Quietly and almost secretly a revolution in business has been occurring.  Not, as you might suspect, by a number of newer, unknown enterprises but by the biggest, best and most-established companies in the world.  Not only has this change or revolution been slowly and steadily developing, popular business books the world over have been describing it for twenty years: In Search of Excellence, Built to Last, Good to Great, The World’s Most Admired Companies, First, Break all the Rules, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? What (Really) Works, and others.

 The common theme of all these books is that when companies respect all the employees and take steps to ensure that some respect mechanism is in place throughout the enterprise in a lasting way, good things start to happen, keep on happening and lead to corporate greatness.  Collectively, these authors demonstrate how ‘respect’ is the foundation on which all successful group endeavours thrive.  This writer terms it: The Respect Revolution©.  The concept forms the basis for this paper and a book series [13] of the same name.


The Basic Premise

Respect begins with the recognition that the individual has a personal sovereignty over thought, ideas and the freedom to express them without censure in any form, regardless of rank or position. Respect means honoring all commitments made and especially respecting other people’s time. Punctuality is a manifestation of respect. Cancelling engagements or events shows lack of respect. Meeting commitments of verbal agreements (which are, nonetheless, contracts) shows respect for the individual.

To make respect in a company work, the President has to respect the Janitor, that is, to listen carefully to the Janitor, to acknowledge the listening and to meet all commitments, verbal or written made to the Janitor, treating those commitments as important as those made to the Board of Directors or anyone else.  Listening implies giving validity to another person’s thoughts without necessarily agreeing with it.  (By the way, the word Janitor is capitalized here to give it the same respect as President – not the same status, but the same respect.)

Dr. Ichak Adizes [1] and the Adizes Institute of Santa Barbara California may have been the first commercial enterprise to openly advocate respect as a major management tool for success.  He applied it practically to companies that are household names around the world such as Shell Oil, Charles Schwab Investors, Domino’s Pizza, The Body Shop as well as thousands of other corporations where he is credited for enhancing their performances considerably.

Why Respect is required

How can any person remain in control of the decisions that lie before the individual?  How can the person be listened to?  How can the person take actions, which will give that individual a sense of accomplishment and thus, a sense of being valued?  How can this person consistently arrive at ideal results?

Only one action will ensure this – the giving and receiving of respect.

If we are fortunate, developing respect will begin in childhood:

All of us have a basic need to be “origins” in our lives rather than “pawns” as one researcher put it*.  It’s important to experience a sense of autonomy, a feeling that we are the initiators of much of what we do.  In fact, the particular choices we make are often less significant than the act of choosing itself.

This need for autonomy in our decision-making begins in infancy and is a pillar of Alfie Kohn’s message for Unconditional Parenting [2], an insightful means to assist your children to become responsible, productive and happy adults.

(*Attributed to Psychologist Richard de Charms[2])

However, most children are not so fortunate as to be exposed to Mr. Kohn’s philosophies and methods.  Instead the workplace is made up of mostly disadvantaged adults who have been subjected to all forms of disrespect all their lives – from parents, siblings, teachers, school-yard bullies, coaches, military commanders, supervisors and bosses. While most adults understand and appreciate respect, most do not experience it much of the time and most do not apply it much of the time.  As a result, most people have no idea of the power that respect confers on its adherents. 

Let the Evidence Roll in

A huge body of information weighs in favor of the case that supports the need for respect in the making of successful enterprises. Some pieces are:

Evidence 1:  In Search of Excellence (1988)

Evidence 2:  Built-to-Last Study (1994)

Evidence 3:  Johnson and Johnson Study


Evidence 4:  Fortune/Hayes Study (1997)

Evidence 5:  Federal Government Study


Evidence 6:  Gallup Study (1999)

Evidence 7:  Good to Great Study (2001)

Evidence 8:  Canadian Policy Research

Network Study (2002)

Evidence 9:  Who Says Elephants Can’t

                     Dance? (2002)

Evidence 10: Evergreen Project: What

                     (Really) Works (2005)

Evidence 11: What has been said so far

a) In Search of Excellence (1988)

In Search of Excellence, by Thomas Peters [3] subtitled Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies, reputed to be the best-selling business book extant, explains the patience needed to be at the very top; imbedded throughout is the need to respect people at all levels of the organization.

b) Built-to-Last Study (1994) 

Built to Last, by Collins and Porras, [4] concluded from a six-year study that companies can have their cake and eat it too. Great firms enjoy ethics, profit, and fun simultaneously by establishing core values, including respect, and by installing the right balance of processes.

 c) Johnson & Johnson Study (1995)

 The Transformation of Management, by Michael Davidson, [5] describes the Johnson & Johnson’s (J & J) Tylenol debacle of the 1970s that was rescued by the company following the beliefs of its credo. To pull Tylenol from the shelves around the world due to “contamination” in Chicago cost J & J hundreds of millions of dollars. Ten months later, J & J had 90% of its original market share back. By the1980s, the share was even higher than the original.

Due to prompting by skeptics who viewed J & J’s action as “smart marketing” rather than J & J’s pursuit of its own respect-based ethics, J & J, in 1983, initiated a study that asked if ethics paid off in hard numbers. It studied the market and identified other companies with a strong external evidence of operating with “soft” missions. They had to meet three criteria: (a) have been in existence for at least thirty years; (b) have a written set of principles, including respect for individuals; and (c) show evidence that these soft ideas had been promulgated and practiced for at least one generation. They found twenty-six companies that qualified.

Eleven companies had to be dropped from the study because they had not been “public” long enough to be able to examine their earlier stock market values. Among the eleven excluded were: HP, Levi Strauss, and McDonald’s. The final fifteen were: AT&T, Coca-Cola, Eastman Kodak, General Foods, Gerber, IBM, J.C. Penney, John Deere, J & J, Pitney Bowes, Proctor & Gamble, R.J. Reynolds, Sun, 3M, and Xerox. Over that time period, analysis showed the Dow Jones Index had risen to 1200 for identified and substantial competitors to the above. For the fifteen soft companies, the stock market value was 9400, outperforming their competitors by a factor of eight. Their method was to make their first priority not profit, but serving the public better than their competition through a clarified set of values. Key among these values was respect.

 Note: It is as a result of the Tylenol incident that publicly available consumables are now sealed to avoid undetected tampering. This is a case of how misfortune often turns to an advantage over the long term.

d) Fortune/Hayes Study (1997)

 A study commissioned by Fortune magazine in 1997, [6] carried out by the Hayes Management Group, was instituted to identify the most respected firms in the world. The resulting paper identified many of the same corporations as listed in Evidences #2 and #3 above to be among their successful winners. The study found that ethics, based on respect, was a common ingredient for success.

e) Federal Government Study (1999)

 A survey reported by the Ottawa Citizen on January 25, 1999 [7] indicated that three-quarters of Canada’s federal civil servants were unhappy. The number one reason given was lack of respect internally. (Dissatisfaction with pay was number three.) This was followed by a similar survey two years later with essentially the same results.

f) Gallup Study (1999) 

Two studies were conducted by the Gallup Organization over a twenty-five-year time span. The first was a study of over 1,000,000 employees, asking: “What do the most talented employees need from their workplace?” Key result: Talented employees need great managers.

The second study, triggered by the first, which involved 80,000 managers, asked: “How do the world’s greatest managers find, focus, and keep talented employees?” The results were compiled into a book, First, Break All the Rules, [8] and stated in summary that successful managers did not take the easy route, but pursued a very exacting path that demanded discipline, focus, and respect, manifested by their willingness to individualize employees one at a time.

 g) Good to Great Study (2001)

 Arguably the second best-selling business book in existence, Good to Great [9], assessed thousands of companies in an intensive 5-year study to arrive at a short-list of 28 organizations that met tight criteria for success, one of which was 15 years of demonstrated performance.  The results described by the Wall Street Journal as “Mr. Collins delivers two seductive messages: that great management is attainable by mere mortals and that its practitioners can build great institutions.  It’s just what us mortals want to hear.”  Simply put, Good to Great makes the case for human treatment of humans with respect as one of its keys.

h)  Canadian Policy Research Network Study (2002)

 A survey about job satisfaction involving over 2,500 people was initiated and published in 2002 by the Canadian Policy Research Network based in Ottawa, Canada, in cooperation with the University of Alberta [10]. The key result was that the most dominant factor for ensuring job satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) was the employee’s relationship with the boss. Second was the employee’s relationship with co-workers, both dependent upon having respectful relationships.

i) Who Says Elephant can’t Dance? (2003)

 Leo Gerstner Jr., former leader of American Express described his experience as the successful turnaround director for IBM Corporation, which many business experts* had written off, at the time, as beyond hope [11].  While this book expresses a situation related to only one company, it was both a very large company and also one of the most esteemed enterprises in the world.  Throughout his experiences with IBM, Gerstner applied doses of mutual respect to and for IBM’s clients, managers, staff, shareholders, suppliers, and IBM’s history. It seems to have worked quite well; IBM remains a world-class leader today.

 *Among others, Built to Last authors, Collins and Porras, had written off Lou Gerstner Jr., the outsider, as the white knight to save IBM in 1994 [4].  Nobody, it seems, monopolizes a crystal ball.

j) The Evergreen Project (2005)

 The three authors of What (Really) Works, based on the ten-year Evergreen Study of 160 successful companies [12], make the claim that because of the nature of their study, the intensity of it, and its inclusion of both succeeding and failing companies over the time frame, theirs is “the first book identifying the fundamental practices that create business success – the ones that do indeed really matter.” The success formula is based on eight practices, the first four being mandatory and any two of the last four being necessary. Seven out of eight of these essential practices are either driven by respect, or have respect as a major element for their successful implementation.

k) What has been said so far

 Let’s hope that the least objective and hence weakest evidence on this list, namely what has transpired so far in this paper and in this author’s books on the subject [13], has allowed you to wrest out of its words some tiny amount of credibility for the positive business effects of respect. My contention throughout my authored tomes (2,800 pages) is that cooperation comes only when the barriers to trust have been minimized. Thus, improved trust allows a first level of cooperation to transpire within the enterprise (the first level of cooperation is defined in Section 5.1 of reference [14]) – and since trust is always driven by the respect mechanism’s being successfully in place we are transported back to ‘respect’ as the key.

The Respect Revolution

 The above accumulation of sixty years of studies involved millions of employees, hundreds of thousands of managers, and thousands of companies. Evolved from the work of highly esteemed researchers, authors, experts and authorities, these studies consistently point to respect as the key to getting results. That conclusion coincides with what many of us try to practice day-to-day, and in our hearts believe should have precedence in life. Respect is a value that most people would like to believe is possible to share at work. Since respect makes for good human relationships, and since the most important elements in corporations are humans, it follows that respect should be an essential driver to success for enterprises. Or so we would like to believe.[1]

What we have here is a quiet revolution: esteemed bodies, authors, and practitioners have discovered and concluded that respect is the magic key for making enterprises work well – but no one has articulated it very clearly, and certainly not shown how to do it. The Respect Revolution series [13] makes it plainly obvious that respect is the key. The series also details the ‘what’, ‘why’, and, for the first time in publishing history, the how.

It doesn’t happen overnight

 “That’s it!” you say. “I’m going to insist, order, and command that all the leaders in my company begin to operate with respect, beginning Monday.”

Good luck.

In all probability, most of your leading staff members will welcome and agree with that initiative (even though some might privately question your sanity). Many would even try to make it happen. Hopefully, by now you understand that respect won’t just realize itself because of you and your leaders’ well-intentioned willpower. Human emotional priorities will work against both respect and trust. The answer, of course, is that some system has to be put in place to make the “respect and trust” phenomenon happen.

In The Climb to Excellence [14], Chapter 6, it is shown that respect precedes trust. Only after you have installed respectful mechanisms into your enterprise and they have sunk in so that respect is an accepted modus operandi, will trust noticeably improve. That is, the collective trust gap in your company will become reduced at that point. Your production department will trust that the sales department will only make promises to clients that production can keep, but also that person A will have deliverables ready on time and in the form expected for person B. Trust will pervade the organization from one end to the other; people will frequently count on people to get needed results as a way of life, not as an occasional surprise. (Note that it applies to sports too; in football, the quarterback expects the receiver to be open on the 30-yard line 3 seconds after the snap.)

You may surmise now that the intended message is that respect should become your mandatory key to success – to your organization achieving Excellence. As noted above, Volume III will demonstrate why this key and its companion, trust, are thresholds that must be reached before quality decisions can be made and proper actions taken, that is, getting things done successfully.

Today’s Irony

Just as corporations are warming up to and demonstrating the effectiveness of respect as a way of conducting themselves (with notable exceptions – Enron, 3Com et al [16]), North American society seems to be shifting in the opposite direction – acting more in self-interest and without respect for others.  Not surprisingly, current surveys show less interest by the public in politicians and governments – a lack of trust if you will.

 However, counter to that, and supportive of the respect postulates herein, the United Nations’ rating of the most desirable countries in which to live corresponds with a subjective assessment of these societies’ emphasis towards respect (and, hence, tolerance) for their populations [17].

Finally, your Choice to Pursue the Respect Option

Respect is something you decide to give to others. You can choose to act respectfully or not. You make that choice by conferring on others a certain status – one that you will not challenge; one that permits them – in fact, anoints them – with the right to be exactly who they are when they are with you. As stated at the beginning of this paper, respect is manifested by your listening to what a person has to say without reflected-back judgment, deprecation, challenge, or without trivialization. Then, you make another choice – whether to accept or reject those ideas for your own, which is done independently of the original respectful behavior.

With luck, you will also receive respect, with other people allowing you to be who you are, treating your expressed ideas as having value because they belong to you. They will listen to you, avoid condemning your ideas, not interrupt you, and, perhaps, adopt some portion as having a personal value for them.

Best wishes to you in pursuing your endeavours respectfully.