Proposing a radical -- root-replacing -- potentially enduring transformation of business by embracing Web 2.0 people-respecting values and tools and harvesting their benefits. Out with a culture that, while bringing considerable good, routinely tramples on people, sometimes grievously and mortally. A more ethical, fiduciarily responsible and bountiful model is ours for the taking – by businesses' truly, responsibly honoring and enriching the people they depend on, always.
Business: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Aren't our system of free-market enterprise and contemporary management practices marvels to behold? In the untold abundance of benefits they've created, unquestionably, they are!
Yet, for businesses and non-profit organizations trying to good work, among their key stakeholder groups -- including employees, customers, clients, patients, families, owners, vendors, partners, students, communities -- we hear variously a lament, a cry, a plea. “Something – something vitally, immeasurably important – is missing!” they feel, they think, they say.
The sense and reality of the missing is borne from the disappointment, frustration and even irremediable suffering experienced by literally hundreds of millions of people globally due to businesses' myriad failings, small and large. It's felt in the yearnings by innumerable people to receive something more, something better, from our organizations.
Business's Failings of People
What is the true picture of business's impact? In addition to citing their impressive good, business leaders committed to seeing the full picture and truth of their deeply, seemingly intractably rooted business cultural norms and in many cases of their own businesses would hear countless people asking them to justify ethically and fiduciarily:
instances and cycles of devastating business malfeasance – such as, most recently, Enron, Arthur Andersen, Tyco International, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Adelphia Communications, Bernard Madoff;
instances and cycles of excesses of over-reaching and greed -- such as, most recently, those precipitating the near collapse of the world-wide financial system in 2008 and four years later continuing to inflict pain on tens of millions of people and contributing to strident divisiveness among people sparring over difficult solutions to impacted governmental budget deficits;
unbridled leadership and co-worker attitudes and behaviors within organizations of self-importance, neglect, disrespect, abuse, tyranny, backstabbing, greed, hubris, withholding of needed assistance, power plays and vicious competition for resources and advancement; and
then, the resulting sub-par or fractured organizations that fail to consistently meet obligations to customers and, in degrees increasingly worse, diminish the well-being of key stakeholders and in cases jeopardize and even wreck and take their lives.
On the very personal basis, businesses' failings disrupt and diminish people in untold ways:
“You're right, honey. Not fair. You're out of work, and the people who got us into this predicament continue flying high. We've just got to press on. We've got to.”
“I'll never trust anyone again in business. Never!”
“Oh, no! With home prices continuing to fall all around us and your job gone now, I don't see a way out. We can't pay the mortgage, but we can't pay off the debt after we sell – if we can sell.”
“Let's just all hurry into the other room, children. Daddy had a hard day at work today. Let's give him a chance to calm down.”
“Who gives a flip? I'm just punching the clock from now on.”
“I know, honey, my boss is eating me alive. He's terrorizing everyone in the office, and corporate is breathing down his neck. But there's just nothing we can do about it. We've just got to bite our lips, endure the abuse, work the extra ours. We've just got to go on.”
“If our customers and shareholders only knew what really goes on around here.”
“But she went into the hospital to get well! How could she get an infection there and die???”
“Children, please come here. … Daddy's equipment broke down at work today. … Daddy was hurt badly. ... He didn't make it.”
Looking at these hurtful impacts to people as the result of businesses falling short and going awry – and many others not enumerated here – stakeholders rightly can say to their leaders, respectfully but resolutely:
“This may surprise you, but you fail the ethics test. In truth, yours is a sort-of, part-way type of ethics – 'doing right by people' – since you wind up doing wrong by so many people in so many ways. Justify that to the people who are your key stakeholders -- the people to whom you promise to do your very best to treat ethically.”
“This may surprise you, but you fail the fiduciary accountability test. Your status quo results in untold errors, waste, inefficiencies, costs and risks and ensures immense opportunity costs by failing to optimally engage people in your organizations to function at the highest levels of mutual respect and care, partnership, contribution, creativity and individual and collective responsibility. As a result and in addition, what goes out your door to people who are external stakeholders is less than it can and should be. Justify that to the people who are your trustees, your shareholders -- the people to whom you are reporting you're doing your very best to be fiduciarily accountable.”
“Bottom line: This is unacceptable! This must stop! You must do better, or we will find someone who will.”
How have we gotten to this state? Factors are legion. Three significant ones are:
Self-Interest over the Other's Interest: We've been enculturated for generations by what seems a near deification of a proclamation by Adam Smith -- or perhaps by the prevailing interpretation of it: When each person is pursuing economic self-interest, an “invisible hand” will rationalize asset allocation and from that will maximize value creation and provision. Additionally, since time immemorial, we've been torn between two personal drivers – look out for myself or realize that the other has equal interests and rights, which morally I have no right to infringe on in my personal pursuits. We have a lot of pursuit of self-interest by a lot of people in business often without due regard for or at the expense of the other.
Subordination of People to Things: We inexorably default to placing as our top priority not people but an array of requirements, perceived priorities, activities and things -- good, not so good and bad -- such as money, operational efficiency, performance requirements, development of new products, ego gratification, dominance over others.
Depersonalization of People via Roles: Practically, we categorize people into key stakeholder roles – employees, bosses, subordinates, customers, shareholders, vendors – and as a result tend to view and deal with people as objects and abstractions instead of human beings.
The drive for self-interest has contributed to the significant benefit we enjoy but also to our detriment. When we pursue our own interest with insufficient or no regard for or over that of another, we increase the risk of creating relationships of win-lose, zero-sum games. Whether clear-cut black-and-white or shades of gray, in myriad business interactions somebody wins and somebody loses something that shouldn't be lost.
One costly outcome of primarily pursuing self-interest is the inevitable undermining of trust – within organizations, with customers and with other key external stakeholders. If I'm steadfastly looking after my interests and you yours, I can't fully trust you, and you can't fully trust me. We can't have optimal relations for innovation, discussion, negotiation, problem-solving, development, production, exchange. We create conditions that place our ability and willingness to act ethically at risk. And we can't be unreservedly loyal to each other.
When trust and loyalty are eroded in any relationship, that relationship is at risk. People can't work at their best with one another, or they merely choose not to. When trust and loyalty are diminished, an organization enables a culture that permits any or many of all of the previously enumerated costs and more not cited, resulting in a significant failure of both its ethical and fiduciary responsibilities. (Please see Great Place to Work Institute as one resource documenting the fundamental linkage of trust and good results.)
Such organizations might be irreversibly on their downward path, sharp or gradual, to collapse. Alternatively, due to a variety of factors, they might appear healthy and viable superficially and just might remain functioning for years to come. But look beneath the surface and at minimum you will find ethics compromised, promises broken, performance short-shrifted, potential unfulfilled and people short-changed, sometimes heart-breakingly irreversibly.
Then there is our default tendency in our work to focus on “things” – the bottom line, the sophisticated financial instrument, the search for the solution to the scientific problem, the method or content of education, the new automobile or software app, the budget, the market, the deft argument, problems to solve, tasks to perform and even my bonus, agenda, advancement and ego – instead of the well-being of the “persons” involved with us and impacted by the “things.”
One of those primary "things" that powerfully drives organizational and personal behavior inevitably is money. Money is the lifeblood of any organization. Its acquisition and good stewardship sustain the organization and motivate and reward employees for their contributions to the enterprise. However, the often singular and primary pursuit of money over responsibly attending to the interests of the people who are the sources of that money creates huge, costly distortions and imbalances that cause untold hurt to people and render many organizations as sub-optimal and at varying levels of risk.
Things, including money, are what we conceive, create, manage, pursue, accomplish, improve, reject as prudently and efficiently as possible in service to the real thing – people. Unfortunately, all too often we subordinate people's interests to these things.
Finally, our convention of classifying and thinking of people who are key stakeholders in terms of their respective role groups provides some utility but also creates huge risks and associated costs. Pople fundamentally aren't their roles relative to us in business. However, when we think of and treat people primarily in terms of their roles, by definition we objectify and depersonalize them, creating fertile conditions for dehumanizing, using and abusing them. Unfortunately, these cultural assumptions pervasively, perversely and subtly are at work in most organizations.
In light of all the unnecessary costs and indefensible, immoral pain business imposes on people who are their key stakeholders, the inevitable response of those people is simply: "Since you're obviously not fully committed to my well-being, it makes no sense for me to be committed to yours. I'll look for someone who truly treats me with the dignity and respect due me as a fellow human being."
A Way Through – Focus on People
Is this our fate? No. Our organizations and their impacts don't have to be that way. People they promise to serve well and they depend on as key stakeholders don't have to be forced to walk or run away -- disappointed, abused, injured. Not at all.
Our organizations can be much, much better and more fully ethical if leaders will commit to responsibly setting as their central, constant focus the well-being of people – those very people whose interests the organizations were formed to fulfill and those people whose trust and loyalty are essential for them to survive and thrive.
The Business of Business is People
This model and strategy aim at significantly mitigating and correcting business's inherent shortcomings and failings of people by focusing leaders' attention centrally, continually on those very people.
This initiative both facilitates and depends on the embrace by organizations of Web 2.0 people-respecting and -enabling values -- such as transparency, collaboration, meritocracy, openness, community, self-determination -- and uses Web 2.0's powerful social media capabilities as a key implementation tool.
This proposal aims at helping willing leaders unleash the enormous, latent store of their people's capacity for passionate commitment, initiative, creativity, partnership, synergy, fulfillment, continuous improvement and accountability in support of their organizations' good purposes. Simultaneously, the initiative has the capacity to equip leaders and their people to increase value and fulfillment and strengthen trust and loyalty with people who are external stakeholders and to significantly diminish the multitude of costs and hurts business currently inflicts on all people it impacts.
That's the stuff of sustainable success.
Modifying the M-Prize visionary statement slightly but significantly, this proposal further aims at "making institutions of all kinds genuinely fit for the future and because their leaders determine that they will be first and foremost fit for human beings." The former is a function, an outcome, of the latter.
Where to start? A purpose and pathway for transforming business begins and ends with the stewardship of the well-being of people.
Southwest Airlines Chairman Emeritus Herb Kelleher, widely acclaimed for his more than three decades of leadership of the consistently successful airline, explained it succinctly and compellingly. Addressing a gathering of Southwest flight attendants in the late 1990s, he said:
“The business of business is not business. The business of business is people.”
Kelleher's proclamation is curious, jarring, thundering and radical. Some won't give it a moment's notice. Some will scratch their heads and walk away. Considering Southwest Airlines' consistently, singularly stellar performance in its tough, highly competitive industry on an array of measures in the almost 40 years under and subsequent to his leadership, the prudent response is to probe seriously, asking, "Herb, what in the world are you talking about?"
Looking more closely, they will discover that Kelleher is not alone. His conclusion that organizations should be focused responsibly and significantly if not centrally on people's well-being has been embraced by a number of strong leaders and counselors through time, each reaching her or his distinctive conviction by an integration of values, study, consideration, experience, application and personal growth. A number of adherents have been influenced in recent decades directly or indirectly by findings and conclusions represented in Douglas McGregor's "Theory Y" of human motivation, outlined in his book "The Human Side of Enterprise."
Many of them have concluded or sensed that the work and outcomes of business and non-profit organizations trying to good work essentially are about real, live human beings. It's about you and they and me, and it's about your, their and my mother, father, husband, wife, daughter, son, sister, brother, dearest friend.
It's about people just trying to make it in life, just trying to live well – ideally, better – amid life's joys and horrors, opportunities and fears, aspirations and threats, profundity and mundanity, knowns and unknowns.
It's about people whose lives each day are impacted – for good, for less than good and for bad – by people who form their organizations for the precise purpose of providing appreciated value to people.
So, the best way to execute that purpose simply is to recognize and optimally to care deeply for those people we depend on as the human beings they are – not as roles, objects or things – and to keep the stewardship of their well-being as the central, constant focus of our work.
This transformational model hinges on two requirements: 1) Honoring and enriching the lives of the people we depend on and 2) doing that in a highly responsible manner.
As with the focus on "people," the requirement of "responsibly" is essential and ever-present. Robert Blake and Jane Mouton, developers of the Managerial Grid behavioral leadership and team/organizational effectiveness model (informed by Douglas McGregor's "Theory Y"), conclude that trying to satisfy the interests of "people" with insufficient accountability for necessary "production" ("1,9" on the Grid at the extreme) is poor management.
This transformational model agrees. However, it aims at improving the Managerial Grid model, which is a laudable people-respecting advance over our prevailing production-driven model. Instead of advocating an equally high concern for "production" and "people" ("9,9" on the Grid), this transformational model places people's well-being as the central focus. It then sets as subsidiary, enabling requirements exceedingly high levels of "responsibility" on traditional measures of "production" to ensure that in fact "people" are being honored and enriched.
By definition, then, this transformational model demands the utmost responsibility on such requirements as rigor, discipline, execution, operations, financial management, process efficiency, continuous improvement, skills and capability development, people management and leadership and individual and collective responsibility. As we're noting, these traditional qualities are essential but should not be primary and are not sufficient to support optimal strategic, operational and financial performance.
People, Not Money, as Central Focus
The people-centered model of business and organizational effectiveness and accountability says that when people's well-being is responsibly held as an organization's central purpose, other essential requirements, including responsible acquisition and stewardship of money, are optimally positioned to be fulfilled.
Replacing the money-pursuit root with the responsible people-enriching root is a sea change in thought and in assumption, conscious and unconscious, for innumerable leaders, but it is vital and has some strong, accomplished advocates.
Southwest Airlines' Kelleher has put it this way, saying, "Profit is a by-product of customer service. It's not an end in and of itself. It's something that's produced by your efforts and the way that you treat each other and the way you treat the outside world."
Organizational excellence consultant Tom Peters offers a similar conclusion, saying in the first slide of his "Working Master" presentation (Tom Peters website, right-column), "Organizations exist to SERVE. Period. Leaders exist to SERVE. Period. SERVICE is a beautiful word. SERVICE is character, community, commitment. (And profit.)"
Jack Welch, highly praised for General Electric's consistently strong performance under his leadership as chairman and CEO, offered in 2009 amidst the financial industry collapse an apparently confirming view that responsibly providing people value supersedes in priority and enables in outcome the objective of increasing shareholder value. " ... shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world," Welch is reported as saying in a "Financial Times" article, based on an interview with the publication. "Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy. Your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products." (Financial Times article; requires free registration for viewing of limited number of articles)
Inside-Out People-Centered Calculus
Vitally, leaders must begin the commitment to people with all the people inside their organizations:
Ethically, it's “doing right by” this particular group of people – employees – in their role as a key stakeholder group.
Logically, how can I truly do right by customers, shareholders and other key external stakeholders if I'm not first doing right by my own people? It's an impossibility. But despite attestations that “our employees are our most important asset,” staggering numbers of leaders fail in their obligations to sufficiently do right by their own people.
Functionally, an organization's people in essence are the organization. When leaders begin that commitment to people internally, they create the conditions for doing outstanding work together. Further, that same ethic of doing right by and responsibly caring for the well-being of one another rolls out naturally in the value of products and services produced and all types of associated outgoing messages to and communication with all people who are external key stakeholders.
When that's the case, performance and strategic, operational and financial outcomes necessarily are elevated toward optimization – significantly, if not far, above the norm as we know it – to ensure and validate that people in all key stakeholder groups in fact are being responsibly honored and enriched.
Kelleher shared insights into the dynamics and strengths of the people-centered calculus in a video excerpt (about five minutes long) on YouTube from a speech to C-level executives under the auspices of HSMAmericas. Summarizing the calculus and emphasizing the flow and logic of the inside-out dynamic as applied at Southwest Airlines, he said:
"The business of business is people -- yesterday, today and forever. And as among employees, shareholders and customers, we decided that our internal customers, our employees, came first. The synergy in our opinion is simple: Honor, respect, care for, protect and reward your employees -- regardless of title or position -- and in turn they will treat each other and external customers in a warm, in a caring and in a hospitable way. This causes external customers to return, thus bringing joy to shareholders."
For status quo leaders, the recommended transformation is simultaneously one of degree and one of kind.
It's a shift of degree in that, when asked, they will respond, "Yes, all of our key stakeholders are extremely important to us." Many of them believe that, so in a sense the shift is one of degree to more fully align reality with proclamation.
It's a shift of kind in that many of these leaders haven't done the honest, probing inspection of the misalignment between their "say" and "do" -- both personally as leaders and organizationally -- regarding the treatment and importance of people. Such probing will reveal immense structural, cultural, ethical, personal and performance shortcomings whose remedy will require the replacement and/or addition of a substantially new set of values and behaviors among many if not most in their organization. Then, the work to maintain that central, constant commitment to people's well-being will have no end.
The purpose of business is people. Responsibly ensuring the well-being of people – others as well as ourselves – is the raison d'etre for any organization committed to doing good work.
As Sean Connery's officer Jimmy Malone commented laconically, assuredly in “The Untouchables”: “Thus endeth the lesson.”
Truly Ethical, Fiduciarily Accountable, Bountiful Business
When we set as our central, constant focus responsibly honoring and enriching the lives of people who are our key stakeholders, something perhaps surprising begins to happen – something fascinating and thrilling!
When people's well-being is responsibly at our center, we create the best possible conditions in fact for ensuring their well-being and for ensuring our well-being as well. We create the best conditions for achieving all those necessary things that must be attended to and accomplished – strategically, operationally, financially – to deliver on our brand and supporting promises and keep our organizations viable. We create cultures that refuse to tolerate the multitude of negative influences that otherwise contribute significantly to all the costs that diminish people's lives.
What do businesses committed to responsibly honoring and enriching people's lives look like? Stunningly attractive, incredibly ethical and exceedingly accountable!
Their people are ebullient and refreshingly alive. They pulsate with excitement – the thrill and joy of joining as partners and friends to tackle and conquer challenges, to innovate, to set and achieve performance objectives, to run highly efficient operations and to continually improve them and their cross-functional processes.
Their people deeply respect, care about, honor and serve one another because that is a core value embraced by their leadership as both right and prudent, and they agree. Their people understand that their individual and collective fortunes are inextricably intertwined. As a result, they trust and are devoted to one another unreservedly, which unlocks endless capacity for productivity and fulfillment and slams the door to negative, destructive influences.
Their people take nothing for granted, knowing that their cultural ethic and hope for viability rely on daily, hourly commitment by each of them to one another and to the other people they depend on and who look to them for equitable treatment and value -- the people who are their key external stakeholders. They act in all respects as business owners.
Joy, fun, happiness and love – yes, even love – permeate their cultures because they know that, as a fundamental part of being human, these expressions are appropriate in and of themselves and because they know that they also serve to strengthen and enable their work.
Further, because of who they are and what they do in their work, they become better people away from work. They, their loved ones and their communities reap further benefits of organizations whose work is truly integrated with the complete lives of their people.
This might appear on first blush to be a cookie-cutter formula for and description of organizations. That could not be farther from reality because another of their attributes is authenticity – the honoring of the unique mission, vision and set of shared values of the organization and the encouragement of the distinctive expression of each person's individuality around their common purpose, values and obligations.
That then provides the stuff of an infinite range of both organizational and individual approaches to conceiving, developing, representing and delivering solutions that are good for people in the truest sense – a boundless variety of ways that businesses, non-profit organizations and each of their people can make their contributions to benefit other people and themselves.
Such strong, people-centered work then automatically rolls out the door in positive, appreciated value for people who are the organizations' key external stakeholders. They in turn are fulfilled, trust the organizations implicitly and are glad to offer them near unbreakable bonds of loyalty.
Comprising imperfect people seeking success in a complex world, people-centered organizations have their share of troubles and problems and even make serious, avoidable mistakes and errors of judgment. People who are their customers and other external stakeholders don't always appreciate their work -- sometimes justifiably so and sometimes not -- and they don't always see eye to eye with one another.
However, their core purpose and cultural character minimize the negatives, encourage ownership and forgiveness and engender ready remedies. Further, while the preceding are idealized descriptors, their direction is true, and their prevalence is the impressive, beneficial norm in contrast with characteristics of today's status quo businesses.
Finally, for the people of these people-centric organizations, all the good things that they do strategically, operationally and financially and all the good things that they are aren't primary. They understand that they are secondary – products always of their commitment to responsibly honor and enrich the lives of the people they depend on as well as of themselves.
A Strategy for Transformation
Some will say that such business structural and cultural transformation is impossible, due to the generations-old, deeply rooted status quo. Integrating optimism and realism, I must believe the transformation can be achieved. And I hope and work on a time line more in terms of years, decades at most, than generations, centuries or millenia.
Inarguably, it requires a lifetime commitment – at least a work lifetime – for any takers, since responsibly honoring and enriching the lives of people we depend on requires constant, purposeful attention and performance management, adaptation and improvement.
Following are some proposed strategic steps that can help initiate and facilitate the transformation:
Forming a strong, committed leadership coalition of like minds
Directly influencing, bringing in others
Leveraging social media
Seeding local networks
Focusing on educational institutions
Forming a Strong, Committed Leadership Coalition of Like Minds
Coalescing a muscular core leadership group of accomplished, recognized business leaders and consultants – people like Tom Morris, Gary Hamel, Steven Covey, Tom Peters, Herb Kelleher, Jack Stack, Bill George and any of a wealth of other bold, visionary leaders – is the crucial first hurdle in determining whether this proposal can get airborne and then remain sustainably aloft to be help ensure its tremendous potential.
The launch and at least initial articulation and guidance require the highest, most formidable level of credibility in order to command the attention of institutional leaders, especially in business and education, the media and people in the general public seeking an alternative model. The strength and resolve of such a committed leadership group amplifies the message, provides the initiative a solid, unwavering foundation and creates conditions for otherwise unavailable synergies in the absence of strong union.
In fact, such a coalition devoted to the driving vision they and others share in common -- doing right by people in business and enjoying all the attendant good ethical, strategic, operational and financial outcomes -- is currently a sorely missing factor.
Today most advocates of such better business appear to be doing their good work in their respective spheres of service and influence, largely independent of one another. The work of the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) might be the first formal, standing venue encouraging collaboration and synergies by such accomplished leaders that can accelerate progress toward their shared vision.
This proposal affirms the legitimacy and importance of their independent, proprietary work and, leveraging the momentum being fired by MIX, says that such focused, sustained strategic teaming just might be the single most important catalyst needed to jump-start large-scale action, possibly globally, toward converting that seemingly illusory vision into reality.
Absent such a leadership coalition, the prospects for the initiative might be diminished significantly or at worst might be consigned forever to be the dashed dreams of many today and tomorrow of what could have been.
As Rosabeth Moss Kanter advised in a July 5, 2011, HR Blog Network commentary, "You can't confront evil alone. Okay, evil is a strong word, but in the case of corruption or injustice, it fits. The same principles holds for more benign barriers, such as recalcitrant establishments, stubborn bosses, or reluctant associates. There truly is strength in numbers. Lining up others who feel the same way about a barrier or an obstacle makes change more likely. Coalitions lend credibility."
Her conclusion is applicable to the benefits, if not necessity, of both a strong leadership coalition and a vibrant, committed community engaged through social and other media. A grass-roots-based, social and traditional media-driven coalition might be successful independent of a strong leadership coalition, or it might not. Working together, however, they can increase the strategy's success chances via at least initial guidance from and public credibility of a strong leadership coalition; the power of far-reaching, fast-moving social media advocacy and education; and the proven capabilities of traditional media.
The leadership candidate field for initial launch and/or early stage partnership in the initiative is rich. Examples and leaders of such work can be found in but are far from restricted to such sources as ethicists; the Great Place to Work Institute; the Gallup Q12 employee engagement model; organizational performance-enhancers such as workplace "happiness" (Shawn Achor), "emotional intelligence" (Daniel Goleman), "right-brain" engagement (Daniel Pink); and responsibly people-focused businesses and organizations, such as Southwest Airlines, SAS Institute, SRC, Herman Miller, The Bama Companies, Whole Foods Market, Pike Place Fish, Johnsonville Sausage, The Container Store, TDIndustries, Semco Group [Brazil, Ricardo Semler]).
Those who agree to be members of the leadership coalition at the launch and/or in the subsequent early-stage rollout likely will enjoy compound yields from their investment of time and resources. They will find encouragement, affirmation and perhaps new ideas to support their respective areas of work while at the same time have the opportunity to partner on the prospect of actualizing their common vision on a much broader scale and perhaps much more quickly. Further, the demand from increasing numbers of business and organizational leaders choosing the people-centered model likely will present coalition leaders who are consultants, coaches, speakers and facilitators new opportunities for providing their respective services and, as well, could even require growth in the field of service providers to fulfill expanding demand.
The group forms consensus on the core driver for transforming business cultural assumptions and practices, and participants commit to its advocacy, collectively and individually.
This model recommends that that transformational driver in concept and essence is the ethical and fiduciary necessity of businesses, represented by their leaders, to responsibly place the well-being of people who are their key stakeholders as their central, constant focus.
If embraced in concept, the leadership coalition will articulate the core driver in a manner that is acceptable to them and that powerfully conveys the transformational intent of the coalition and initiative. Perhaps former Southwest Airlines leader Herb Kelleher's succinct, compelling "The business of business is people." is the formulation or helps provoke development of an alternative.
The launch likely should include a formal symposium for seeking commitments to, governance of and direction for the initiative. If the commitments are sufficiently strong going into such a symposium, the media might be invited in to report on the importance of the coalition's intentions and commitments. If key commitments and direction are still developing in the symposium, involving the media at that stage might be premature. The leadership coalition will conduct subsequent strategic and assessment gatherings as appropriate.
A primary, perplexing question coalition and other initiative leaders will hear from interested leaders is simply: "Okay. What you're saying makes sense. So, just how do I go about genuinely caring for people and responsibly honoring and enriching them?" Sadly, for countless leaders and employees, these are largely, if not wholly, foreign ideas to their experience of getting business done.
Many volumes have been and will be written about how organizations can be responsibly people-centered, so this proposal will address that essential matter only briefly.
When a leader makes the choice to lead in a people-centered manner, then begins the real work of transformation -- not only organizationally but likely personally for the leader and for many people within the organization -- and constant requirement of care and feeding of the new culture. Each business's journey and tools will be distinct, reflecting the characteristics of its unique mission, culture, team of people, leadership, history, market dynamics.
To address that need for guidance in some measure, the leadership coalition likely will choose to develop some getting-started resources for possible use by these leaders. As noted previously, increasing demand for hands-on guidance and support could create new, widespread service opportunities for counselors and coaches, including local professionals. The leadership coalition might choose to serve in some capacity as a networking resource to candidate counselors for business leaders to consider engaging.
Ultimately, the leadership coalition and a cadre of professional coaches and consultants will hammer out this model's and strategy's implementation details in ways aligned with their own toolkits and resonant with the longing we hold in common to live in a world where businesses truly, responsibly are purposed to the needs of people.
Directly Influencing, Bringing in Others
All members of the new leadership coalition take the messages of their new, shared commitment into their various enterprises, activities, relationships and realms of influence:
among their colleagues;
to their existing and new clients, as appropriate, across all industries, institutions, enterprises and organizations;
with others of like mind unable to participate in the launching symposium;
with participants in existing and future social media and network groups of which they are members or which they initiate;
with family and friends and, as appropriate, new acquaintances.
The explanations and invitations ripple out in subsequent waves to new groups of people who then become committed supporters of the initiative's purpose in their spheres of influence.
This work begins to seed the principle of people-centered organizations broadly. With a strong degree of devotion, seeds could begin rooting globally in a manner of months.
Leveraging Social Media
Social media just might hold a critical catalytic key to providing the initiative a powerful early boost, moving it inexorably to a tipping point of embrace and helping sustain it for a long time.
Though still in its infancy, social media have proven formidable in supplanting seemingly entrenched, immovable institutions with ideas supporting the start of new, ideally more progressive, people-honoring institutions. Social media's impact in driving the so-called “Arab Spring” is but one good example.
The message of responsibly honoring and enriching the lives of people, of key stakeholders, in our work resonates or has the potential to resonate deeply in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people globally. Through social media these people in their astounding quantity will have ready encouragement and access to information and resources about a stronger business model from some of their nation's and the world's accomplished leaders, some of their region's and city's business and organizational leaders, some of their professors in the business school in the city.
As with the popular Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, social media have the capability to quickly enlist large numbers of advocates, provide them with resources and information and prompt them to speak and act.
For their part, leaders in business, education (Please see Focusing on Educational Institutions below.) and other institutions will hear through social media general advocacy and education and direct advocay an ever-louder drumbeat about and growing embrace of an alternative business model. The arguments will be increasingly resounding and compelling supporting the new model's ethical and fiduciary superiority.
Leaders will be faced with the decision of ignoring the merits of the new model and defending that costly decision to all their stakeholders or embracing the new model and producing for those stakeholders its inherently greater ethical and fiduciary benefits.
A cautionary note: While unrestricted involvement at the grass-roots level can be powerfully beneficial, as with all well-intentioned efforts – say, business as we know it today – it sometimes can go awry. Seeds planted and cultivated by social media must be rooted strongly, resolutely in the conviction that the purpose of business is people.
Seeding Local Networks
Taking a cue from the coalition's launching symposium, local members and partners form their own geographically local symposiums, coalitions and networks.
Those gatherings and networks will provide forums for encouragement, support, learning and innovation. They will support the initiative's core purpose and its direct application by local leaders in their businesses and organizations. As well, they will nurture the sharing and implementing of “lessons learned” regarding a host of other practical, strategic and tactical problems and applications for use by participants in their workplaces.
One of the rewarding benefits of associating with organizations and gatherings of people who have people's well-being at the center of their work is the sheer exhilaration and joy derived from them. Sharing with, learning from and applauding achievements of caring, humble, confident people is a rare human experience in our world of work. Rewarding in and of itself, such an experience also yields the expected, further benefits of strengthening its participants and the organizations they lead and support in many dimensions.
Focusing on Educational Institutions
By definition, educational institutions – at all levels, from pre-school through post-graduate – are one of our primary places of learning, so they stand as extremely important potential partners of the initiative.
Particularly important are all institutions of higher education – where people have a strong focus on vocational preparation and where they shape their assumptions and values of why and how work is conducted. The focus should be on administrators, faculty and benefactors across all disciplines, because the real-world need and opportunity reside in all. And, of course, of unique importance within those institutions are the undergraduate and graduate business programs.
As with business leaders, some administrators and professors, perhaps many, will resist. As with business leaders, the message to them will be that the ethical and fiduciary merits of people-focused business speak unassailably for themselves as being a significant grade above the status quo.
Corroboration abounds regarding the irrefutable necessity of placing people and their well-being as central in the work and lives of people striving to live ethically, responsibly and well. The following come from two seemingly disparate sources and fields of work -- theoretical physics and rock music.
Albert Einstein, considering the applications of the work of science to address humanity's needs and problems, observed, "Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors, concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods -- in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations."
U2's Bono similarly, deftly conveys the universal value of honoring people in lamenting the deaths of innocent young people caught in the violent crossfire of Northern Ireland extremist ideology, singing, "Their lives are bigger than any big idea."
So it is with the lives of people and any big idea of business, however seemingly important.
The business of business is people, plain and simple. What else could it rightly and prudently be?
If we fail to make that true, we consign ourselves to inhabiting and sustaining businesses and organizations that are shells of what they could be, that are fundamentally ethically flawed and that, along with the abundant good they provide, deliver an endless torrent of bad to human beings.
Ominously, left unchanged, our business status quo could in fact doom us.
Hopefully, a transformed business culture – reshaped to consistently, responsibly be about honoring and enriching the lives of people we depend on – can soon and sustainably bring us unimaginably good bounty and largely leave behind us as cautionary memories the massive costs, tragedies and horrors to people visited on them by yesterday's business.