WBF Emerging Theme: Corporation or Corpse?

Today and tomorrow I’m in NYC as one of the bloggers invited by HSM to cover its World Business Forum.

What has struck me about the emerging theme here this morning is that more individuals in the business community are recognizing the importance of factors beyond the obvious tasks of business.  A model we use in our book Fired Up or Burned Out is Task Excellence + Relationship Excellence = Sustainable Superior Performance.  At this conference, I hear a steady drumbeat of speakers who say that our organizations desperately need to develop Relationship Excellence. By Relationship Excellence I mean the relationship employees have with their organization’s identity, the relationship employees have with each other and the relationship employees have with their day-to-day jobs.  Consider, for example, the following quotes:

“You can make a difference in the world.  What will your legacy be?”

– Bill George, HBS Professor, former CEO at Medtronic

“Great leaders are passionate and compassionate”

“People want to be a part of something bigger than just putting the hubcap on the car”

– Bill Conaty, retired head of HR at GE

“We’re spending a disproportionate amount of time making our organizations smart and not enough time making them healthy.”

“Great leaders need to over communicate…your employees need to be able to impersonate you when you are not around”

“The leader has to go first in being vulnerable”

“The root problem on the executive team was that there was no trust”

“Without trust we are going to have a fear of conflict on a team”

– Pat Lencioni, leadership writer

I could add more but I’m sure you get the idea.

Here’s another way to look at it.  Research shows 75% of American employees are not engaged in their jobs. Being in places where we are not engaged, drains the life out of us.  I could see some of those people just looking around at the faces of so many people on the train to Grand Central Station this morning.

Corporations should be places where people feel alive because they are doing something great and well together.  The root word of corporation is “corpus,” a Latin word that means “body.”  How many of our corporations have employees who work well together as a body?  Sadly, there are few.  Instead, so many companies evoke images of another word based on the Latin root corpus: corpse.   They are dead and deadly to the people who live in them.

This may sound depressing, but it shouldn’t.  A precondition to change is pain and the recognition that the status quo cannot continue.  Personally, I’m excited about the season ahead in America.  I think corporations will evolve in a positive way that will make them better, stronger and healthier.  Those that don’t will eventually die. I’m working on an article that looks at this issue from the perspective of one industry sector: Wall Street.  If you want to know what’s wrong with Wall Street stay tuned (I’ll post a draft of the article).  In addition, I would encourage those who are especially interested in this theme as it relates to the financial services industry to read the new novel about murder and deception on Wall Street entitled Top Producer. It was written by my former Morgan Stanley colleague, Norb Vonnegut (Norb is related to one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut).  I’ll explain what I liked about Norb’s novel in a future post.

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