March 2006 - In Search of "Corporate Soul"
In Search of "Corporate Soul"
Consumers and employees are crying out for a change, a change in the ethics of America, a change in responsibility by corporations for their actions, a change in the way governments govern. They are demanding responsibility by the accounting firms who audit corporations and demanding more "humane" workplaces.
They are taking their demands into the voting box, showing them at the cash register, showing them in letters to newspapers, writing their views on the Internet and showing them in lawsuits against employers in increasingly rapid numbers.
People are demanding that employers have "soul" — that elusive quality defined in the dictionary as "the spiritual, immaterial part of man’s being; the sacred part of the human being." This "soul" is not a religious idea, but one that demands that people be more human toward each other — that corporations deliver on their promises (stated or implied), that they operate with honesty and integrity that they do what they say they will do, and that governments uphold the promises they make.
No longer is it good business to sell a product that breaks down repeatedly. Consumers expect to get what they pay for!
No longer is it good business to certify that a company is financially solvent when it is not.
No longer is it okay for politicians to make promises they don’t keep.
No longer is it okay for managers to harass employees and get away with it.
No longer is it okay for the medical profession to cover up the questionable practices of doctors.
No longer is it okay for a government agency to abandon their responsibilities in a time of crisis.
Corporations and public institutions are expected to provide a "safe and healthy" workplace, which includes not only physical safety from toxic chemicals and dangerous equipment, but free from stressful conditions.
California usually leads the U.S. in setting higher workplace standards for employers. However, Great Britain is far ahead in the area of harassment and bullying laws that mandate what constitutes a healthy workplace.
Never before has an unhappy or mistreated employee had such legal force behind them. Many are using this new-found legal power against their employers or former employers. Expect this trend to increase as people realize the power they hold to correct historic abuses.
Why is this happening now? What is different about this time in history from other times in history?
Many factors contribute to this increased pressure at this time in our history. Never before have we had so many people at their prime earning years (35-55) — the "baby boomers." This is a time of reaching the high point in their career. Many are finding — with corporate restructuring, down-sizing, right-sizing and economic recession — that their "dream" is no longer reachable. They are disillusioned in the status quo and they are learning to take their future into their own hands.
Employees no longer place blind trust in their employers. They question everyone and everything. How many truly secure jobs are there? Not many. Even governments and universities lay off employees. There is no real job security. People are realizing that they must create their own security for themselves, not depend on the government or their employers to do it for them.
How can companies and employers deal with this unrest in the general population? By developing "Corporate Soul, " by showing that they DO truly care about their employees (and their customers), by creating a safer, more secure environment for their employees. By doing business ethically, by being "human" and "real people caring about real people." This is a large task for those companies who have hidden behind impersonal policies, dehumanizing procedures, sloppy products and unsafe/unhealthy workplaces. These will no longer be tolerated.
The companies who prosper during the worldwide shift in values will be those that truly do have "Soul" — those who care about their customers and employees, who are real human beings willing to value other human beings, who are "up close and personal" in their advertising, in dealing with employees, in dealing with customers. For many companies, this requires a new understanding of who they are and what their corporate culture says about them to employees and customers increasingly skeptical of false images, false slogans, false promises and false people. Everything is being questioned and only those who can stand the questioning will survive the shake-out.
The world is changing rapidly. Anyone who doubts that need only remember the last few years of radical change. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the re-unification of Germany and the collective efforts of Europe are all events that 25 years ago would have been viewed as impossible. Yet, they have happened in a few short years. The pace of change is accelerating.
What changes lie ahead? Only more and more change of greater magnitude than we have ever experienced in our lifetime. A wild ride to come!
To see what is happening in the world and the new expectations that are being created, visit any book store. You’ll see titles such as:
How many employees and consumers are saying "Right on! Why doesn’t my company do that?" when they read these books? People everywhere are affected by new ideas, new thoughts and new ways of doing business often long before the corporate hierarchy understands what has happened. People change their buying patterns and their friends change their patterns. Marketing departments are the last to understand what happened; entrenched management may be years late in figuring out why their market "suddenly" collapsed.
A few trends we have noticed:
Notice that none of the above examples focus on making more money, working longer hours, covering up scandals, getting rich by cheating others or producing shoddy products. In fact, there is growing attention to exposing the tarnished ethics of people in high places. Just read the newspaper any day or watch the latest news to see multiple examples of people having to explain their behavior, being tried in court, convicted or going to prison.
No longer is it the "in" thing to be a high living stock broker on Wall Street cheating their clients, president or executive of a failed corporation, a crooked politician, a doctor who abuses their patients, a builder who uses low-quality materials or an auto-maker whose cars lack quality. Many of our major industries are being scrutinized with a very large magnifying glass — by employees and by consumers.
America is ready for another Boston Tea Party — a revolution that may manifest as a taxpayer’s revolt, a strong voter statement against incumbents or employee strikes (whether unionized or not). Too many people are tired of broken promises and transparent attempts to cover up false promises with glitz and glamour. They are mad, and not going to take it anymore! The Russians and Germans have shown us all the power of the people.
Just as teenagers can be revolutionary, the American people (your employees and customers) have power they have just begun to recognize, without the benefit of adult experience to temper their use of that power. How that power is directed toward their employers, is only beginning to be felt.
Some companies are forced into bankruptcy or reorganization before they realize they must change the way they do business. Smarter, more aware companies are looking at themselves and finding that their own sense of "self" is not what is should be for this new world order. They are cleaning up their act, polishing off their mission statement and re-visiting their purpose for being. They are shifting their priorities from focusing on just making money to giving better service, from getting new customers at any cost to maintaining the loyalty of existing customers; shifting from viewing employees as expense to viewing employees as assets.
When companies attempt cost-cutting moves primarily through massive lay-offs of long-term employees, they are also cutting out the heart and soul of what made the company successful. How many companies can survive without their heart and soul?
Instead, companies can encourage employees to work smarter or cut their hours (instead of jobs) so that everyone works a reasonable number of hours. Many years ago, this method worked extremely well and many young companies survived and prospered enough to return to full productivity.
Why isn’t this done more often today? Mostly, because the biggest companies became so large and impersonal, that we let a few key people run the finances in the company, instead of all employees having some part in the functioning of the company as they do in many small, entrepreneurial endeavors.
Smaller companies know how hard it is to make a profit, so they must work harder and smarter all the time. Larger companies have gotten so used to making money — almost in spite of themselves — that they’ve gotten fat and lazy. Many large organizations that seemed almost invincible are facing the harsh reality of their lack of sensitivity to a fast-changing world.
Germany and the Soviet Union know the price they paid for ignoring the will of the people. When the German people finally woke up, how long did it take for them to take down the Berlin Wall? An awesome example for the entire world of the power of people to change their environment when they become motivated! How fast did the Soviet Union crumble once the people decided they had enough. Life afterward has not always been easy in either of these two countries as they adjust.
What should companies and governments do to adapt to today’s changing realities?
Many CEO’s are writing books about new styles of leadership and standing up for what they believe in. Some examples are Tom Peters (The Tom Peters Group), Max DePree (Herman Miller, Inc.), Mark McCormack (IMG), Faith Popcorn (BrainReserve, Inc.) and Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines). Think about the ones who have found themselves on the other end of the law in the past few years. Do you really care what they think or write about?
Herb Kelleher, on the television show 60 Minutes, described his philosophy as the "School of Management through Fooling Around." Herb's airline (Southwest Airlines) is not only a fun place to work, it is financially successful as well.
Frank Perdue (of Perdue Farms) made his company famous through his simple country philosophy, "Consumers want to know not only what they’re buying, but who they are buying it from. The people, not the logo."
That’s what developing a "corporate soul" means - BE-ing what you SAY you believe in, living your corporate image — personally every day in every way.
Don Miguel Ruiz says it this way in his Four Agreements
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
2. Don't Take Anything Personally
3. Don't Make Assumptions
4. Always Do Your Best
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Page updated: October 16, 2023
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