I don't read a lot of business books. If you've read one "revolutionary approach," you've read enough. I like to tell people the most important business-related treatise I know is the 1958 classic Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss. The remark always draws a laugh, but recently I was reminded of how true it really is.
L Brands' Bath & Body Works last week became the latest retailer to announce it will end on-call or "just in time" scheduling, in which employees are given little notice of when to come in or stay home. States and workers' rights groups have targeted the policy as putting undue hardship on a certain segment of society. Even low-paid, part-time retail workers, they say--the ones that stores couldn't function without--deserve to count on a certain schedule and income a couple of weeks in advance. Who could have imagined?
You don't need to read Carnegie or Covey, Collins or Pink to know that it's not good business to treat employees, a.k.a. other people, as if they exist only to do your bidding. It's the one rule that's golden, and ignoring it is what gets Yertle in trouble.
There he was, king of a "nice little pond" full of happy turtles, until one day he decides his empire isn't big enough. He orders his turtles to climb on top of each other, then sits on top of his turtle throne and claims dominion over everything he sees.
This creates all kinds of hardship for a "plain little turtle" at the bottom named Mack, who humbly asks, how much longer?
"Silence!" cries Yertle.
The tower of turtles grows into the hundreds, but Yertle wants more. Plain little Mack pipes up again, this time speaking for his fellow turtles: "Up on top you are seeing great sights, but down at the bottom we, too, should have rights."
Does Yertle care about them? Of course not!
But then Mack opens his mouth one more time, and his plain little burp is enough to shake the tower and send all the turtles, including Yertle, tumbling down.
The lesson is clear to any 6-year-old: Ignore the well-being of those who work for you, and you could find yourself waist-deep in mud.
A lot of retailers seem to look at the world like Yertle: Employees are merely a mark on a piece of paper, a shell to stand on, a part of their throne. While companies may be feeling the pressure to stop on-call scheduling, that perspective is sure to surface again in other ways.
I don't know what books L Brands CEO Les Wexner has on his bedside table these days, but maybe some 6-year-old could tug on his sleeve and hand him a copy of Yertle to read aloud. After all, everybody can use a reminder now and then that when your name is chiseled into marble, you don't want it to bear the slightest trace of mud.