A brief chat about conscious business…
This is a great piece of research from CASS Business School. It shows that employee owned companies are at least as resilient as non-EOB’s in good times but have a huge advantage in hard times such as recession, outperforming non-EOB’s in growth, turnover, profits, productivity, etc.
It’s short, to the point and there are graphs and picture to make it easier to digest. So why not have a read…
Someone from a large mobile phone company asked the following question the other day: “What would make Vodafone the home of smartphones?” It’s a question I hear pretty often – I heard it as: “how do we become leaders in such-and-such new technology”?
I posted this reply. I thought you might enjoy it:
Hi Tom, here’s an answer:
Step 1 – Radically redefine the purpose of your company. Maximising stake-holder value is never going to work – because it will never inspire the company’s employees. And to become a leader a company has to have inspired employees. Replace that purpose with another one – to serve your customers and increase the well-being of the employees.
[I used the words stakeholder-value and then half-regretted it. I really meant shareholder-value, because “stakeholders” often will already include customers and staff. I only half-regret it though because I also think that stakeholder-value is often really code for shareholder-value. What is needed is a real re-think of purpose and a change of emphasis – not just fancy word-smithing.]
Step 2 – Change the way the company is structured. Employees will never be happy or inspired in a workplace where a few people at the top wield all the power and earn 20 times more than the customer-facing employees.
In the old days power was concentrated in the hands of the unions and the “bosses”. Nowadays it’s usually just the “bosses”.
Employees, like all of us, need fairness, transparency and a sense of being able to make a difference through what they do. They need to feel they have a fair share of the power.
Step 3 – Change the focus of the company so that it is focussed on what customers want, not what shareholders, or even just the employees, want.
You’re looking for a win-win – a solution where customers get what they want, and employees get what they want – but more as a by-product of pleasing customers.
To find this everyone in the company needs to learn new skills – to learn how to talk to customers in new ways, to really listen and understand them.
Then, having understood what customers want, change the company so that it gives customers what they want.
Customers, for example, don’t want to be shuffled around from department to department. They want to speak to someone who is knowledgeable and can help them with all the problems they may have: billing, contracts, hardware, software, network issues and so on.
This may require reorganising into different groups that stick with clients for a long-time. Customers want personal and meaningful relationships – not call-centre queues.
Giving clients what they want isn’t rocket-science. Once you realise that what they want isn’t rocket-science either. Customers want what all human beings want: respect, honesty, trusting relationships and so on.
This approach will, I believe, lead to leadership and success for your company – in smart phones and anything else you turn your hands to. Customers will become happier and more loyal, revenues and profitability will rise, the company will be able to pay everyone better, and train and support everyone better.
Is this vision hopelessly naïve? Well, there are companies out there doing this already if you look, which suggests that even if I am assuming things can get better, I am not the only one; there are others out there who believe it and are proving it every day.
The biggest problem that these successful progressive companies seem to have is being killed off by their success. They get good at all of the above, and other bigger companies buy them and destroy them and their culture.
So if you embark on this journey a fourth step (or maybe it should be step zero) is to choose a set of managers who really buy into all this and won’t sell you down the river later on. I’d recommend exploring employee share ownership as a way of ensuring you can hang on to your rights.
And, finally, what do you do if you are the single employee in a corporation of a hundred thousand who reads this and believes it? How on earth can you start to make this happen, alone?
The answer is simple actually: start with you.
Firstly, think or feel your way into this stuff – is it better than what you have right now?
Secondly, if so, decide to make it happen. Commit to not giving up at the first hurdle.
Thirdly, seek allies – in your company or else where. Use social networks – that’s what they’re for.
Fourthly, learn those new skills of communication and start doing the customer service bit with your existing customers. This will prove to the cynics and skeptics that this can work. That customer happiness and loyalty rise.
By the way, this probably won’t lead immediately to better profitability because your company structure may still be wrong – remember all those powerful, top-level high-earning employees for example?
Fifthly, keep going, just for the hell of it. Keep flexible, adapt when you need to.
At the very least, you can trust that this approach will:
- make you happier
- earn you allies
- build your reputation
It may attract better offers and opportunities.
And remember that this is an unstoppable trend anyway. Wherever you look you’ll see these kinds of changes taking place as our economies mature. As this trend rolls out, you’ll be caught up in it anyway.
So why not take the first step yourself?
Great TED talk by Ray Anderson (from May 2009).
Watch it if you have any doubts about a) our responsibility as business people b) our possibilities (as people who can change ourselves and our impact on the world).
I also love his “impact” formula. It’s worth careful inspection.
As he says, adopting this formula, believing it, following it, would reframe civilisation itself.
It’s remarkable (to me at least) how a small change in how we assume the world (and economies, businesses) work could have such a remarkable effect.
Someone sent me this paper the other day written by Jane Lorand who runs a Green MBA at a university in the USA. The arrival of many more Green and Sustainable MBAs will no doubt mean we get a lot more of this kind of thing. I am not sure I am looking forward to it.
Lorand argues that “For today’s businesses, there exist two distinct paradigms about what is real and important.” She separates these paradigms and describes the characteristics of each, including the beliefs on which she believes they are based.
For “Business-As-Usual” companies “1) Everything is Separate and 2) Materialism is the Only Reality”.
And for sustainable companies “1) Everything is Connected and 2) Spirit and Matter Co-exist to Form Reality.”
There are things I like about the paper. I enjoy breaking things down into categories. But I think we need to be careful not to be too hard on Business-As-Usual companies.
For one thing, Lorand says that “individuals who work in Business-As-Usual corporations find it very difficult to assert belief structures, identities or methods inconsistent with their corporation.”
She also suggests that Business-As-Usual has a singular goal: “maximizing financial profit for shareholders.”
I worked for a large US corporation during the 1980s and while profit was important as far as I could tell it was never the single goal of the company. The goals were much more diverse.
Wouldn’t it be great if life was that simple and it was possible to set a single goal and then attain it? In real life, we all do our best and and a number of different things result. Often results emerge that we weren’t expecting and didn’t intend.
Reading the paper I started to wonder if every big corporation has its own Stasi – controlling the workers. By contrast, the company I worked for contained such a very large number of “mavericks”, both people and groups, that it would seem absurd to suggest that people were unable to express their own beliefs.
In fact, that company, like all others I’d suggest, was a much more diverse and heterogenous mix of people and ways of doing things than management consultants who focus on ideas like “culture” would have us believe. (In some unkinder moods I’d suggest that if organisational culture didn’t exist, management consultants would have to invent it.) I am of the school of thought that believes that culture emerges fluidly and dynamically from the beliefs and activities of the people who work in a business. It’s not some intractable glue magically imposed top-down or somehow encoded in the papers of incorporation.
Why is this important? Because as we navigate the waters of sustainable business I think we need to be very careful to be inclusive. I think we need to welcome people of all backgrounds and cultures, including those that have worked in “big business”. We need to work with these people, not against them. In my experience, most people who work in large corporations have hearts just as big as those who work in sustainable business.
And we also mustn’t start to think that big business is somehow not open to change. That sounds much too much to me like the kind of thing I might say to my wife!
This approach itself creates barriers to change – it puts people’s backs up (just ask my wife), and it disempowers us – we stop believing in the possibility of change.
Big businesses, like any business, change fast once change starts. There are armies of “catalysts for change” at every level in every decent company – not just a few undercover agents.
The evidence for this is that few big companies would have survived in the turbulent years since I have been working without an incredible ability to develop and grow in response to change. Only the real dinosaurs suppress change – and these typically go the way of the dinosaurs.
I haven’t met Jane Lorand but I feel sure she’d concur.