The Tellus Institute (www.tellusinstitute.org) has put out a couple of papers on Corporate Design and Corporate Redesign. It's well worth a look at the Institute's website, not least because it offers six principles for corporate design aimed at altering the 'genetics' of the contemporary corporation to help meet the great societal challenges of the twenty-first century. The six principles are:
1. The purpose of the corporation is to harness private interests to serve the public interest.
2. Corporations shall accrue fair returns for shareholders, but not at the expense of the legitimate interests of other stakeholders.
3. Corporations shall operate sustainably, meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
4. Corporations shall distribute their wealth equitably among those who contribute to its creation.
5. Corporations shall be governed in a manner that is participatory, transparent, ethical, and accountable.
6. Corporations shall not infringe on the right of natural persons to govern themselves, nor infringe on other universal human rights.
They are laudable principles. Now try engaging the various water companies in the application of these principles in their corporations. Read the article in Vanity Fair: The Rise of Big Water, http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/05/bigwater200705?currentPage=1 or watch the movie Flow (www.flowthefilm). What are the steps between writing principles about designing organisations and actually redesigning them? Apparently it took 'a two-year multi stakeholder process', to develop the six sentences that form the principles. On that basis redesigning corporations will take us well beyond the point when there is any water on the planet. (Or is this unduly pessimistic?)
Someone today suggested to me – in relation to Chinese, Korean, and American business designs – that there is a 'transcendent business culture' which set me thinking. It's a view echoed by Yougmaan Park, CEO Doosan, who was interviewed by McKinsey Quarterly in September 2008. Park makes the point that "Culture represents, country, race, language, history, and such. But when you add 'corporate' and make 'corporate culture' that's almost identical in most of the successful conglomerates globally." Making a similar lunge at the notion of a transcendent business culture is John Tomlinson in his book Globalization and Culture when he opens the discussion talking of … "the accomplished business-class passenger who displays his (mostly, 'his') credentials with the insouciance with which he enacts the social-cultural adjustments of arrival: the swift location of the taxi, the easy transit to the pre-booked international hotel … the assurance of finding all the facilities … that will allow him to function independently of context. … Distant places are culturally close for business executives …" Maybe there is a transcendent business culture but going too far down that road seems to lead to difficulties when a company sticks too rigidly to a business model that works in one geography – take WalMart pulling out of Germany, or the more recent pull back of Lenovo into its Chinese roots. (Economist August 13 2009). The global/local requires a nuance approach not a transcendent approach.
"What needs to be done to create organizations that are truly fit for the future?" Gary Hamel asks this question in the article Moonshots for Management published in Harvard Business Review, February 2009. http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2009/02/moon-shots-for-management/ar/1
Along with 34 other "management scholars and practitioners" he spent 2 days getting to an answer to the question. Out of the work comes 25 'moon shots' that "are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive". It's a laudable list for reforming management. But is it boring, pedestrian, and predictable? Could any group of 35 management practitioners come up with the same things? I thought it notable that the 35 contributors who call themselves the 'renegade brigade' are all established successful people, well known in the field. Also, they're predominantly Americans. Where is the global representation, the non business world mindsets, the generational mix that could contribute to the debate? Moon shot 8 is 'Expand and Exploit Diversity' – it would have been good to see some of that in the participant list. On the other hand, perhaps pedestrian is ok. People have been saying for decades, for example, that it is imperative to "reduce fear and increase trust" – ok. Maybe we do need to keep repeating the phrase but endless repetition has not had an effect as yet. A different approach to answering this type of question would be to open it up to hundreds of others globally using a technology like Imaginatik's Idea Central for example, http://www.imaginatik.com/webdoc_prod_overview
Getting to the moon in the same old way may get us there but there may be quicker, easier, and better ways now that we're actually in the 21st century.
I had lunch with someone today who contended that American companies are far too interested in quick fixes to have any wish to think systematically and sytemically about making their enterprises more effective. Her US clients all want the presenting problem solved with as little discussion and as much speed as possible regardless of the consequences. Her view is that Europeans are likely to be more interested in looking for the underlying causes of presenting symptoms. This may explain why my courses last week in the UK were both full and I am having an uphill battle in the US to get people here interested. At least it's one possible explanation.
McKinsey published in March 2008 a survey reporting on how companies act on global trends. What's interesting is that whilst recognizing the importance of a trend, for example 'faster pace of technology' or 'increasing availability of knowledge' they are not, in fact, acting on that recognition (as least as far as the survey responses show). Why not? Well the survey suggests that they don't know how to, and/or lack the skills and resources. A reason not stated, which I am inclined to think is more likely but may not have been one of the survey questions, is that leadership teams don't spend enough time together thinking and talking about trends and how they could/should collectively respond to them. Their may be scenario planning exercises but these are not the same as trend spotting. The same week their was a two-part report released 'Trends Shaping Tomorrow's World' http://www.wfs.org. I wonder how many leaders have read this and how many are thinking how to act?
Yesterday I went to see a film "The Visitor" – the story of a deportation. I saw it as a whole play on cultures: Gen Y v Baby Boomer, cultural attitudes to skin color, national cultures (American, Syrian, Sengegalese), organizational cultures – academic, detention center, street drummer, ethnic market, musical preference in cultures: 4 beats for western classical, 3 beats for African drums. In its richness and interwoven-ness the film visually demonstrated the complexity of culture in a way that no 'cultural audit' could possibly expose.
Going to a conference where everyone is an expert in the same topic is both useful and odd. Useful because I always learn something – a new tool, an interesting approach, and a different spin on the known. It's odd because it's a small world of people speaking a special language which seems to boundaryline their world in a way that excludes the value of diversity. Suppose a truck driver came to the conference – what would he/she get from it? What would organization design experts get from the truck driver? Does professional expertise lose opportunities by being exclusive?