Flourishing organizations and flourishing individuals

May 31, 2013

The Fowler Center at the Weatherhead School of Business has recently published an article on the practice of self-reflection as a means of promoting reflection within an organization. The intention is to support discussion and initiatives for promoting change in the way organizations treat employees in order to create flourishing businesses

LWD is pleased to be able to promote this initiative by summarizing a recent item from The Fowler Center:

The Fowler Center at the Weatherhead School of Business has recently published an article on the practice of self-reflection and promoting reflection within an organization. The intention is to support discussion and initiatives for promoting change in the way organizations treat employees in order to create flourishing businesses

The article, to appear in this summer’s issue of The Journal of Corporate Citizenship,is a prelude to a forthcoming book titled The Flourishing Enterprise: Connecting Sustainability and Spirituality. It will be the final product of the Fellows’ research and careful thought on “the journey to a greater sense of connectedness” as central to business success.

The idea is that if individuals can find and create spiritual contentment in their organization, they can enrich their whole organization and help others flourish as well. The journey to a flourishing organization begins with the self. The Fellows argue that since knowledge workers’ productivity is deeply influenced by the workers’ inner states, cultivating optimal internal states becomes the responsibility of management.

Appreciative Inquiry is an excellent tool to cultivate reflection on the best of what is and to co-create the best of what could be. Created at the Weatherhead School [Case Western University] Appreciative Inquiry is a strength-based approach to whole systems change and is an excellent tool for creating large systemic change.

The Fowler Center hopes that its work will proliferate and create deep meaningful conversations about ways to transform businesses into agents of world benefit–where flourishing individuals create flourishing organizations that lead to a flourishing world.


Inferno by Dan Brown. Not another Review

May 29, 2013

InfernoI bought Inferno by Dan Brown to see if I could detect its deep secret, the explanation of the commercial success of the author. I believe I have cracked the code

Dan Brown is a genius whose insights will save the world from itself. The critics laughed at him, but we know what they did to Christopher Columbus, Homer Simpson, and Ron Hubbard. Yes, they laughed at them too.

They aren’t laughing now

As the world-renowned comedian Bob Monkhouse said: “when I was growing up, I said I wanted to be a comedian. They laughed at me then. They aren’t laughing now.”

To avoid plot spoiling

To avoid plot spoiling, I will offer only the broadest outline of what happens. The central character is “the eminent Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon”, hero of earlier books including the best-selling Da Vinci code.

Langdon, accompanied by the young medical doctor Sienna Brooks (IQ 208) face and solve numerous puzzles and threats on their lives mostly in and under the historic architecture of Florence. The threats in this “breathless race-against-time thriller” also produce philosophic dilemmas for the reader who is able to pause for breath long enough to contemplate them.

Cracking the code

Mr Brown has cracked the code of producing a best-seller. But I have cracked his code, deeply hidden in the text of his latest block-buster. You will need to study each page carefully before you will see the symbolism.

Brown is creating magical new usages of the English language. At first the results are unfamiliar enough to invite scorn from the critics, the scholars blinded by their own expectations. There is the playful use of adjectives, deliberate parodies on pulp fiction writing in descriptions of cathedrals and cupolas, museums and mausoleums. From these cleverly concealed clues we see the workings of genius intent on concealing what needs to be concealed – the secret of writing a best-seller.

Where’s the sex and violence?

Another part of the secret is to break away from the increasing pornographication of the novel. There is the acknowledged sexiness of Sienna Brooks but not a lot of sex. There are quite a few violent deaths, fifty shades of gore you might say, but no extremes.

Don’t listen to the critics

My advice is “don’t listen to the critics”. Borrow a copy of Inferno from a friend who will be happy to pass it on to spread the Brownian message. Study it with eyes wide open and strangely you will see the secrets concealed in its 461 pages printed on forest certified paper.

Acknowledgement

This post was guest edited by Dr John Keane of Urmston University


Puma Adidas rematch as Bayern beat Dortmund in the Champions Cup

May 27, 2013

Bayern DortmundThrough a series of coincidences, the 2013 European Champions cup final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund was also a reminder of the historic rivalry between the Puma and Adidas firms

The Champions League football final [May 25th 2013] took place in Wembley stadium before a capacity crowd. The fancied Bayern Munich eventually overcame plucky resistance from opponents who also had chances to win.

Puma Adidas

By coincidence, Bayern was sponsored by Adidas and Dortmund by Puma, two brands which have a remarkable historic rivalry. You can read about it in Leaders We Deserve [2009] in a post which describes another football match which attempted to head a seventy year old rivalry:

The charity Peace One Day plays a part in peace initiatives around the world. On September 21st, among those symbolic actions were those taken by Puma and Adidas, two firms whose existence reflects a long-lasting family feud within a small Bavarian township. They played a football game football together and watched the movie “The Day after Peace” by Jeremy Gilley, director and founder of PEACE ONE DAY.

The Adidas Puma story seems right for a Hollywood movie. In the 1920s, two brothers grew up and worked in the laundry shop owned by their mother in the 1920s. They started in business together with a shared idea which created the marketing of clothing exclusively for sporting activities. In the 1930s they equipped Jesse Owens for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin [a story in itself]. But the brothers rarely agreed over anything, and sibling rivalry must have contributed to the split into two firms, still operating in close proximity in a little township in Bavaria.

Whatever, the story tells of a feud during the 1939-45 war which was to split family and employees in the little village of Herzogenaurach for decades afterwards. Today, the old rivalries are mostly muted and symbolic. The Day of Peace celebrations confirmed existing practical realities of life in the township.

Branding wars

As Reuters reported [May 2013]

Adidas is the long-standing kit supplier to Bayern and owns a stake of around nine per cent in the Bavarian club, while Puma became the sportswear partner of Dortmund a year ago.
However, while Adidas and U.S. rival Nike dominate a football market estimated to be worth up to 4.5 billion euros, Puma is playing catch-up after years of focusing more on fashion than performance sportswear.

Its decision to partner with Dortmund yielded an instant return when the club made it to the Champions League final – the biggest prize in European club football and [attracted] a global television audience of over 150 million …[According to reports in the English media ]Puma are set to agree a deal worth more than 30 million pounds a year to provide the kit for English Premier League club Arsenal, replacing Nike.


First Group plans derailed by shareholder activists

May 25, 2013

First GroupThe First Group transport company has run into difficulties compounded by the loss of a Government contract after a battle with Richard Branson, and board room resignations influenced by shareholder activists

LWD subscribers were alerted to a leadership story at First Group the bus and rail transport outfit last year [Oct 2012] . The post noted that

Richard Branson called foul when his company Virgin Trains lost the franchise recently for the West Coast Main Line services from Scotland to London. His reaction was justified when the Department of Transport was forced to admit there had been flaws in the bidding process.

Virgin Trains has run the West Coast Main Line since 1997. When it recently lost its bid to renew the contract to rival operator FirstGroup, it claimed the evaluation was flawed, called for a review, and started court proceedings over the government’s decision.

On 3rd October 2012, Government ministers announced that there were “significant technical flaws” in the way the risks for each bid were calculated, justified the legal case that Branson had brought against the decision.

The fun fighter

Richard Branson, for all his business is fun image is not a stranger to fighting his case through the courts. His success contributed to problems building up for First Group.

Difficulties pile up for First Group

This week [May 2013] First Group is shown to have encountered further difficulties after the hole in its financial plans resulting from the loss of the contract. The Guardian reports

FirstGroup, the train and bus operator, has turned to shareholders for £615m, scrapped a final dividend and parted company with its chairman in an effort to reduce its debts and avoid a credit rating downgrade.

The shares fell 30% after the cash call was announced alongside a sharp fall in full-year profits at the company which employs 120,000 people. It is struggling with almost £2bn of debt largely as a result of its acquisition of the US bus company Laidlaw in 2007. The company came under further pressure last year when the government announced in August that it had won a lucrative contract to run the west coast main line rail franchise between London and Scotland, only to scrap the decision in October citing flaws in the bidding process.

Shareholder activists

Other reports suggest that shareholders have played an important part in “encouraging ” the company to take major actions to deal with its problems.

FirstGroup’s problems finally caught up with it [on Monday 13th May 2013] . Its CEO, Tim O’Toole, had repeatedly denied that FirstGroup needed to raise capital. But, with the credit rating agencies threatening to downgrade the company’s debt to junk, it launched a humiliating three-for-two rights issue to raise £615m. It was priced at a 62 per cent discount to the prevailing share price. Shareholders were also introduced to a “new progressive dividend policy”, otherwise known as no final dividend this year and a slashed pay out from next. The shares fell 68.2 to 155.6p.
For this, someone had to pay the price. And, after 27 years at the wheel, it was Chairman Martin Gilbert, ushered off the clattering train by shareholders keen to make a clean break with the past. It was either him or O’Toole – and at least the American-born former London Underground boss had the excuse of only having been at the controls since April 2011.

A similar shareholder spring-cleaning is underway at J P Morgan.


Google accused of being evil, doing evil by UK politicians

May 21, 2013

Do no evilGoogle stands accused of acting in a way contrary to its slogan “do no evil”. This continues a debate over tax avoidance, tax evasion and corporate social responsibility

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Last week [May 18th 2013] Google’s European leader Matt Brittin appeared before The Commons Public Accounts Committee in London to defend his Company’s tax arrangements in the UK. A pivotal point was the practice of declaring sales were completed in another country [Ireland] with more generous Corporate taxation arrangements.

The Chair of the Committee, Margret Hodge, was particularly vehement in her criticism of the firm’s methods of tax avoidance in the UK. The criticism had moved on from tax evasion (illegal) to tax avoidance (legal) in a way that amounts to serious departure from the corporate claims of good citizenship.

The Guardian reported that

“[The] Commons Public Accounts Committee Members reacted in disbelief on Thursday [16th May 2013] after it emerged that they paid just £3.4m of tax on £3.2bn of sales taken from UK customers last year as their sales were technically “closed” in low-tax Ireland.”

Writing in The Observer a few days later, Google CEO Eric Schmidt noted:

“It is tempting for every government to assume that they will benefit if and when the current [tax] structure changes. But in reality, it’s probably only a significant increase in corporation taxes globally that would make every country a “winner” – and the consequences of that would likely be less innovation, less growth and less job creation. That said, the UK government has the perfect opportunity to take the lead in shaping this complex debate at the G8 summit next month. We hope George Osborne seizes the initiative and makes meaningful tax reform one of the top items on the agenda.”

It’s a Tax Dodge, says Hodge

Margaret Hodge had made clear her view at the Committee investigation, telling Google’s European CEO Matt Brittin, that his company’s behaviour on tax was “devious, calculated and, in my view, unethical”.

[Mr Brittin] had been recalled by MPs after being accused of misleading parliament over the firm’s tax affairs six months ago. Hodge said: “You are a company that says you ‘do no evil’. And I think that you do do evil.” Hodge was referring to Google’s long-standing corporate motto, “Don’t be evil,” which appeared in its $23bn US stock market flotation prospectus in 2004.

Do no evil image

Image from grokdot

To be continued


Musical conductors and surgeons share leadership skills

May 19, 2013

Eye SurgeryThe leadership skills required of musical conductors and surgeons are highly situational and yet applicable to many other leadership roles

This idea is not particularly novel, although I have not come across it in the introductory leadership textbooks prepared for business executives. The closest is an infrequent reference to improvisation, or creating within accepted principles or rules.

Distributed leadership

LWD subscribers may have noticed recent posts mentioning musical conductors. I also interviewed the promising young conductor Duncan Ward a few years ago.

Overall, the impression I received of musical leadership was of a form of distributed leadership. The conductor symbolizes and ‘orchestrates’ the performance, and coordinates its execution, assisted by the contributions of the leaders of various musical sub-groups within the whole.

The surgeon

More recently I had direct experience of a highly skilled surgeon at work. My contribution to the performance was as his patient, but was able to witness the procedure to some degree because of the absence of a general anaesthetic.

Distributed leadership as a non-zero sum game

The surgeon was clearly the leader of a team. However, again there were sub-groupings each with a formal leader. Distributed leadership again. This not the simple splitting up of the tasks as was made famous by Adam Smith’s distribution of labour or Henry Ford’s efficiency concept of a production line. Power is not asserted top-down as in a zero-sum game. The conductor or surgeon creates within constraints imposed by the situation and its interpretation. The other lead players and ‘team members’ are not de-skilled (as they are in the classical model of a modernist business production line) but enabled. In other words, it becomes a non-zero sum game.

Footnote

A similar metaphor was used by footballer Robin van Persie in an interview. he talks of football training as being in an orchestra with the coach as conductor.


Sir Richard Branson in drag. How an entrepreneur wins even if he loses

May 13, 2013

Richard Branson Air Hostess

Richard Branson is an entrepreneur who prefers to gamble when he wins whatever the result

A wager is reported between owners of two competing airlines, Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airways and Tony Fernandes of Air Asia.

Charity Bet

The charity bet was over the performances not of airlines but of two Formula One racing teams. Did I mention that the two were sufficiently wealthy to own their own racing teams? The owner of the team performing worse would dress as an air hostess and serve passengers on his rival airline. Yes, serve actual travelers with actual refreshments dressed as what the Press called a trolley dolly.

Branson frocks up

Branson’s airline lost. A suitably frocked- up Sir Richard paid his debt. [Reported May 2013]. It was very much a mile high dare..

Who loses wins

So here’s the thing. The story revealed the ‘loser’ of the bet camping up his role on Asia airlines. The publicity was not invaluable but far from damaging for the company. Sir Richard ‘lost’ by doing what he most enjoys, being the centre of attention. Go figure. There must be a leadership message in the story somewhere.

Postscript

LWD subscribers in England may remember another recent gamble by Mr Fernandes. His football team, Queen’s Park Rangers, was relegated from the football Premiership. The gamble of switching manager with ten games to go did not pay off.