Harry Levinson quietly passed on June 26, 2012. He was 90. He wasn’t particularly famous; wasn’t even all that well-known. And his ground-breaking work of yesteryear has since been eclipsed by today’s loud-mouth workplace pundits. That happens with thought-leaders: eventually you slow down and others speed by you in the passing lane (usually while “borrowing” a bit of what you already shared).
Since his passing, I’ve had it on my publication schedule to write a quick tribute to Dr. Levinson. I’ve been terribly delinquent in doing so (good intentions don’t stand for much in the blogging business). Thanks to my Mom, though, for sending me a clipping of his NY Times Obituary last week (just one of the many things mothers are good for) – it was all the reminder I needed…
Whether you know it or not, Dr. Levinson is particularly significant to those of us who have chosen Human Resources as our calling. There are a number of reasons you should take a moment to reflect on his work. Most notably, though, is that he was one of the first to “[help] change corporate America’s thinking about the workplace by demonstrating a link between job conditions and emotional health.” He began his work in the 1950s and it led to a whole new line of thinking around workplace culture, motivation, rewards, and development. While progressive at the time, it’s stuff we embrace as the fabric to our profession. Take a look at some of the things he came up with over the years…
- He showed how psychoanalytical theories and methods could be used to motivate employees
- He theorized a connection between failed career apsirations and depression
- He proposed that companies must be “learning organizations.” He did this in 1968 through his book “The Exceptional Executive.” Jack Welch adopted and then popularized this notion that leaders must be teachers.
- He suggested there is a “psychological contract” between employee and their employer; violating that contract could lead to all sorts of workplace woes.
- He was one of the first to identify that companies – like people – had distinct personalities or cultures
- He found that what happens at work has a direct link on our personal well-being
While I haven’t seen this postulated anywhere, I might go as far as to say Dr. Levinson was a founding father to the Human Resources profession. He was kind of the first slap upside our collective heads; he demonstrated that your employees really could be more productive if they were happier; and he helped us realize that the environment in which our employees work has a lot to do with how happy they are. Elementary? Today, maybe. But he was one of the first to make us think about it…and we still think about it. Companies spend countless millions every year trying to figure out how to do it more effectively. And who ultimately became the flag bearer to these notions he first put forth? Well we did, damn it.
So take a moment to learn a bit more about what Dr. Levinson did for us; reflect on how he changed the way we think about talent; and give a nod to his role in putting you on the map.
Image Credit: The Consulting Psychologist