Posted tagged ‘corporate values’

Smash your wall

22 February 2011

The recent historic events in Egypt remind me of the Peaceful Revolution in East Berlin in 1989.

In both cases I believe the protest movement was catalysed by the church, whether directly or indirectly.

While the imams in Egypt reportedly implored their faithful not to take to the streets, the pastor of Leipzig’s Church of St Nicholas actively encouraged non-violent uprising via weekly “Peace Prayers”.

Regardless, the amassing of the population in both countries proved the tipping point and the surging will of the people prevailed.

On 9 October 1989 protesters marched out of the Nikolaikirche and into the city.

For me, the sorry saga of West Berlin’s enclavement epitomises the flawed command-and-control mentality shared by the likes of President Mubarak.

It’s a mentality that refuses to acknowledge its own faults, despite the cold facts:

At least 136 Germans died trying to cross the wall from East to West.

0 died trying to cross from West to East.

What was the Politburo thinking? Was ideology driving them to hold firm? Was blissful ignorance shielding them from the plight of their own citizens? Was individual gain incentivising them to maintain the status quo?

The Berlin Wall November 28, 1975 looking southeast

Unfortunately a similar walled-in mentality is alive and well in the corporate sector.

How often do we see things being done that ignore or even work against the interests of the customer? Typically the root cause is a company-centric model that can’t be bothered inconveniencing itself on behalf of its own corporate values.

Of course, as dedicated professionals, we have to be careful not to fall into the same trap.

I’ve seen peers resist enterprise social media because they don’t like Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve seen peers pussyfoot over m-learning because it’s all too hard.

At the height of the virtual craze, I even heard someone declare without an ounce of doubt: “There’s no money in Second Life”. (Evidently Ailin Graef didn’t get that memo.)

My point is, it doesn’t so much matter what we want. What really matters is what our customers want.

To determine that we need to ask them. Then we need to respond in kind, regardless of our preferences and prejudices.

Sure, we can barricade ourselves behind a wall – but only for a little while. Eventually we must surf the wave that rolls over it, or get dunked.
 

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Shades of green

22 June 2010

Environmental sustainability.

It’s a term that seems to be bandied around a lot lately.

Many companies have it stated as one of their “core values” – but do they really mean it?

Businessman holding crystal globe

It’s easy to display the words on your website, print them on a pretty brochure, and even rattle them off during an induction.

But it’s a whole different kettle of fish to integrate their meaning and intent into your strategic plan.

In other words, to walk the talk.

Academic insight

In the second part of my 2-part interview with Dr David Bubna-Litic, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, I posed the following questions.

Again I have recorded his answers for you to review:

PlayDoes the L&D department have an obligation to facilitate the learning of the corporation’s values among its employees?

PlaySo if an insurance company defines environmental sustainability as a core value, should its L&D department organise workshops on green issues?

PlayHow about controversial issues such as climate change and nuclear energy – should the company adopt one political agenda over another?

If you have trouble playing the files, right-click each link and “Save Target As…”.

My take

It’s clear to me that a company that claims a corporate value such as environmental sustainability has an ethical obligation to translate it into action. Values are more than words; they represent behaviour.

Green piggy bankThe irony of pretenders like Enron is that, if the corporation is true to its values, it can reap significant financial rewards.

For example, a manufacturing company that reduces its electricity consumption will no doubt enjoy a corresponding cost saving; a finance company that offers socially responsible investments may attract a new demographic of customer; a multinational that installs a web conferencing system instead of criss-crossing the globe by airliner will no longer need to fund relentless air fares, hotel bills and meal allowances.

The role of the L&D Department

It is also clear to me that the L&D Department has a professional obligation to facilitate the learning of the corporation’s values among its employees.

Since those values provide the context for how the company operates in the marketplace, any ignorance of them is – at best – unprofessional, but probably more accurately, incompetent.

The thin green line

In dealing with politically contentious issues such as climate change, the organisation must be wary of straying into partisanship.

No matter how much we wish it wasn’t so, some of our colleagues just don’t agree with our point of view. So if the corporation were to adopt one political agenda over another, I for one would consider it ethically unacceptable.

I suggest that instead of taking sides, the company errs on the side of caution. For example, it doesn’t need to say things like:

Acme Corporation knows that climate change is real.

That is almost intentionally divisive.

Chess pieces opposing each other

Instead, why not go for:

Acme Corporation is committed to an environmentally sustainable future. While we are unsure as to whether human activity contributes to climate change, we are taking the precaution of reducing our carbon emissions and expanding our portfolio in the renewable energy sector.

That is much more inclusive!

Chess pieces mingling

As the elephant in the room will tell you, there’s no point in disengaging some of your employees.

That would be to the detriment of everyone.

The elephant in the room

15 June 2010

Does spirituality belong in the workplace?

This may sound like a fluffy question, but unless your employees are cyborgs, it’s also a relevant one.

Cyborg

Of course we are human, and that means every single one of us brings our personal beliefs, goals, needs and values into the workplace.

This poses a challenge for corporations.

The secularisation of government and industry (at least in the West) has promoted the suppression and exclusion of anything remotely related to religion, including spirituality.

Yet we are human. For many of us, our sense of spirituality provides the context for everything that we do. We can’t put it in a box during business hours and wear it like a hat on our way home.

We wouldn’t even want to. That’s the point.

The challenge for secular organisations is how to deal with it.

Academic insight

Spirituality and Corporate Social Responsibility: Interpenetrating WorldsI recently had the opportunity to discuss this topic with one of Australia’s leading thinkers: Dr David Bubna-Litic, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Editor of Spirituality and Corporate Social Responsibility: Interpenetrating Worlds.

I posed four rather pointed questions to David, and I have recorded his answers for your review:

PlayDoes spirituality belong in the workplace?

PlayDoes an employer have an obligation to support the spirituality of its employees?

PlayShould the L&D department facilitate spiritual learning?

PlayIs spirituality grounded in a belief in God?

If you have trouble playing the files, right-click each link and “Save Target As…”.
 
My take

Bank teller upsellingIt’s clear to me that a corporation that supports the spirituality of its employees can get buckets in return in the form of engagement, motivation and performance.

However, the goals and values of the individual may not always align with the goals and values of the company.

This might happen, for example, when the company decides to upsell products rather than service the real needs of its customers.

David adds:

It is also important to recognise that spirituality has a broad horizon and when a company is open to encouraging its employees to deeply engage with their lives at work, they may bring new concerns to the job. In such cases, the company must be open to dialogue about its strategic direction in different ways, for example, building on a more relational approach to its stakeholders.

A company may find the benefits of spiritual engagement arise in intangible ways, such as stakeholder loyalty; however, creating expectations and enlivening employees needs to be genuine, otherwise the same employees may be equally motivated to seek a more fulfilling role elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the conflict between personal and corporate values can damage both parties. A disengaged worker is unlikely to be a high performer!

The “R” word

It is also clear to me that spirituality and religion are not necessarily the same thing. You can be a highly spiritual person without aligning yourself to any church or god.

However, I am acutely aware of the fact that, for many people, spirituality and religion are the same thing. Religion provides the moral and existential framework within which they live their lives.

Elephant

So if a corporation commits itself to supporting the spirituality of its employees, it must inevitably deal with the “R” word.

David adds:

Times have changed and recently, interfaith dialogue has emerged as an important vehicle by which traditionally adversarial religious groups are learning to build understanding and harmony.

The multicultural dimension

In an increasingly multicultural society like the one I live in, not everyone is Christian. Nor is everyone atheist. There are Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Agnostics… the number of spiritual labels in the workplace is as long as a piece of string.

Colleagues

This presents a series of dilemmas to the secular organisation:

Does it promote religious activity or ignore it?

If it funds a Christmas party, must it also fund a Ramadan festival?
How about a Passover feast?

Is it a double standard to relabel the Christmas party and Easter holidays, yet celebrate Pooram or Loy Krathong as a “diversity” initiative?

The corporation can’t be all things to all people; but by the same token, it can’t be some things to some people. It has to be egalitarian.

My personal opinion is that a secular organisation should support, accommodate and tolerate all religious affiliations, but not own them.

It can’t afford to.

Noise pollution

18 December 2009

COP15 was a fiasco.

At the eleventh hour, the world’s governments cobbled together a half‑baked “accord”, after 2 weeks of posturing, grandstanding and generally faffing about.

Why bother? At the next summit, they’ll realise they’ve got no hope of meeting the target, however vague, so they’ll try to weasel out of the agreement just like they weaseled out of Kyoto.

The fact is: Governments can’t govern very well. All they really can do is tax. And do we want a bunch of taxmen managing our environment?

No – I see real environmental management in the hands of corporations and individuals.

Business man holding the EarthCorporate citizenship

These days, every company has an environmental policy.

However, it’s just a collection of words.

To be a good corporate citizen, the firm must use that policy to inform action.

And that’s typically where the wheels fall off.

Education is the key

The foundation of corporate citizenship is education. If the L&D team (and others) aren’t active in this space, then there’s a disconnect between what the company allegedly stands for and what it manifestly stands for.

I happen to believe that the company I work for is indeed a good corporate citizen.

For example, today we screened The Burning Season in-house, which we followed up with a talk by the protagonist, Dorjee Sun – CEO of Carbon Conservation.

The Burning Season Ryan Tracey with top bloke, Dorjee Sun.

Regardless of your political and philosophical views of climate change, I’m sure we all agree that the relentless destruction of Indonesia’s rainforest is an unmitigated disaster.

Achmadi the farmer

Given the socio-economic dimensions of the problem, the Indonesian government is simply incapable of governing it.

Action makes the difference

Now that my colleagues and I have watched the film, we’ve heard Dorjee talk and our awareness has been raised a few thousand notches, what can we actually do about it?

For a start, I suggest we ignore the Copenhagen Clowns.

As a financial services company, something we already do is offer Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) options to our customers. These options typically embargo investments in the likes of arms dealers and tobacco manufacturers; dare I suggest that palm oilers should also be on the blacklist?

It’s also important to keep in mind that a corporation is a collection of individuals. Not only could we select SRI options in our own investment plans, but we could make the personal decision to donate to a relevant charity. In this case we chose Borneo Orangutan Survival, and the corporation dollar-matched our individual contributions.

I’m sure there’s hundreds of other things we could do, both as corporations and as individuals. And yet more could be done in other industry sectors. All we need is some imagination.

The thin green line

In essence, corporate citizenship is a political concept. So we must be wary of straying into partisanship.

For example, I would be uncomfortable with screening Obama’s speeches as an L&D activity. (If you disagree, how would you feel if I screened Bush’s speeches instead?)

The Earth with a stethoscopeNone-the-less, corporate citizenship transcends partisanship. The world has plenty of massive problems that we all acknowledge, regardless of our political persuasions.

As L&D professionals in socially responsible corporations, we arguably have a duty to raise our colleagues’ awareness of the issues that matter, then translate that knowledge into something practical.

In doing so, we must avoid ATNA at all costs.

Otherwise it’s just noise pollution.