Lessons from "The Godfather": The Importance of Employee Loyalty

by Terri Williams on December 10, 2012
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Getting involved in organized crime isn’t a good strategy for achieving small-business success, but entrepreneurs can learn a thing or two from the Corleone family, perhaps the most notorious enterprise in cinematic history.

After all, a small business is often like a family in that loyalty is everything. Brilliant planning, deft accounting, and cutting-edge marketing cannot compensate for a lack of allegiance within your organization.

By analyzing the first two installments of The Godfather, you can side-step the costly mistakes that can erode your employees’ devotion and undermine the organization’s success.

Respect

In the original movie, Fredo Corleone, the oldest son, betrays the family because he feels disrespected and “stepped over.” Although he is far from being the brightest of the three sons, he resents being given menial tasks to perform and is seduced by an offer from a rival crime family.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 71 percent of American workers are emotionally disconnected from their jobs. And when workers are not engaged, they are not productive, and they are more likely to be disloyal. They may leave the organization, or they may stay out of convenience, but they have no allegiance to the company.

To keep your employees loyal, they need to be given work that they find fulfilling. In addition, you must show that you have a high opinion of them and value the work that they contribute to the organization.

Trust

In The Godfather, Part II, Frankie Pentangeli, a longtime friend and employee of the Corleone family, betrays them when he begins to mistrust their motives. He comes to them seeking assistance in dealing with some of his enemies, and they deny his request. The family actually has a plan in the works to eliminate Pentangeli’s rivals; however, because the plan will be carried out in an indirect manner, he doubts their commitment to helping him. Later an attack is made on his life, which is attributed to the Corleones. As a result, Pentangeli becomes a surprise witness in a U.S. Senate investigation of the family’s criminal activities.

In the article “Do Your Employees Trust You?” renowned economist John Helliwell notes that if your people have to “watch their back,” they are not going to be happy campers. On the other hand, Helliwell says, “You can’t just say, ‘Trust me’ — President Nixon ran that one into the ground. You’ve got to actually do something in terms of behavior.”

Keeping the lines of communication open with your employees, allowing them to provide feedback, and incorporating their suggestions will put you on the right track to building trust within the organization.

WIIFM: What’s in It for Me?

One reason Pentangeli doesn’t trust the Corleone family is that their reason for not supporting his retribution plan is that it would endanger a lucrative deal in the works with another mobster. However, Pentangeli would not experience a financial benefit from the deal, so there is no compelling reason for him to embrace the arrangement. In addition, several other associates become traitors when the Corleones refuse to expand their operation to be more profitable. Believing the family’s reign is over, they seek employment with other crime families.

As a small-business owner, you need to realize that “WIIFM” is the motivation for most human behavior. Employees must believe that they receive some benefit from working for your company, and ideally, this benefit should outweigh that of working for your competitors. Even though the company is small, provide your people with the best salary that you can reasonably afford to pay. If providing health insurance isn’t feasible, consider offering other types of employee benefits or low-cost perks.

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