Do as the Romans Do?

Posted by BigCommerce on Oct 5th 2018

Do As the Romans Do?

The Roman Empire, the world’s undisputed superpower for nearly 500 years, fell for many reasons, but one reason that is relevant in today’s business world was the use of mercenaries or “hired guns.” The Roman Empire was crumbling, and the emperors at the time could no longer recruit enough Romans to fight. Their incredible kingdom was in jeopardy. They had to act quickly, so they chose to hire foreign mercenaries to fight their wars. Often called “barbarians” by Romans because of their fierce fighting, these hired guns only cared about money and status, and did not have any loyalty to the Empire. As time went on, the mercenaries turned against the Romans. The emperor’s plan ultimately failed, and the Roman Empire crumbled.
Today it can be tempting to hire staff for the short run. There is no need to dish out benefits, and they only get paid when they work. Uber, with its $50 billion valuation, has a business model focusing on hiring temporary workers to do front line work. Uber uses a driver rating system from riders to help keep check on how well its temp workers perform. The workers’ reputations and jobs are on the line. In the long run, however, do the workers truly care about Uber? Are they loyal? More importantly, do they really know how to thrill customers or what that even means? Time will tell.
Earlier this year, Jeffrey Pfeffer – the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and member of the Berlin Packaging Board of Directors – wrote an article in Fortune titled, “The Case Against the ‘Gig Economy.’” In the article, Mr. Pfeffer presents a strong case on why hired guns don’t care about the company’s success. In the article, Mr. Pfeffer asks Andrew T. Berlin – the CEO and Chairman of Berlin Packaging – about why his organization is so special. Mr. Berlin states that contractors do not have the same level of commitment as employees and that an organizational culture is a key to competitive success.
It’s a good thing in business today companies aren’t literally destroying one another like the days of the Roman Empire. Delighting your customers and beating your competition at the same time can help you build an empire. But if you hope to avoid the ultimate “crash and burn” of the Roman Empire, you must consider employee loyalty. Perhaps it is best, in this case, to NOT do as the Romans did.