Entitlement and the Danger It Represents

Few things frustrate me as much as working with entitled people or organizations.  I see this played out by individual employees and teams as, “It does not matter whether I do a terrific job, a mediocre job, or a horrible job–I’ll still have a job!”  It does matter. There is no need to reward mediocrity or less.

Common examples we see every day:
  • Customer service people with no sense of enthusiasm for their customers, their products or their company
  • Wait staff who treat customers with indifference
  • Manufacturing folks put vehicles in the delivery center for customer pick-up that aren’t built properly or have obvious manufacturing defects
  • A few government employees we encounter at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Internal Revenue Service

There is a wonderful example of entitlement being played out in Massachusetts just today: the election of new U.S. Senator to replace the seat Ted Kennedy held for 46 years.  [Note: This newsletter is not about politics–it is about entitlement, so please stay with me.]

I lived in Massachusetts from 2000-2002 in a community named Marlborough just outside Boston.  Though I knew little about the politics of Massachusetts before moving there, this is a dominant Democratic state. I should have suspected that this was the case given the stature of the Kennedy name.

When Ted Kennedy died, there was little doubt in my mind that this U.S. Senate seat would continue to be held by the Democrats. Ted usually won elections with more than two-thirds of the vote.

And, that is what the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, believed as well.   According to a 16JAN10 Boston.com article called Amid Tight Race, Coakley’s Campaign Goes Full Bore:

After Attorney General Martha Coakley sailed largely unscathed through the Democratic Senate primary, her aides set a course for the general election that fit her status as the perceived front-runner: protect her statewide popularity, and ignore the little-known Republican opponent.

Off the record, Coakley campaign officials now say in the same Boston.com article:

…they were convinced that Brown faced too many hurdles to be a viable challenger in the race to replace Edward M. Kennedy. His political profile signaled no threat. They felt he was too conservative for Massachusetts, and that his legislative career had been unremarkable.

Mistake: Coakley believed she won the U.S. Senate seat the day she won the election primary and never mounted a serious campaign to aggressively secure her victory.   Boston.com calls it complacency–I call this entitlement.  She thought she had this one in the bag.

Entitlement in business is just as dangerous:

  • Employees treat customers with indifference
  • Employees treat other employees with indifference
  • No sense of urgency to address customer and market needs
  • Employees don’t see a connection between the how the experience a customer receives today influences their feelings about buying from the company in the future
  • The company culture is resistant to and/or impervious to change

Michael C. Hall, winner of Best Actor in a Television Series Drama for his role in “Dexter” at the Golden Globe Awards last evening, said something during his acceptance speech last night that really gets to the heart of an organization that does not suffer from entitlement:

“It’s really a hell of thing to go to work at a place where everyone gives a damn.”

While the language may be a bit rough, Michael nails it.

So, what to do about entitlement?

  • Watch for the signs of entitlement and let it be known that the behaviors associated with entitlement will not be tolerated.  Executives and employees need to show up everyday with their game faces on ready to give their teams and their customers the very best they can.
  • Companies cannot feel entitled about their position in the marketplace.  Market leaders work every day to improve their standing in the marketplace and earn their ability to continue to do business with their customers or they risk becoming irrelevant.
  • Excise the cancer of entitlement–it will not get better on its own.

If there are people on your team who are not willing to give up their sense of entitlement, they need to understand that there are people who are willing to do just that.

Dave Gardner, Gardner & Associates Consulting



2 Responses to Entitlement and the Danger It Represents

  1. Hussam Kubtan says:

    I totally agree with this post. I’ll add to it that I believe that a sense of entitlement stems from the inability to measure performance. Performance measurement metrics offer clear guidelines on what is acceptable, they elminiate the “subjective” gray area, and they allow for the execution of a system of rewards and punishments. Without performance measurement, judging one’s job becomes more of a political negotiation process, which delays the reward/punishment application, which reinforces the existing behavior. Consequently, it creates the feeling of entitlement. That’s my theory.


  2. Dave Gardner says:

    Hussam…very cogent response. I see entitlement more as an attitude than something subject to performance measurement. You are right that if the performance metrics include things like number of defects associated with different lines, then I agree one could infer a sense of entitlement. The company we are both familiar with showed signs of entitlement at the end of the process in the delivery center. I often wondered how why someone would pass on such quality. What were they thinking? So, I see your point that there may be a way to measure and manage this. Thanks for your response!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s