Value versus Greed

by tomjaap on

Value adding

I have been involved in a significant amount of international travel over the past six months and this has enabled me to interact with a diverse range of people from different organisations. Although I have often written about adding value in terms of the contribution a person makes, the processes used to achieve it had not been as clearly on my radar as it should have been. During the early part of my travels an encounter with a waiter from Serbia who had been allocated to our table aroused my interest in exploring value adding processes.

The waiter, in his late 20s, very quickly connected with the group around the table by clearly engaging with each individual diner whilst being able to retain everyone’s attention. He spoke quietly, retained appropriate eye contact and maintained good personal space with the guests. During the meal he delivered accurately what was asked and was very attentive to deal with additional requests made. Although he was also serving guests at other tables he was skilled at keeping an eye on what was happening at all his tables. What interested me in particular was his ability to assert when needed yet his general demeanour was appropriately non-assertive.

As there was no tipping expected at this establishment this clearly was not a motivation for what was excellent attentive service. However, although we might have been lucky on that day, we actually encountered the same waiter on the following four days and his quality of service did not vary in any way. I took the opportunity to talk to him about his views on service and he said that he got great satisfaction from seeing people enjoy their meals. He saw providing service as a privilege in that it enabled him to keep looking for ways to improve. He listened to the requests from guests and said that he always learned a lot on what made a difference to them and then worked hard to deliver it. I thought that here was an exceptional young man who demonstrated a passion for his trade.

There is value being added all around us

 It has always interested me in what happens when you become aware of something in particular such as the processes used to add value. One of the early insights was that there are as many different processes as there are people delivering a service or doing a task. During my travels I observed many examples of value adding in the interactions I had with people in a multitude of different situations. These ranged from the people who took the extra time to check that we really understood what we had to do in a given situation through to those who clearly went the extra mile to ensure that we achieved what we set out to do.

 Something that differentiated the value adding service providers was the fact that those most likely to give it were in fact front line people. The poorest service we received was from those who had been appointed to supervisory or management positions. The most striking difference was in the level of knowledge demonstrated by front line from that provided by ‘management’ people. It constantly surprised us to discover how many of those with supervisory or management duties failed to meet our needs due to a clear lack of knowledge of systems or processes. Whereas with the front line people we encountered they knew what was needed and how to fix it in a timely manner. They also knew what not to do as this would have created unnecessary additional work that would have slowed their ability to meet our needs.

When does greed contaminate adding value?

It would be unreal to suggest that every front line person is better than those managing them, however, on our empirical evidence the percentage is clearly in favour of the former. A very interesting observation I made was that many of the people I spoke to describe how they fundamentally were self-managing as this enabled them to achieve the quality of service they wanted to deliver. Coupled with this observation was another in that most of these people were not driven by money but by the satisfaction they achieved from doing their jobs. It would be fair to say that because most of them were excellent at their jobs they were in fact receiving what they considered to be appropriate remuneration.

I was keen to explore the notion of where satisfaction versus money rested with those who were in ‘management’ positions. During some lengthy conversations it emerged that the majority were not happy with their remuneration and felt that they were worth more because their senior managers were earning significantly more than them. In a number of cases this was resented and resulted in lack of motivation to actually do their job as it should be done.

Where is organisational value added?

The more I explored value adding processes the following three questions emerged that interested me:

  • The majority of research suggests that money in not a significant motivator as long as people feel OK with what they are paid and get satisfaction from their work. However, there are still many organisations who still believe that money is the key driver of performance. How much money is the ‘right amount to encourage value adding performance?

  • Is passion the appropriate term to use to describe people who appear to be committed to deliver more than what is expected by having the skills and behaviour necessary to be effective?

  • To what extent does having autonomy in the form of self-management contribute to a person’s ability to deliver measurable added value?

I think that on my journey I found the answer to the three questions. Firstly, money is an important part of working in an organisation, however, there is a point where it begins to corrupt those who have the power to award themselves remuneration that in no way relates to the contribution they make. The answer to the other two questions was a clear yes in terms of passion and self-management.

Greed feeds inequality

It was humbling to hear so many sensible and practical ideas expressed by those I witnessed adding great value to what they did. When I contrasted this with the ‘management’ talk that is spouted by business ‘leaders’ it certainly proved to me the urgent need to find ways to enable the front line performers to influence organisations on how to operate for the benefit of all stakeholders. In this way I believe that the self-serving greed of many senior managers would be curtailed and the profits earned by the productive people be more appropriately distributed.

The six months of travelling and interacting with the people I met convinced me more that my passion for promoting the practice of self-managing would address many of the current ills in organisations. It makes the idea of practising bottom up leadership a very practical and positive productive process that would help eliminated greed and much of the inequality in organisations.

If you have any comments on this blog I would appreciate hearing from you by either contacting me by email at or leaving a comment on the blog.

Best wishes


Previous post:

Next post: