Guest Feature

Houston, We Have a Problem

How Employee Activism May Lead to the Death of Retail

June 26, 2018:

By David George, Managing Partner - Calibration Group, LLC

 

In life, there are certain inalienable truths. One of these truths is that humans, when gathered in an organized group, need a leader. Every nation has a leader just as every Native American tribe has a chief. In all aspects of life, there is a reporting structure that exists designed to support the leader. Sure, leaders consult others before laying out a final vision and strategy, but ultimately, it is the leader who makes the final decisions.

In business, nothing has ever been truer. Once the leader lays out the vision and strategy, a system of support (employees)

carries out the necessary directives that lead to success. As in business, one very important thing had to be present for the world to have survived for so long – hierarchy.

The reason for this is simple. There can only be one articulated vision for an organization and turning that vision into reality can only be achieved by a strategy implemented by a single leader. Imagine what would happen if an organization had several CEOs, each with his or her own strategy of how the company will achieve its objectives. Each CEO would be shouting out directives that conflict with the marching orders given by the other CEOs. Chaos would ensue, and the business would fail. It would cease to exist almost as soon as it began. But what happens when the support system (employees) are given more power than the leader?

 

It seems we’re about to find out.

Google’s Groundbreaking Decision

Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, recently made a decision that some consider to be the biggest mistake of the century not just for Google, but for all companies. This decision is considered by some to be so egregious that it may have set in motion the beginning of the end for our nation’s economic bedrock. The damage done by this decision won’t be known for years to come, but one question remains: Is it irreversible?

 

What was Sundar Pichai’s controversial decision? Pichai allowed his employees to dictate company policy. That’s right. Pichai allowed just over 5% of his employees to pressure him into not renewing a government project involving the development of artificial intelligence because they feared it would be used for war. Signed by these few Google employees, their petition demanded “a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.” Regardless of which side of the fence one falls regarding Google’s involvement with building “warfare technology,” succumbing to this petition is considered by many to have been a dangerous and irresponsible thing to do.

 

Many are concerned that Pichai empowered a few employees to steer the company in a direction other than where he and Google’s Board of Directors intended. In simpler terms, he legitimized Employee Activism. He gave it legs. He gave it – life.

 

If Pichai was asked why he made the decision to change course, he might express that giving in to employee pressure was no different than implementing an idea found in the company’s suggestion box. But nothing could be further from the truth. Implementing employee-generated suggestions enriches an organization by creating a sense of teamwork and belonging. What Google’s Employee Activists did was hold their productivity for ransom by demanding the company deviate from its business strategy.

 

Either way, the decision was final and there may be no turning back.

 

And Now It Begins

The unintended consequence of Pichai’s crucial decision was that he empowered all employees in every company, including yours, to force any changes they see fit. If this seems like a stretch, just check the news.

 

Since Pichai’s unprecedented decision, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, has received the latest ultimatum from Amazon’s newly formed Employee Activists. Several Amazon employees are mandating that Amazon stops selling facial recognition software to law enforcement. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, some of Amazon’s employees are up in arms about facial recognition software and how police agencies may use it. In the letter to the chief executive, these employees stated, “Our company should not be in the surveillance business; we should not be in the policing business; we should not be in the business of supporting those who monitor and oppress marginalized populations.” Again, regardless of whether one agrees with the opinions of these few employees, it’s clear they feel they have the right to tell Jeff Bezos what kind of businesses Amazon should and should not be engaged in – thanks to Google.

 

But wait. There’s more. Just this week some 300 Microsoft employees signed a petition demanding the company cancel its contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) over the U.S. Government’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. "We request that Microsoft cancel its contracts with ICE, and with other clients who directly enable ICE," employees wrote. "As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit." Refuse to be complicit? Where is this perceived power coming from?

 

Many are pondering that if Google wouldn’t have caved so easily, would these Amazon and Microsoft employees be so brazen as to “refuse” to do the work for which they are being paid? It should be noted that these 300 Microsoft employees make up only 0.002% of Microsoft’s employee base, yet they now have an international audience.

 

Will Amazon and Microsoft succumb to Employee Activism?

 

Employee Activism and the Future of Retail

Thanks to Google, retailers may just be up a creek without a paddle. The floodgates have been opened and the entire retail industry is waiting to see who will be next. If things go poorly, here are a few possible headlines we might see in the near future:

 

  • Employees Demand Supermarket Sell Only Cage-Free Chickens

 

  • Employees Demand Footwear Manufacturing be Moved from U.S. to Impoverished Countries

 

  • Employees Demand Resignation of CEO for Attending Trump Rally

 

How Amazon and Microsoft respond to their employee activists will determine if the headlines above become a reality.

 

Many people close to this situation feel the best course of action for Amazon and Microsoft is to politely thank their employees for expressing their opinions and invite them to search for a different company to work for whose views are more aligned with their own. Anything short of this would signal to Employee Activists everywhere that open season on has commenced on all companies, especially those in the retail industry.

 

Employee Activism is a trend the entire world of retail must monitor closely because, if permitted to spread, it will be the most prolific game-changer the industry has ever experienced.

David E. George, CFE, CFI, is managing partner of Calibration Group, LLC. Previously, David served as vice president over Asset Protection for Dollar General Stores, a Fortune 100 company with more than 13,000 stores in 44 states. While serving Dollar General, David was responsible for the Asset Protection field team, the Asset Protection corporate team, the Shrink Improvement team, and the Shrink Analytics team.  David also worked in tandem with Dollar General’s Inventory Management team to improve stock-on-hand while simultaneously reducing stockroom inventory.

 

Prior to Dollar General, David held the vice president of Asset Protection position with Harris Teeter Supermarkets, Inc., a Fortune 500 company based in Matthews, NC. He served Harris Teeter for more than 14 years and has had previous loss prevention leadership roles with Kmart Supercenters.
 

For more information about Calibration Group, visit www.calibrationgroup.com.

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