Questions that keep me up at night:
What are the business practices that encourage enterprises to grow?
How/can we breakdown bureaucracies – where the people exist to serve the system / their manager, not the customer?
Is more growth always better?
In today’s webinar at the Starting Good Virtual Summit, Kari Enge, founder of Rank&File Magazine told us a salutary tale about how a focus on dollars and efficiency can kill a people-focused culture in less than six months. To avoid this, she says it’s crucial at an early stage for entrepreneurs, especially social entrepreneurs, “to decide their leadership philosophy … and imagine their perfect culture”.
So who is already doing this well?
We have good role models in a number of tech enterprises. Google used its data analytics power in Project Aristotle to find out what makes a successful team and concludes that psychological safety as well as purposeful work, are two of the five success factors keys. The CEO of Menlo Innovations and author of Joy Inc. says his mission is to “emancipate the heart of the engineers…which is to serve others. He thinks that there is a limit to the size of a business if it wants to bring joy to its customers. And home-grown enterprises such as Atlassian, tell us that healthy teams embrace continuous improvement. They also say the dirty secret is that team work is ‘very’ hard and tools are not the ‘fix-it’. They contribute their team playbook to the world, because they know it will be ‘very’ hard to emulate, especially for competitors who have an ‘efficiency and dollars must prevail’ philosophy.
We need even more examples of those who are doing good for customers as well as for employees and especially those in the social sphere.
Whom do you admire? What are they doing differently from the ‘norm’? Where can we find them and highlight the good practices they have developed?
If I understand the research study correctly, those who express negativity such as: “disappointment, withdrawal, hostility, or contempt” (Alony, Hasan & Sense, 2015) are more likely to leave both a marriage and a workplace. In contrast, those of us who learn the following coping mechanisms are more likely to stay (in both a marriage and a workplace):
– Balancing the good with the bad (e.g. with at least a 2:1 ratio of two positive comments for every negative, aiming towards a thriving relationship ratio of 5:1)
– Genuinely accepting that bad things (e.g. annoying people and systems and rules) are just part of work life
– Avoiding lengthy discussions of the negatives (e.g. learning to shift conversations to focus on how they coped or what they learned so that we/they can do better or differently next time)
– Expressing hope (e.g. that you can directly influence and/or you can cope with whatever happens to you).
And the best way to increase the positives, is to thank others for their contribution, rather than just assuming “that’s what they are paid to do”.
Confronting corporations and their lack of sustainable practices will only get us so far. As Buckminster Fuller, the designer and systems theorist, said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
In the transition to a renewable energy, steady-state economy, entrepreneurs can follow Fuller’s advice by nurturing business models that create shared value, applying alternative business structures, and tracking social and environmental performance. We can start to re-use the most plentiful resource on earth – people power – instead of the current focus on automation technology using scarce resources.
We, the public, can also agitate for legislation to “internalise” social costs such as pollution and health risks, instead of the current externalising which pushes the profits to our corporations and the remeditation costs to us the public.
A 2014 article by Dennis Nishi in the Wall Street Journal, tells an anecdote about a school teacher, Eric Adler, who becomes a consultant, but doesn’t like consulting and then sets up the SEED Foundation to provide boarding schools for ‘at risk’ youth in urban areas in America. The message of the article is on making the time to define success for ouselves, rather than accepting society’s definitions of success, as illustrated by Mr Adler’s discovery that he didn’t like being a consultant.
What also interests me about this story is that even though Adler didn’t like being a consultant, the MBA and the year’s experience he gained at a consultancy firm were probably extremely valuable to him in setting up the SEED Foundation successfully and in giving him the credibility to raise funding.
This story could also be told in a very different way as a planned career path for Mr Adler – from teacher, to recognising a social issue, to getting the requisite qualifications and experience that enabled him to successfully do something about that social issue.
As with many life and career paths, they are obvious in retrospect yet we can feel like we are blindly following urges that we don’t necessarily understand at the time.
What urges are you facing that are persistent but don’t make sense today?
Thanks to the Centre for Social Impact and AGSM for a very interesting lecture on philanthropy by Daniel Petre. Although I initially thought the topic was “preaching to the converted”, I found his “call to action” – for each of us to find something we are passionate about – was very motivating. It got me reflecting that my volunteering and investment efforts so far have been a bit scatter gun. He also challenged us to “get rigorous” and “not to reward mediocrity” – there are lots of nice people in the community sector but they are not all doing great work.
It’s great to have a spokesperson like him for philanthropy and social impact – now we need 1000 more to get to the tipping point. I trust that having these sorts of subjects available to our upcoming MBA students will tip the balance for the future. But when I open the Fin Review and see “Me, first. The MBA re-imagined” from another university, I know it’s still going to be a hard slog.
A good interview by Wharton’s Adam Grant about givers and takers, from McKinsey and co. Initially my reaction was “you cannot screen out the takers, they are the ones who’ve already made it to the top by ‘kissing up and kicking down’.” But I do agree that in the context of the knowlege economy, where people work more on projects and less in a hierarchical structure, giving can be a strength.
I also like his advice to ask people situational questions in recruitment interviews. Grant reasons that people will give you the answer you want if you ask what they would do, but if you ask them to predict others’ behaviour they are likely to give you an insight into their beliefs and motivations.
I also like his distinction of givers (one end the bell curve), matchers (the bulk of the bell curve) and takers (the other end of the bell curve). The bulk of people are matchers and they will follow the behaviour of the dominant group in the organisation – and society as well.
The question for us all is “which way around do we want our bell curve? Do we want givers or takers at the top end?”
I know I want to live and work with givers, so one way is to make time to thank people for their efforts and as Grant says, make the link for them from their efforts to how it’s contributing to a meaningful outcome for me or for our client.
So thanks to McKinsey for the link, it helped open my eyes to a new way to think about giving and thanks to Adam Grant for his research and his book, which reminds me that giving is a way to greatness, not the suckers choice!
With human power being the most plentiful resource on our planet, I cannot understand why so many organisations are still focused on lowering headcount and replacing people with technology. I for one am going to work in the other direction. For every four people who are prepared to work a four day work week (see my previous blog) we can offer a job to a fifth person – possibly a student or someone who is currently unemployed but still seeking work.
It makes sense as a fabulous social innovation that will revolutionise our workplaces, our home lives and our communities.
Think about it. Who do you know who is finishing school or university this year with no stable future in front of them, or has been retrenched in their early 50s and can’t find replacement work at the same level? How many of us do you know who are managers and specialists and spend way too much time doing paperwork instead of the work we are skilled to do because all our admin staff have been retrenched or fired?
Wouldn’t you like to help them and simultaneously free up some of your time?
After a month of argument and counter argument on the Next Director LinkedIn Group, I think it is time to move on and start to answer a much more interesting question: Who do we think directors should be responsible to?
Should we only be answerable to shareholders, or do we also have some obligation to our societies in which these businesses operate?
I love this question but wonder whether I am naive – the answer seems obvious to me (although making it happen will be harder).
The responsibility to shareholders as the primary beneficiaries is currently enshrined in legislation which is created by legislators to serve society (supposedly). When this legislation no longer serves the needs of society we can either put pressure on corporations to do more than the legislation requires, or society can put pressure on the legislators to change the law.
It’s interesting that corporations seem to have become a law unto themselves, but with sustained pressure we can change the legislation as has happened in the USA with B Corporations legislation which allows corporations to serve stakeholders not just shareholders. Bring on this option in Australia I say!