The perpetual balancing act between selfishness and selflessness, or self-interest and group-interest, is evolutionarily fundamental. So much so that it has been described as “The Paradox of Being Human.” Thus, while I have written about it before, I have not stopped thinking about it and it remains integral to everything I do. Recently, I have been seeking a way to portray it more effectively, and, in the spirit of “a picture being worth a thousand words”, more graphically.
Recently I came across an article in the July-August 2015 Harvard Business Review entitled, “People before Strategy.” (I am not sure the link will work, but you can try clicking here to read it for yourself.) I was particularly struck by the sub-title, “A New Role for the CHRO”, for my immediate response was “How many organisations have a CHRO?”
I guess to some extent that is the intended response. Certainly the useful summary table provided in the article infers this.
“Mine!” Who hasn’t heard a young child say that? The concept of ownership is one of our most primitive senses. Indeed, I once read that the difference between North American and South American history, (both colonised around the same time) could be attributed to the encouragement of land ownership stimulating the greater development of the North.
Be that as it may, you would have some difficulty arguing against the idea that ownership is an integral part of capitalism. The concepts of limited liability and the lasting, legal persona of the corporation would not have been possible, or nearly as successful, without distributed ownership and the amelioration of risk it created. So much so, that you might even argue that ownership is the heart of capitalism. Which is why it is strange that so little has been done to make employees owners. Even stranger – and certainly ironic – is that efforts to encourage this are sometimes seen as socialism!
In fact, making your employees co-owners of your business has to be the ultimate in capitalism. Why? Because it also gives them a stake in the outcome. This makes it more personal. It gives them the pride of possession. Now, instead of simply being ‘servants of the organisation’ they become ‘partners in our organisation.’
“Fortune favours the bold.” Or, perhaps Queen Elizabeth I’s legendary rendering of the sentiment as “Faint heart never won fair maiden”, may be more appropriate here. But, whichever statement you prefer, it’s true. After finally unveiling 'Love at Work' after hesitating for several months, I now question why I did. The response has been entirely positive.
That is not to say it has been overwhelming, but perhaps that is hardly surprising, if you fail to see the benefits immediately apparent. So let me take this opportunity to try to explain 'Love at Work' in a way that I hope will get you as excited about it as I am. The diagram should help, even though it does take some explaining.
The idea was novel. It had promise. It was exciting. Yet part of me still baulked. “People won’t take me seriously.” “I will be ridiculed.” “It is too alien: no businessman would be interested.” Those were just some of the doubts that paralyzed me.
If you are supremely confident, you might respond quickly, “Of course!” If you are more modest or less confident you might say, “I think so.” Either way, the likelihood is, like most executives and senior leaders, you are accustomed to empirical performance measures and will therefore have a reasonable basis for your answer. Accustomed to being in control and, perhaps unwilling to come across as unsure, you would be unlikely to stall by asking, “What do you mean by good?”
Yet, ‘good’ is a subjective term, and you would be quite within your rights to seek further clarification, or even to pull out that old consulting chestnut by responding, “It depends.” The fact is, your answer might well depend on who is operating the lie-detector and what lies behind the question or where the emphasis lies. Hopefully, however, the pressure derives from the lie-detector and this is a question you regularly ask yourself anyway. (If it isn’t, you definitely have little right to answer positively. A good leader will always be questioning their performance and looking to do better.)
So let’s move on to take a look at what you are doing to assess your leadership, and perhaps identify pointers for improvement.
Change is an integral part of life. So much so that we are often completely unaware of it. We simply wake up one day to the realization that something familiar isn’t quite the same as we thought it was.
We experienced a good example of this over the Christmas holidays, visiting our young grandchildren for almost a month. As you would expect, the children we met on the first day were very different from the young children we had last seen. More surprising, however, was how much they changed during our time with them. It wasn’t only that, even after a couple of weeks, they were so proficient at things they couldn’t do when we arrived. Nor was it just the delicious festive food that made them feel heavier. We were sure that they also grew physically!
The fact is change is continuous. In the 21st Century, however, we are perhaps more aware of it than ever, and the fact that – due to the massive technological advances – the pace seems to be faster and the demands on us more urgent. So much so, that ‘change management’ has not only become part of the lexicon, but a recognized skill and much sought after competency. But are we being misguided?
You don’t have to be a leader to be aware of the pace of change and the challenges of competing and surviving in today’s global market. As a leader, however, you certainly face them every working hour; perhaps every waking hour and possibly even in your sleep. But then, no-one ever said survival was easy. On the contrary, you’ve always relished the fact it isn’t, and that is what has driven you.
Even so, there must be times when you feel like an early explorer and question why you ever embarked on your journey. If you do, there is no shame in admitting it. Those intrepid sailors must have had doubts in the face of severe storms miles away from anything familiar. And your situation is not dissimilar. You may not have left the shore, but you are just as much a pioneer, trying to map out routes for others to follow. No-one has ever before had to meet the challenges you do, on the scale you do, or with the consequences you face. Arguably, the risks are no less significant now than they were then.
If you haven’t ever considered yourself in this light, perhaps now is a good time to do so. And to question how you are performing in the role.
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.