You probably know that, if you put a frog in cold water and slowly heat it, it will eventually boil to death. This fact was popularised by management guru Charles Handy in his 1989 book, “The Age of Unreason.” But, even though you know the parable, do you ever stop to think about it, its implications and its relevance? After all, Handy must have had a reason for telling it.
“Mine!” “No! Mine!” How often have you seen that scenario play out? I certainly found it a recurring theme over the holidays as I watched my two very young grandchildren play. And I would guess that 95 out of 100 initially happy games that ended up in tears, did so when such conflict arose. Even when it wasn’t about direct ownership, it was about perceived injustices over “turns” or temporary ownership of a particular activity. The concept of possession thus seems to be a deeply ingrained in our culture from a very early age.
Whether this is good or bad, is actually irrelevant. Less materialistic cultures, such as the San people of the Kalahari, suggest that it is possible to have a culture without ownership and consequently with considerably less conflict. This, arguably, makes ownership the Pandora’s Box that seems to be the price we pay for civilisation and something that is almost impossible to discard. Indeed, you could argue that ownership underpins capitalism, which, historically, has been responsible for the world’s major economic development.
Yet, even in commerce, ownership is a root of contention and conflict. You only have to watch “Dragon’s Den” or “Shark Tank”, with would be entrepreneurs pondering an investment offer to see this.
It seems to come around more quickly than ever, as if trying to catch you by surprise. Nevertheless, ready or not, it is once again the time of the year to take a break from business and the responsibilities of everyday life and focus on things that are just as - and possibly even more - important. No doubt you have earned the break and, however long yours is, as you take it, I wish you and yours everything you wish yourself for the festive season holidays and the coming New Year. May you see the fulfillment of every one, and even more. I look forward to your company again in the New Year.
If you like what you have read contact me today to discuss how my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model could provide the catalyst to help you create a culture in which everyone cares and the business becomes our business, embedding improvement that transforms – and sustains – organic business performance.
Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organisational culture model that helps transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement” and, more recently, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped.
Rather ironically, hours after posting my blog last week (Cats, Caterpillars and Business), I received reinforcing information that substantiated all my points. And from no less an authority than Professor Gary Hamel. He enumerates the staggering scale of efficiencies that I alluded to but couldn't quantify for myself.
Believe me, when I talk about staggering numbers, I am not exaggerating! Talking about the US alone, he quantifies “the prize” for “busting bureaucracy” as $3 trillion p.a.! Perhaps, writing it as $3,000,000,000,000 gives you a clearer idea of just how much that is. Especially when you factor in this is an annual figure! Even if that number is 50% over-optimistic it is still significant. And what if it is conservative? No matter how successful you are, the possibilities this presents have to make you curious.
Have you ever noticed how sensitive a cat’s fur is? Barely touch a sleeping cat and it will twitch where you touch it. It’s purely reflex, I know, but it is something I love doing and always makes me smile. But it provides a useful lesson.
When will we learn, or, as Bob Dylan put it, “When will we ever learn?” That is the question I found myself pondering after reading two very different articles this week.
As a human being you cannot survive on your own. It doesn’t matter how capable or self-sufficient you consider yourself to be, it is practically impossible. Interdependence is an inescapable fact of life. If you are a manager or leader, you definitely depend on other people to achieve results. And, even if you aren’t, you are still likely to rely on other people to be able to get your job done. This makes managing relationships an essential life-skill.
John Donne encapsulated this when he said, “No man is an island, entire of itself: every man is a piece of the continent.” For most of us, this “continent” is the organisation where we work. This is significant because, if you are a “piece” of the organisation, it makes the organisation itself the ‘framework of relationships.’ This begs the question, “To what extent do you recognise this and regard your organisation as a ‘framework of relationships.’?
You couldn’t have made it up! In a world where the excesses of business have fuelled strong – sometimes violent – protests against capitalism and corporate malfeasance, Donald Trump won the US election because he was perceived as a businessman! Despite the onslaught of attacks on his personal character and his suitability for the role, he became the first man in history to become US President without any military or political experience whatsoever, because of his business credentials and the hope that this would enable him to bring about change.
This is like giving your most vociferous, disgruntled customer, who knows nothing about the ins and outs of your operations, control over your entire organisation, albeit on a far grander scale. You can imagine how concerned your other stakeholders would be if you were to do that. So it is hardly surprising that Trump’s election is causing consternation and creating a backlash. Inevitably people are taking stock of the implications and wondering how it is going to affect them.
Yet, in all the post-election reflection, there is one aspect that does not appear to have been considered in any great depth. And it is one that, perhaps, warrants the greatest thought: “What are the implications for business?” Without any doubt they are significant.
Less than 3% of leadership time is spent on collectively building a view of the future. At least, so said Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad in their book “Competing for the Future.” You might find some comfort in the fact that shocking statistic is over two decades old. But, even if things have improved subsequently, it is cause for concern.
Both the pace of change, and the fact that 70% of change initiatives, reportedly, fail to achieve their objectives, suggest that proportion should be significantly higher. This implies a need to take action to improve matters. Before identifying how to do that, however, you might ask, “Why, given the rate of change, do leaders not spend more time on this?” After all, safeguarding the future is surely a primary leadership responsibility.
It is encouraging to know that employee ownership is becoming increasingly popular and more widespread. According to Chief Executive Magazine the number of worker-owned businesses in the US is growing around 6% per year and such businesses now account for 12% of the private sector workforce. Apparently, this is due to initiatives “to empower their workforce employees by selling their stock to an ESOP or similar worker-owned arrangement” and/or “from founders wishing to reward employees while cashing out of their business.”
Yet, notwithstanding such developments, difficulties remain. The article identifies 2 major dilemmas:
- Private companies lack the public trading capability that listed companies use to motivate employees;
- Governance “challenges” if subsequent owners are unwilling to continue running the business.
Then, presumably as solutions to these dilemmas, the article offers two case studies. The first describes the transformation effected by a shared compensation system at Johnsonville Sausages; and the second reveals how, over 30 years, Burns and McDonnell, grew from 600 to 5,500 employees (816%) and increased revenues from $40 million to $2.6 billion (6400%) as the result of an ESOP (Employee Share Ownership Plan.) Then, despite this example of extraordinary growth that most organisations can only dream about, the article simply concludes by identifying the upside and downside of ESOPs. So let me add to the subject.