The Price of Progress: A Bold CEO, Wage Debate, and Social Work Next

DanPrice078089eCEO of Gravity Payments, Dan Price, announced that he would create a minimum wage floor for his employees at $70,000 per year. The plan is being phased in over 3 years. The response has been mixed from predictably polarized sources. As always, my question is how would the Social Work Next social worker utilizing analytic hierarchy see the situation? In short, such a social worker could have prepared Mr. Price for what was to come. He understood the individual and institutional challenges to some extent, but he did not fully comprehend the environmental practice implications. That’s the additional construct of social work next. Specifically, he was not prepared for the Culture elements of the change.

Individual Profile and Goal

My individual intervention with Mr. Price would focus on his articulation of the reality that he is creating. We would work to align his behaviors to increase his consonance while allowing him the freedom to adjust to new information. The central concern would be to accomplish his ultimate goal while maintaining his resolve AND maintaining the education and evolution required in a movement.

This individual assessment in the context of an organization must be replicated with each employee. The goal is to ascertain the value orientation and perception of environment for each. This is an important basic understanding predicting the outcome of any innovation.

Interactive Effects

Once the word spread and the impact sank in for employees, discussions began that Mr. Price could not fully control. Even if he was able to influence the employee, the institution, and the culture, he would be powerless to control the comments and interactions of family members, friends, and the media. Rather than cowering to the impossibility of the control proposition, the solution is to expand the sphere of influence through shrewd awareness and intervention in control systems. The technique is called “flushing the cycle.” It ensures that the business continues by making the conversation a function of the business. Input-Activity-Output-Feedback, that’s the cycle. The conversation becomes a new input.

My institutional intervention would begin with the introduction of a cooperative-style corporate structure that more closely aligns with the salary structure proposed. The co-op is more flat hierarchy and equitable salary structure. We would expect exactly what ensued, some employees and clients would not agree and move on. Others would be inspired and join. The point to communicate a company transition beyond (greater than) a payroll policy. The company is not going from capitalist to socialist. It is restructuring into a co-op structure more consistent with the intent of its founder, and more responsive to the market.

Culture at Multiple Systems Levels

Mr. Price did his homework on the needs of employees according to the research, but he did not assess his specific group of employees. In organizational practice, we discuss his attention to factors of innovation, but neglect of learning orientations. In other words, the employees were not engaged to adopt the culture shift on their own terms. For all its great promise and potential for a movement, Mr. Price’s actions were top-down rather than bottom-up.

My cultural intervention (environmental umbrella) would organize the expectations of employees, investors, and customers with the intention of systematic alignment with the proposition of the company. Whether it’s a political statement, a social good movement, or a founder’s dream, the goal is to communicate it in the language of all stakeholders with an invitation to join. Those who engage will ensure the success and sustainability of the proposition because it is based in belief—a faith in the ultimate good of the endeavor. Those who leave will be similarly compensated in belief that they were wise. The beauty is that both are right at the individual level. For many, that’s all that matters. And, that’s what Mr. Price means when he suggests that some others are only looking out for themselves.

Implications for the Wage Debate

Individual: Programs for financial literacy will become even more vital to securing a place in the middle class. Programs will focus on financial stability, but also investment, wealth creation, and legacy. A great deal of this will necessarily focus on connecting the individual to systems of wealth creation in addition to cultivation of the mindset required for such long-sighted activity.

Institutional: Reinforce structures that reward by supporting the non-employment institutions that are valued by the employee. For most employees, this includes family and social interactions, work-life balance, and volunteerism or civic-mindedness in some form. In some sectors, this includes social contracts like Goldman Sachs recently implemented barring interns from overnight work sessions.

Environmental: Promote a new view of teams that expands beyond simply working together, but to valuing and trusting the unique contribution of each team member. This culture, combined with other interventions, may support a separation of job from living and a more humanized definition of self beyond work. It is a dream to move pay to the background, and social good to the foreground.

Video Courtesy of the NY Times: