From the editor Featured

10:00am EDT July 22, 2002

Sam and Lady were just plain mean. They paced and growled and spit at all of the construction company workers who passed their chain link pens each day at the company headquarters. All of the workers were smart enough to stay clear of those two teeth-gnashing German shepherds for fear of becoming lunch. Except for one young, unskilled laborer.

I wanted to tame those beasts. While the others just ignored their wanton aggression, I wanted to form a bond, to nurture those seemingly wild dogs that seemed to be fighting for attention. And you know something? I did. With a bologna sandwich.

One day, I decided to share my lunch with them, and suddenly, they quit barking at me. Instead, they whined as they followed me along the edge of the pen. They let down their guard and licked my hand. They wagged their tails when I passed by. I was now their friend, and before long, I was eating my lunch inside the pen with my loyal new friends for life. All I did was give them my sandwich.

A simplistic illustration, perhaps. But I see so many companies that treat their employees much the same way as those dogs were treated by most of my co-laborers.

The workers are placed on the shop floor or in the warehouse, ignored by management and left with the notion that they're just lucky to have jobs and a few benefits. The workers complain about conditions, growl at management, think of their jobs as just jobs, and occasionally file lawsuits-right up until the day they organize under a local union.

And to think that many of them simply would like a proverbial bologna sandwich and caring bosses.

I was surprised recently to see the results of a study of local companies and their growth needs as they pertained to employees. Many business owners complained that, in Pittsburgh, they can't find enough highly skilled employees willing to work cheaply-and loyally. Think about that for a moment. Interestingly enough, those same owners complained of high turnover rates in a generation of worker that knows no loyalty.

That's exactly why we decided to feature a small, obscure manufacturer and distributor of industrial and medical gases on this month's cover. The importance of Butler Gas' contribution to the local economy isn't in its size or technology, but rather in its apparent treatment of its people.

As small as the company may be, its owners decided years ago that their most valuable assets are their workers-happy, trained, satisfied workers. They bond with them. They nurture them. They offer a wide range of continuing education designed not only to improve worker efficiency, but to make them feel better about themselves and their long-term professional goals.

Take their efforts to design personal growth plans for each employee, for instance, or their in-house mentoring program. These owners want happy employees who have an interest in growing the company. Their efforts, the owners claim, have paid dividends in moving the company forward, especially in times when flexibility and drastic change are necessary in the way the company does business.

Without question, such employee treatment is an investment that costs money and lots of time-and requires a long-term perspective of the business and its goals. But if you're thinking that you're not really in a position right now to afford to institute such employee-friendly treatment, I have a question for you: Can you afford not to?

You may find that all it takes is the courage to change and, well, a bologna sandwich. Or two.