Where Did the Employees Go?

The 2008 corporate annual reports have rolled off the presses and are on view on company websites.   I flipped through some of them online and, as usual, they are the same old dullards.  A letter from the president, a few words about the past year and what the future holds, followed by the financial results.

But you know what?  Several of the very largest Fortune 500 companies had not a single photo or story about an employee.  None. Aren’t employees the ones who make the company successful?  Where did they go?  It is a little shocking to think that they merit so little recognition.  Granted many companies have had layoffs.  Maybe they think that if they don’t highlight the employees who are left people will forget about the ones who are gone.  Or maybe it’s something else.

In a recent column, David Brooks, an op-ed writer for The New York Times cited a study “Which C.E.O. Characteristics and Abilities Matter,” by Steven Kaplan, Mark Klebanov and Morten Sorensen.  What they learned, says Brooks, is that “strong people skills…and being a great communicator…correlate loosely or not at all with being a good C.E.O….what mattered were execution and organizational skills.”  Their findings apparently were consistent with other research on the subject of successful C.E.O.’s.

Maybe that’s why employees are so little recognized in the most successful companies.  The C.E.O.’s need to be a good communicator isn’t as important as sweating the small stuff, like being attentive to detail.  OK, not all C.E.O.s think team building and communications with employees are unimportant.

But it does make one pause and wonder if companies just don’t value their employees as much as in the old cradle-to-grave days when an employee lived out his entire work life with one company.  Maybe employees are fungible.  That’s it.  Employees come.  Employees go.  Welcome to the new world.

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