Aké Satia is the Chief Vision Officer at Aké Satia, a Human Capital firm in the DC area focused on strengthening organizations by bolstering the intersection of people strategy and business strategy.



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What Is Needed When the Scales Tip!

Last week, I shared about the imbalance of power we have seen play out in the labor market over the last couple of years. – You may read more here: The Battle for Power! – Culture – BLOG – www.akesatia.com This imbalance led to a tug for power between employers and employees! – The likes of which many can only imagine in a boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Evander Holyfield!
As in boxing, power is an ever-present factor in organizations. And it fundamentally impacts culture. Therefore, a worthwhile question is: How can we best handle power?

Before we delve too deep, let’s take a minute to get reacquainted with the battle for power!

After the pandemic, workers asserted themselves and resisted employer mandates to return to the office building! And their resistance resulted in some confounding behaviors in the workplace, including an onslaught of employee resignations. 

Notably, to make sense of workers’ actions, some catchy phrases found their way into our business lexicon! – This included phrases like quiet quitting and quiet firing. For more on these terms – the meanings and implications, you may check out an earlier blog: When The Body Stays In The Building After The Heart Has Left (akesatia.com)

The bumpy path 

For many, their attempts to get workers back into the office were akin to throwing spaghetti at a wall! And when all else failed, some employers resorted to the threat method! – A method of persuasion or coercion marked by requiring that one take a specific action or suffer a dire consequence.  

One of the most peculiar cases of a company using this method involved a large-size North American company. After the pandemic, the company set a return to work/ return to the office building date for its workers. And a few workers returned, but the vast majority did not! – Many said they needed to work from home to avoid long commutes and fulfill childcare obligations.

Desperate to get employees back in the office building, the leadership team decided to put out another mandate! i.e., Another date when all employees needed to be back working in their offices or else! – And what do you think happened?
Well, on the set date, employees did everything but return to the office building! 

Let’s try a different persuasion method!

Exasperated, the leadership team decided to use a very different method: one that was more akin to a bribe. The leaders informed employees they would provide free lunch in the office every weekday for two weeks. And as would be expected, this was sufficient to entice some workers back into the office building! But after two weeks, when free Asian cuisine and pizza boxes stopped appearing in the kitchen, the number of employees in the office dwindled. As an aside, free food always seems to be the answer – at least for some time! 😉

When the bait lost its allure, the leaders decided to use a seemingly lasting method: unlimited free lunches! Yes, you heard that right! – There was no end date for when employees would receive free lunches!
Now you might think this news led workers to run out of their homes, hop into their cars, to make the hour-long commute to get their hands on free slices of gourmet pizza and Americanized Thai food in the office. And if you thought so, I’m sorry to be the deliverer of bad news: That did not happen! Employees did not return to the office in droves! 

Because the free lunch benefit had become familiar, and employees perceived it as less valuable. It seemed familiarity bred contempt.

The winning approach!

After several unsuccessful attempts to get workers back into the office building, the leadership team became savvy. – They decided to use the option they should have used all along: Negotiate

And they told employees:
We heard you! We ask that you are in the office for a quarter of the fiscal year. – And you can choose which three months you want to come into the office. But for the rest of the year, feel free to work from wherever you would like!

This message and approach resonated with employees. Because humans like choices and flexibility! – And while workers might want to work from home on most days, they would still like access to the office building. Importantly, access to the office building would enable them to bond and socialize with their colleagues. And this is vital in strengthening organizational culture.
Therefore, a better approach was to allow workers to come in as needed. 

Often, in place of domination, a better approach is a balance of power. And this organization gained a balance of power by providing workers with choices and flexibility and using negotiation, not compulsion.  

What is this Balance of Power stuff all about??

Perhaps you remember the term, balance of power from middle school. 😊 A balance of power is an equilibrium of power sufficient to discourage or prevent one nation or party from imposing its will on or interfering with the interests of another. Balance of power Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster

The term was coined in the late 1800s by the Prussian statesman: Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck used this term to describe his approach to maintaining peace: he proposed treaties and created complex alliances between European nations. And through negotiation and compromise, he forged great partnerships and helped to maintain peace! https://sage-advices.com/what-did-bismarck-do-to-maintain-peace/ 
We can learn a lot from this leadership approach in building a healthy organizational culture!

Leadership practices founded on threats or compulsion do not enable buy-in. Worse yet, these machinations require and rely upon an ever-present threat or hook to get the desired behavior. – A method that is bound to fail sooner or later!

As many of us might recall, in the not-so-distant past, leadership was synonymous with being bossy! – The leader called the shots, and the workers acquiesced. Remarkably, this seemed to work back then. But not today!
Because effective leadership and healthy organizational cultures are grounded in partnership. And a cornerstone of great partnerships is negotiation. – Established on mutual respect, humble reliance, and acceptance of the value both parties provide to realize the shared goal.

What will you choose: to battle for power or to balance power?

For you and to you,



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