact that that extends to change (life) as well.

This isn't an easy issue for companies or the people. But it's a real one.

peter vajda

Hi, Steve,....great noodling...and thanks.

You write, "His response: "Well, that's always a tough one. But you have to understand that this is a business...."

I'm not an HR folk so I have no idea from that context. I've been in this situation with my own direct reports, however, and found a way to make it work.

The larger question, however, for me is this: if I'm crossing the street and the #9 bus is headed straight for me, and has my number on it, would I say to myself, "Man, I'm sure glad we let John go back in (20 years ago)." Looking back, did it r-e-a-l-l-y make a difference in the larger scheme of things? "At a certain point..." is an interesting notion, moreso, how one chooses to define that "point" and define the level of "discomfort" and/or "inconvenience" that "point" represents and...on what level (mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, psychological, and, oh, yes, financial and for the sake of our newest "driver-god", efficiency to whom we sacrifice the well-being of countless folks). Hmmm.

I recall a boss I worked for just out of graduate school. His mantra was akin to "it's all about business." Greed and speed were the values that motivated him. Folks were, well, expendable and basically irrelevant. My sense, and this is not for certain, but my sense is that when he passes from the planet his dying prayer will be, not about hope, forgiveness, and the like, but that the hearse that drives him to his resting place will be equipped with a safe and luggage racks.

Corporate philosophy (and values), indeed!

Tom Haskins

Steve: I started to write a comment here, but it got too long. So I added a post to my blog: Sorry we're a business!

Steve Roesler



When my consulting business included full-time employees vs. freelancers, I don't ever recall not being able to call people together to figure out how to accommodate someone with temporary personal demands. Granted, there were only a half-dozen of us. But in some ways, that meant fewer people to carry the load. However, it was never a big deal and the clear rule of thumb was "this is what we value."

Funny that you mention "greed and speed". I was thinking about the difference between profitability and greed while writing the post. I wonder what would happen if the mantra changed to "speed and need"?

Steve Roesler

Tom, any time one post inspires another like the one you produced, I consider it a good day.

(Take a look at Tom Haskins' post; the URL is included in his comment).

Joe Raasch

Hi Steve,

What about the litigious society we live in? A private consulting company with six employees - easy to do the right thing. Once things get big, what's fair falls to the law v. what's right - unfortunately there is conflict and tension there.

e.g. Which is more important:

1. Bob taking time off to care for a sick animal
2. Sam taking time off to care for a sick relative

Would it matter that the animal is a service dog? Or a house cat?
Would it matter if the relative is a child, parent, cousin, or distant second aunt twice removed?

At some point, due to people's perception of fairness, companies that are liable to lawsuits have to draw a line (read: policy). This is the 'greater good' mentioned in your post.

Where the 'speed and need' works is when the entire corporate culture is one 'with a servant's heart' - the bigger the organization, typically, the rarer the possibility of this happening. One way companies get around the fairness issue is to leave some discretion to the local manager, and allow employees to donate vacation to individuals as they see fit.

Question for the readers: what would you do if you were the manager faced with this situation and worked in a bigger organization - one where the entire culture wasn't necessarily on board with doing what's right, but had policies?

Karin H.

Hi all

I find this a 'tough' one - tough to write down I mean. Tom's related post talks about networking versus 20th century rules and regulations, strict policies if you like - and I agree with him.

My strongest feelings in regards of the 'problem' is: if the foundation of a company/business is firm, known to and accepted by all, employees would have an 'instinctive' understanding of what they can ask and where to draw the line. When they always have been treated with respect, in all regards, and have given the same respect back to the company the 'problem' ceases to be a 'problem'.

Like I said, tough to put into words.

Karin H. (Keep It simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

peter vajda

Karin, your words really resonate with me.

For me, the "problem" is linked to fairness. The question about what's fair if asked from the heart, instead of the mind, may result in a new/different perspective on what to do.

For those who view this issue from the perspective a small corner of a larger painting, they may see the "problem" as one of dollars, cents, legality, rules and "the past". Rumi said, "Out beyond right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field, I'll meet you there." Wonder what the conversation would be from that place, if all agreed to suspend their "past", their "logic" and their "why it can't work" frame and approached the question from the place of the heart where fairness has a differernt flavor. Just being curious without being judgmental as to what the real, real, real "problem" is.

Rather than repeat the past, doing the same things in the same way, reactive rather than responsive, what would happen if we looked at this "problem" in a different perspective, a heart-felt perspective? Perhaps then the future would not repeat the past. There's a "purpose" reality and there's a "business reality". For me, why some believe these two perspectives need to be at opposite ends of a continuum, never cto meld, never to merge, is the deeper, self-reflective, non-logical question.

When business and economic growth is based on the theory of individualism as opposed to a theory of "the collective", well, we see the results and it's not a pretty picture. Stand back 15 miles outside the planet and view the Earth. All good stuff? Hmmm

Marketplace pressures frequently grind against spiritual values (read: not religious, but on a higher/deeper level of consciousness. Business people, if they choose, can consider tough questions that reverberate beyond the bottom line: How to handle layoffs? How much to pay people? How to reach out to others in a loving and compassionate way? How to react to unethical conduct? How to make money, and equally important, make meaning too?

We know that one of the greatest distances is that between the the head and the heart and nowhere is this more true than in the world of business. Like it or not we are all interconnected; resistance, denial, doubt or fear cannot change that fact. So, in the world of business, each one has the free will to make a change; each one also has "free won't". Life is choices. The challenge is to be curious about what's driving one's choices.

Wally Bock

Sorry, to hear about your and Barb's situation, Steve, but, alas not all that surprised. A large body of personal experience tells me that physicians and consultants and would-be project managers use "the most optimistic scenario" as a sales tool to sign us on to do things, knowing that we'll keep strapping on our gear and dealing with the situation if it doesn't live up to promise. It's the bureaucratic equivalent of a low ball bid on a construction or public works project.

The result of this in the pubic works sector is staggering. When Peter Hall studied this some years back, he discovered that large public works projects routinely cost three times as much as the original bid and take three to four times as long as projected.

So what about "this is business?" It depends on where you hear it.

Sometimes it's the early warning sign of a coming shafting. This seems especially true in nonprofits when they start talking about how they need to be more businesslike.

Other times, it's a manager or HR person saying the equivalent of "Look, I know that it's not your fault, it's just your turn. But please understand that I have very little choice in what I'm about to do."

As in so many situations, it's often the manager that makes the difference. Here's an example. A young couple I know suffered the sudden loss of the woman's mother early this year.

Both worked for the same large company. Company policy allowed workers to share Personal Time Off (PTO) with others.

The woman knew that she would need more time than the bereavement leave her company allowed. In her department, the manager led an effort to take up a PTO collection for her. They gave her time to go deal with her grief and a maze of legal issues, along with time for days after her return to work when she just wouldn't be able to work effectively.

It was different for her husband. His boss told him that he could have his earned vacation time, but that he would have a counseling notice inserted in his file for not giving the required one month notice of intent to take time off. His boss told him that bereavement leave did not apply to him because his mother-in-law was not a direct relation He could appeal to HR, "but nobody ever does that." I'm sure if I'd talked to that boss he would have told me that he acted the way he did because "this is a business."

A week after returning to work, the husband quit to look for a new job. He's now employed by another large company. I contacted the woman's supervisor, with her permission, because I'm always looking for examples of great supervisors.

I praised him for supporting the woman who worked for him. I asked him why he was willing to give a person who worked for him so much time off.

His answer was that "this is a business." He said that the company had invested thousands of dollars in training for the woman. She was important to the team, in his view, and the sooner she was restored to full productivity, the better it would be for her and the company.

What strikes me most about this is that it was the same company. The company policies were the same. The rhetoric about "our people are our most important asset" was the same. The difference was in the actions of the boss of each member of the couple.

Steve Roesler

Hello, Everyone!

I'm going to respond to each comment, but first a huge "thank you" for creating a conversation that goes deeper than the "here are the 5 steps of change" sort of thing.

This is what this medium does exceedingly well, especially with those who are committed to seeing things change at a profound level.

Many thanks...

Steve Roesler


You've introduced the reality of litigation as well as the notion of "fair" vs. "what's right".

While consulting with a County Prosecutor's office, I heard a story from one of the detectives that changed how I saw "the system" (I was a bit more naive than I had thought). The detective was testifying in a homicide. He knew the accused was guilty. And, he watched the accused walk out of the courtroom on a technicality.

So my detective friend spoke with the judge afterward about the body of evidence. The judge looked him in the eye and said, "Detective, if you want justice, wait for God. This place is about the law".

I can't help but think that that's the real difference among organizations. Some choose to live a business life based on strict legality--which does not necessarily reflect morality; others choose to err on the side of human need, be it for an employee, a customer, or a financial analyst checking out the company.

It's at these moments that corporate values are seen in a true light.

That said, your scenario is quite a real one with potentially different interpretations in a court of law. I'm going to save this one up for a later post and see what others have to say.

Steve Roesler


You've hit on the core of what "corporate culture" is all about--"foundation". You also introduced a new element: as a result of knowing and accepting that foundation, people instinctively understand what they can ask for in a given situation and where to draw the line. You've put the emphasis on individual responsibility and judgment.

I wrote a post sometime back on "Unwritten Rules". These are the ones that prevail in most organizational situations. When a company's instinctive and unspoken actions match those that are also explicit, we call that a healthy place to work. It's the organizational version of an authentic individual.

The conversation we're having right now touches on what an organization believes is the right response to an employee experiencing exceptional need. All of us want to have profitable firms; the question sometimes becomes, "Are we willing to delay instant "profit" gratification for the well-being of a fellow human in genuine need?"

Steve Roesler


"Conventional Wisdom" says that business and business decisions are best made in a rational way. Rational in this case meaning separating one's self from the emotion of the situation. The problem with that is that bona fide research in this area shows that all decisions--regardless of the amount of data involved--are ultimately emotional and made from the heart. So the question for me becomes:

Are choices being made from a hard heart or one that is open to the breadth and depth of the human condition?

Steve Roesler

Hi, Wally,

Yeah, the situation wasn't surprising to me, either. Just wasn't sure what the delta was going to be between the Medical Marketeering and Reality.

Wally, your concrete example is one more example of, and testimony to, the overarching importance and influence of one's immediate supervisor. Same company, different supervisors, different choices, diametrically opposed outcomes.

Who says an individual can't make a difference?

Karin H.

Wally, that is a terrific example!

IMHO in this case (and many others no doubt) it is down to the difference of: acting/deciding to the letter of the company policy versus acting to the intent of the company policy.

Which brings us, I think, to how one manager feels secure in acting and deciding in the line of that policy where the other manager feels insecure and follows the exact letter of the policy.

Or is that too simply put?

Karin H.

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