The business of respect and results

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 11, 2012, 2:41 PM | comments: 0

I have to admit that I get a little joy from the story about the Wall Street analyst who is bitching and moaning about Mark Zuckerberg wearing a hoodie to investor presentations. His assertion is that it's disrespectful to the "institution" of Wall Street. I'm not sure how anyone can say that with a straight face, given the cultural disdain for banks and the investment industry.

It's true that I've never owned a suit. I'm not even sure if I have a tie hiding in my closet anymore. When I was a young and naive kid who thought he knew everything, my anti-tie stance was largely rooted in rebellion and distrust for the establishment. Now that I'm older and can admit I don't know even a fraction of what I think I know, my stance is more rooted in the simple notion that the dress code just doesn't matter. It especially doesn't matter in business, which as you might guess is only reinforced by the many years of wearing shorts to work and being paid handsomely anyway.

American business culture is a little screwed up. For most of our history, a job meant you manufactured something, and even today, for a huge number of people, it means you work in some kind of service industry. In these situations, certainly it matters that you be on time, and probably adhere to a uniform for the purpose of branding and customer experience. I totally get that, and it makes sense. However, the world of white collar work tends to still operate as if its people are punching a clock, while a system of reward and punishment crushes the employee's soul. If you're lucky, you work in a place where the only real focus is on the results you provide.

In the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, the author compiles a lot of research that demonstrates how broken the dominant business model really is. To summarize, human beings tend to perform better and be more productive when they are intrinsically motivated. Business tends to operate on a model of extrinsic motivators. As Matt Ouimet, CEO of Cedar Fair said in a recent interview I did with him, people want to be respected, valued and appreciated. Naturally that doesn't work if money and the threat of not meeting arbitrary and unimportant expectations are your primary motivators.

Issues of respect and results are highly related. If there's anything I've learned in business, it's that the clothes certainly do not make the man (or woman), but really, only results truly define a person and whether or not they deserve respect. Mind you, I'm not taking about basic human respect, like being polite and holding a door for someone, but in the context of business, I care a great deal more about what you can do than what your title is. I've spent a fair amount of time not working because of people with "C" titles making poor decisions.

Zuckerberg has created a business that no one else ever has, and is heading into an IPO that investors are clamoring to be a part of. This one guy has done the work that will make hundreds of new millionaires, and it seems to me that if anyone deserves respect, it's him. His fashion choices are a non-issue.


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