Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


2 Comments

Learn-Learn

I have always liked, and disliked, the term “win-win”.

I guess I heard it first from Stephen Covey, or at least that was when I first ‘got’ it. The concept appears widely in both popular and serious business books. I have been known to bandy it around myself with clients – and even use it at home with the kids (much to their amusement).

The term has developed, of course. The most recent version I have seen is from John Mackey’s and Raj Sisodia’s great book on Conscious Capitalism – Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.

Raj and John use the term Win6 – they use a superscript 6 to signify the 6 different stakeholders of a business.

They mean a refusal by a business person to accept a trade-off (or a “win-lose”) in every one of 6 domains:

  • with customers
  • with employees
  • with suppliers
  • with investors
  • with communities
  • and with the environment

I particularly like the idea that any business person has a choice (Covey made the same point, I think) to either seek a win-lose, or seek a win-win. In fact, I think we may face that choice many times a day.

Hopefully, we choose the win-win. Even though, as Raj and John seem to suggest, seeking a win-win, or a win-win-win, or even a Win6, may be harder work in the short-term. Finding solutions that help more than one stakeholder may require much creativity and innovation.

I guess most of us involved in Conscious Business buy in to the idea that in the long-term that effort will be amply rewarded.

In fact, I think many business people, especially people running smaller and medium-sized businesses, do take a win-win approach.

Raj and John are simply suggesting we expand that approach – to multiple stakeholders.

But back to my dislike.

I suppose it is partly because win-win has been so well parodied over the years, in comical take-offs of business people. The husband in the brilliant “Little Miss Sunshine” comes to mind.

But maybe it is also partly to do with my approach to life? I am definitely more comfortable with learn-learn. That is an easier choice for me – to promote learning, amongst colleagues, and clients.

Although, now of course, I need to promote that to Learn6.

Advertisements


3 Comments

Keep it clean

JR Ewing is dead.

Actually Larry Hagman is dead, and I always had a soft spot for him. But I understand the JR character for many epitomises the amoral, covetous and above all selfish worst of the archetypal fat cat business leader.

Selfishness is a theme than seems to be the back story behind much of the discourse around business and capitalism. Surely ‘fat cats’ are selfish? Isn’t the entrepreneurial dream of success a selfish journey? Isn’t business about selfishly taking what you want for yourself?

Indeed, selfishness may seem downright wrong to those who think that Conscious Business is all about doing things for others.

But contrary to this, talking to a friend the other day, I was reminded of how much I do things because I am trying to please. There’s a sense, nearly always at the back of my mind, of trying to help, to support, and to put right, to mend, to solve. I suppose that’s understandable given how I make a living, and perhaps explains it.

That statement – “I am trying to please…” – raised a question for me. Exactly who am I trying to please?

The answer was not immediately obvious. It has taken a lot of soul searching for me to realise that very often I am seeking to please other people. Parents, siblings, old friends, and various derivatives thereof.

And that has been big for me – to realise that much of my effort goes into giving to others who are actually long gone. Who might not want that particular burden anyway. And, therefore, that my selfless giving may not be quite so noble after all.

So, in praise of selfishness, I will from now on do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it. I will ignore the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ of the typical day. I will enjoy the moment. Give myself what I need, when I need it.

In the words of Joseph Campbell I will follow my bliss.


4 Comments

Beyond ROWE – VOWE?

The term ROWE – meaning Results Only Working Environment – seems to be pretty popular at the moment.

The idea, in case you haven’t come across, it is that employees are paid for results rather than the number of hours worked.

NixonMcInnes, a local company I work with, following in the footsteps of Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, implemented the idea of what they call “flexible working” many years ago.

Chouinard’s autobiography was entitled “Let My People Go Surfing” – that title should help you understand the philosophy.

Presenteeism: out, out, out.

What I like about ROWE is that it has been linked to employee engagement – employees who work this way seem to want to stay longer and they enjoy their work more.

And if you measure productivity – numbers of orders processed, for example, or even hours paid for by a client (billable hours) – rather than hours in the office you’ll see better results.

But I wonder if there is something better? I am sure the ROWE experts are on top of this, but this is it in my own words:

The number one principle of ROWE is that “people at all levels stop doing any activity that is a waste of their time, the customer’s time, or the company’s money.”

But my question is: how do people know?

How do they know whether what they are doing is a waste of their time, the customer’s time or the company’s time?

In many large organisations when you join you inherit a whole load of ways of doing things (processes). These are based on an even bigger load of assumptions – visible and invisible – about what is important. Many of these assumptions were made in a time where things were different – they come from the past.

So it seems to me it is perfectly possibly that people in a results only work environment will continue to produce results – that is, be more ‘productive’ – but maybe they’ll be producing the wrong results? Results that don’t actually help the company fulfil its ‘Mission’. Results that don’t actually help anyone.

So here’s a simple alternative: VOWE – the value only work environment. The idea is to do only activities that add value to customers, colleagues, or other stakeholders.

This, of course, requires a clear understanding of what value is. That may seem difficult and off-putting.

But I think most people know what value is. They know what they value.

I value peace and quiet. I value the smile on my child’s face, showing me he is happy. I value a clean floor. I value a beautiful object. Or a bit of software that actually works and makes my life easy.

HR and OD people (and some CEOs) sometimes talk about ‘values’ as if they were something special, something that only the enlightened can hold on to.

But to me a ‘value’ is just what I value. I value honesty and openness. Those are my values.

So actually understanding value is easy for each of us – we know what we value. We know it when we see it, when we touch it, when we feel it.

We need to understand that others value things too – and that what you value may be different from what I value. Value is a perception – ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.

So in a Value Only Work Environment people understand this. And they dedicate their time not just to producing ‘results’ – but to making sure that everything they do gives value to others. Or to themselves.

Apparently when ROWE was introduced into Best Buy some resisters thought it was a wacky new age idea.

So in case anyone thinks VOWE is the same let me cut to the chase: how might you measure success in a business run on VOWE principles?

Simple: you measure profit. But you do need a new definition of profit.

Profit, by my own personal definition, is a measure of the value that your company gives to other people.

Give lots of value to people; and let them reward you with money (yes, money), loyalty and friendship.

Create a culture where employees gain lots of value and let them reward you with loyalty, ideas, and friendship.

I am perhaps being just a little provocative above. But I’d love to know what others think – and in particular, other ideas on what value really is, what profit really is, and whether it is better to work in a ROW, or a VOW environment?

JFPJ4X342354


4 Comments

Hard, Harder, Hardest

Inspired by a good post by Steve Hearsum about Stephen Covey’s recent book, I felt the need to post my own personal comment.

Apparently Covey’s “…most recent book – The 3rd Alternative – is an articulation of how “soft stuff is the new hard stuff”. So says Douglas R. Covant in an introduction to an extract from the book on Strategy & Business:

In my 35-year corporate journey and my 60-year life journey, I have consistently found that the thorniest problems I face each day are soft stuff — problems of intention, understanding, communication, and interpersonal effectiveness — not hard stuff such as return on investment and other quantitative challenges…..The soft stuff will forever be the hard stuff, but leveraging 3rd Alternative thinking can make the soft stuff significantly easier to resolve productively.”

As a long time Covey fan and careful re-reader of his work this doesn’t seem to me to be such a big shift in Covey’s thinking. But I’d join with him in wanting to re-label the “soft” as the hard.

It is an unfortunate twist of fate I think that we call the “soft” stuff that because it is anything but.

ROI and other quantitative things are hard too, of course. If you think anything else you are kidding yourself.

But I’d go even further. There’s one bit of the so-called soft stuff that is even harder.

That is understanding that our own development is the real key to growth.

Not the ‘soft skills’ required to get other people to do things (which is, sadly, how many managers understand ‘soft skills’). But our own self-understanding and awareness.

So, how about a complete re-categorisation of all things to do with (conscious) business:

* hard – ROI and other quantitative things
* harder – ‘people skills’
* hardest – one’s own personal development and a relationship of growth with oneself


3 Comments

Conscious HR Part 2

Following on from Conscious HR part 1 of a few days ago, where I explained that Conscious HR is not a one size fits all and is open to individual interpretation, here are some more examples and ideas which hopefully give a feeling of what I am trying to convey. As before, please consider this as thought provoking rather than didactic. Please feel free to challenge me and reprovoke my thoughts!

 Retention

  • Happy colleagues are more likely to stay. Measure the wellbeing of your colleagues with regular anonymous polls – maintain a wellbeing index  that gives an immediate snapshot of what your colleagues are feeling – if it starts to slip, act quickly!
  • Incorporate regular two-way progress checks with each colleague – keep it informal but honest, exploring concerns on an open basis. Whatever you do, don’t go down the archaic annual appraisal route – that is simply too painful and too slow for all concerned.
  • Learning and Development is a cornerstone of  CB – agree group and individual goals and methods which reflect the needs of the organisation and its members. Be realistic and ensure there are checks and counterbalances.
  • Be proactive –  don’t simply apply the letter of the law. I remember an incident at my workplace some 20 years ago –  Paul lost his cool and stormed off site – the classic response in those days was to consider that as gross misconduct and terminate the contract of employment without notice. Instead, I took his manager around to Paul’s house – Paul was eating fish and chips and had cooled down! I offered him the option of returning to work and apologising to his colleagues which he took and ended up staying within the business for another 15 years. We all learned lessons from that which helped us in the longer term.

Redeployment

  • Think of the termination of a contract of employment as a redeployment, regardless of the reason behind it – the colleague in question will be seeking to work elsewhere if not retiring and I feel it is the responsibility of the organisation to help that person successfully redeploy.
  • Sometimes, certain people do not flourish in certain organisations – this can be for any number of reasons. Try to work together to understand why something isn’t working and then fix it. If  the fix is not possible then agree a way forward.

For example, someone may simply have a dream of wanting to work in an entirely different field to the organisation’s area of activity – if the individual has contributed well in the past, why not help them to achieve that goal by talking initiatives such as gradually releasing and even funding them to retrain in other sphere?

  • There will be occasions when a colleague and an organisation are at odds with each other and a recourse to employment law is mooted. Try to avoid this if at all possible but if unable to do so, remain fair, human and always prepared to pick up the telephone to talk – don’t hide behind convoluted documents.

 I am often asked to help in what would be termed ‘tricky’ situations – technically, I am acting on behalf of the organisation but I make it clear from the outset that I will only do what is fair for both parties. During that process I regularly interface with lawyers – regrettably, very few of them on either side of the fence really understand that it is possible in essence to act for both parties in a dispute. (My personal view is that most lawyers are conditioned to be constricted by the law and to apply it robotically and expensively without regard to the human situation in hand – hands up for Conscious Law anyone?!).

I will always encourage an organisation to be more generous than the law dictates – surely it is far better to support the colleague financially than to pay a lawyer a similar or greater amount for applying the law with pressure to avoid such a non-statutory payment?

The irony is in that in order to communicate honestly and to be generous, one has to make initial moves that some employment advisors can try to present in a hostile light – my advice is not to allow fear of the law prevent one from trying to do the right thing.

The key is that at the end of redeployment process, both the organisation and the colleague have parted with a degree of amicability and good feeling, even if both have had to compromise.

Summary

These are just ideas and tips on elements of Conscious HR – some of many ways to make the workplace and the people in it happy, healthy and profitable.

Toolkits anyone?

In a recent meeting of people keen on the principles of CB, I did sense that commencing and travelling the journey can be challenging from a simply practical perspective.

Do you think there would be interest in some  ‘toolkits’ which assist this process? I am visualising some checklists and flow diagrams which provoke thought and simplify action.

This is something that  a group of  us are thinking about creating over the coming months for use in our consultancy lives – would be good to know if there is any interest!


4 Comments

Conscious HR Part 1

Conscious Business (CB) strives to work for the benefit of all stakeholders, or as I have called them previously, interactors.

The colleagues working within an organisation are a key set of interactors  and Conscious HR is therefore a key element of  a sustainable CB – in my last blog, ‘The Transition to Conscious Business’, I undertook to write about this so here goes.

So, what is Conscious HR other than the HR part of an organisation which embraces CB values?

Like any element of a business or an organisation, Conscious HR benefits from an organisational structure but one that allows flexibility, change and the application of ‘conscious sense’.

I like simple, clear systems and prefer to break the HR cycle down into five distinct areas:

  • Recruitment
  • Remuneration
  • Retention
  • Record processing
  • Redeployment  (a much more positive word than ‘termination’!)

It’s helpful to everyone if  all of the procedures and protocols are detailed in a Colleague Handbook which is kept updated – in a format which sets out everything from a perspective that is equally valuable to anyone in the organisation, regardless of their perspective – as an ‘us’ document not an ‘us and them’ document.

Set your stall out at the beginning of the handbook and document: ‘why’ and ‘how’ the organisation has chosen the CB journey – these can just be a series of simple statements but will become entwined in everything that the organisation achieves.

Conscious HR is not a one size fits all and is open to individual interpretation. Let me give you some examples and ideas which hopefully give a feeling of what I am trying to convey – I have stated ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ quite a bit – please consider this as thought provoking rather than didactic. Please feel free to challenge me and reprovoke my thoughts!

Recruitment

  • Use a job description detailing the role and how it can develop, a list of definitely required skills but not a person description – how can one possibly determine in advance what type of person is best at a particular role?

Ask the interviewee how and why they are the person for the role and you may be surprised by the candidate with the most interesting insight.

Diversity within departments and organisations is a proven key to success unless you are running a private army, in which case CB won’t be high on the list!

Celebrate the fact that we are all different and bring something different to the table – the extrovert, the introvert, the white Anglo-Saxon, the ethnic minority, the clean-cut individual and the alternative dresser all bring valuable values to the table.

Remuneration

  • Transparency (internally publishing all colleagues remuneration) may be too much too early on for most organisations but there is a strong argument that a less than opaque system removes a barrier in what is undoubtedly a subject sometimes fraught with petty jealousy and rumour.
  • Perhaps start by seeing individual remuneration as a monetary token of exchange which allows a colleague to live their life outside of work. We all need money but try not to set it as an incentive in its own right – if the ingredients are mutually beneficial, an individual will want to achieve their best for the right reasons, not solely for reward.
  • Group rewards based on the overall performance of the organisation are a fair and transparent way of encouraging a team ethos and perhaps healthier than an individual bonus system.
  • Additional Innovative Remuneration (AIR) is a fun and motivating for all recipients – come up with something which helps to breath the AIR with joy – can be anything –  restaurant vouchers, days out, sports events, ‘free’ afternoons off, books, event tickets etc

 I think that this is probably enough for one post, so will publish some examples and ideas about Retention and Redeployment in a few days time.

Toolkits anyone?

In a recent meeting of people keen on the principles of CB, I did sense that commencing and travelling the journey can be challenging from a simply practical perspective.

Do you think there would be interest in some  ‘toolkits’ which assist this process? I am visualising some checklists and flow diagrams which provoke thought and simplify action.

This is something that  a group of  us are thinking about creating over the coming months for use in our consultancy lives – would be good to know if there is any interest!


5 Comments

Institutional corruption?

Remember institutional racism?  This term was coined in the 1960s in the US and widely adopted in the UK in the 1970s to describe a situation where an entire organisation, rather than just one or two individuals within it, collectively fail a particular group of people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. In the UK the term was used to describe the police after a number of high-profile events such those at the Brixton riots, Broadwater Farm and so on.

The idea is that, at least to some extent, the inappropriate behaviours and attitudes of individuals are so widely adopted within the group that they become social norms. Because they are so prevalent, no one questions them. Of if they do question them, their questions fall on deaf ears.

I guess it’s another example of group conformity in action.

Sometimes I wonder whether some organisations today suffer a form of institutional corruption. We all know the extreme examples: Enron, BCCI, Satyam, and so on. Companies where, ultimately, criminal behavior crashed the companies to the ground.

But isn’t corruption sometimes more subtle, and more pervasive?

A while ago, and this is going to begin to sound like an episode from Money Box, my insurance company sent me a renewal notice for my household insurance. Something made me check – and I discovered that they had increased the premium by 30% compared to last year.

When I called them, as soon as they heard the problem was “price”, they put me on to their “loyalty team”. When the salesman (sorry “loyalty consultant”) heard the price he quickly recomputed it and said they could offer the same service for a 0% increase instead.

Now my guess is that probably quite a few customers can’t be bothered to check what last year’s premium was and just renew automatically. Personally, I think that is pretty dubious behaviour for a business. Imagine how I might feel if I went into a shop and they tried to short-change me by 30%?

Wouldn’t I right to be aggrieved? Might it even be fraudulent or criminal?

When I enter into a relationship with a company I expect to be dealt with honestly – I want to trust that company and have them reward my trust. Would the shopkeeper who short-changed me by 30% retain my trust?

So going back to the idea of institutionalised behaviour, is it possible, then, that an entire company can be institutionally corrupt?

Is it possible that the salesman thinks of his role as an upstanding member of the “loyalty” team – when actually he’s in the “covering up our corruption” team?

That his managers and others in the company think that this kind of behaviour is so normal that it’s “commercial best practice”?

Is it possible that even the senior management and the CEO are so institutionally blind that they believe it right and proper to accept favourable compensation packages even while their employees are behaving in ways that are dubious or verge on the criminal?

Could this institutional corruption extend beyond the company to the whole industry? To other companies? To its regulators? To the media? Sometimes there’s not a critical voice to be heard, anywhere, of what some might think are corrupt practices – “this is just the way it is in this industry, it is just the norm”.

When the UK police were accused of institutional racism I can still remember the confused, questioning voices from their representatives: “You can’t be talking about us? We’re not racist”. It took a long, long time to really sink in.

The irony, is, of course, that as with the police force, or any other organisation, the public recognise this institutional racism, or corruption, or whatever it is, much sooner than those inside the organisation.

It feels wrong. But often the fact that everyone else is telling you its right makes it harder to put a name to it. It requires bravery to stand up and make that kind of statement.

Consciousness, even?

But businesses that are institutionally corrupt will lose customer loyalty in the long-run. My insurance company has already lost mine.