Rediscovering Redemption

Chronicling the work of Redemption in the lives of Followers and Leaders. Articles, research and meditations from the writings of Dr. Joseph J. Bucci. Get blog updates by following Joe on Twitter @Re_Redemption

Joseph J. Bucci

More Than a Good Story

George Zimmer, founder of the Men’s Wearhouse chain of retail stores, understands that employees do make mistakes and fall from grace.  Zimmer is himself a recovering alcoholic,  and from his personal struggles and response to redemptive activity in his own life he had chosen to demonstrate similar principles as he manages his business.  Zimmer’s management practices are written about in the book, Hidden Value (O’Reilly & Pfeffer, 2000) and highlighted in a recent business trade magazine (Hamner and McNichol, 2007).  Zimmer is identified as one of a handful of “contrarian” leaders, utilizing unconventional approaches to management and business development.  For example, Zimmer plays himself in his commercials instead of hiring an actor.  One more unconventional practice noted is Zimmer’s demonstration of restorative management evidenced by giving employees a second chance (Hamner & McNichol, 2007).  It is Zimmer’s policy that no employee will ever undergo a criminal background check.  This is unheard of in the retail industry.  Zimmer uses discretion in assessing what constitutes a discipline problem requiring action.  Conventional retail wisdom says this guarantees petty larceny on a grand scale. In fact, the company loses a mere 0.4 percent of revenue to theft, way less than the typical 1.5 percent loss suffered by big retailers (Hamner & McNichol, 2007).   

There are numerous popular stories in the biographical literature about people whose lives were redirected through a redemptive intervention.  Stories about JC Penney (Woodbridge, 1992) and Anne Sullivan, the teacher for Helen Keller, both of whom overcame great personal obstacles to help others succeed (Ziglar, 2000) make compelling reading and encourage others to overcome their own problems.  Could such an approach actually work in the contemporary office setting with employees demonstrating terminal behavior?  George Zimmer is one of a handful of leaders utilizing a redemptive approach as motivation to demonstrate his company values people and is willing to give them another opportunity.  This practice may endear a company’s management to public acclaim, but is there an actual value proposition demonstrated?  Does this practice consider that deviant workplace behavior is a growing concern in many organizations (Appelbaum & Shapiro, 2006)? 

The need for confronting non-compliant employee behavior is, as Cole (2008) writes, a ubiquitous reality in organizations today (Cole, 2008).  According to Aquino, Lewis and Bradfield (1999), this aberrant, non-compliant behavior (called “deviant” behavior by these authors) is common in organizations.  These authors cite a study indicating that 33-70% of employees have engaged in some form of theft, fraud, embezzlement, vandalism, sabotage, and unexcused absenteeism (Aquino, Lewis & Bradfield, 1999).  These authors qualify deviant behaviors from other research as ranging from subtle forms of rebellion, such as gossiping and taking unapproved break, to more aggressive actions, such as theft and verbal abuse (Aquino, Lewis & Bradfield, 1999).  Extreme forms of hostility (homicide) on the job are relatively rare, according to these authors.  But more common are non-lethal acts of abuse and hostile behaviors that produce the bulk of emotional and physical trauma experienced by employees (Aquino, Lewis & Bradfield, 1999). 

In the contemporary workplace the use of various employee discipline techniques in handling problem employees is a standard approach taught to managers and human resource professionals (Noe et. al., 2007).  Conventional recommended approaches to handling employees with bad attitudes and performance problems have improved over the stereotypical “drill sergeant” approach of public reprimands and embarrassment (Evans, 2007).  It is a standard recommendation that managers talk to their subordinates about the problem behavior first (Yukl, 2002).  If this approach is not initially effective, the manager generally follows three recommended paths: pursue progressive discipline with the employee up to and including termination should the behavior not be redirected; reassign the employee; or dismiss the employee outright if they are an “at-will” employee (Termination Procedures, 2005).  Is there any research to validate that an alternative approach to punitive employee discipline, such as the use of some type of “redemptive” intervention, would provide a positive value-based option to the organization (in real dollar terms such as in less absenteeism for restored employees, improved performance, greater productivity, and a more positive commitment to the organization).   Could such an approach offer a viable  management option to employees to avoid termination, or are such stories more the exception? 

Although the leadership model demonstrated by Jesus has been compared to many models and types of leadership (see Blanchard & Hodges, 2005; Agosto, 2005; Hunter, 1998; Wilkes, 1996; and others), His main concern was in redeeming men back to God, and restoring them to a useful place in the plan of God (Luke 19:10, New International Version).  It seems to be a response to the redemptive work of Christ in our own lives to follow the pattern of Jesus and invest in individuals with similar self-destructive weaknesses and seek to redeem them to useful service, both for the work of the kingdom of God and for future leadership roles.  This task admits that weaknesses are real, and by acknowledging the need for assistance in overcoming weaknesses individuals will receive the help and the training they need to again add value to the world around them and likewise continue the process themselves with other such individuals. 

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Joseph J. Bucci

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