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Online Edition — February 2003

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Articles in Brief
A quick synopsis of what other publications are saying about topics related to leadership, employee involvement, quality, and organizational performance


Across the Board
www.conference-board.org
January/February 2003

Does It Pay to be Good?
Corporate citizenship: For believers, the words speak of the dawning of a new era of capitalism, when business, government, and citizen groups join forces for the greater good, to jointly tackle such problems as water shortages and air pollution, to do something about the 1.2 billion people who live on less than a dollar a day.

Corporate citizenship: For critics of today’s capitalism, the words smack of hypocrisy, big business’ cynical response to charges of greed and corruption in high places, intended to mollify those who say corporations have too much power and that they wield it shamelessly. Critics charge that corporate citizenship is a placebo to the enemies of globalization, a public-relations smoke screen, capitalism’s last-ditch attempt to preserve itself by co-opting its opposition.

Corporate citizenship: For many, it remains a diffuse concept, but generally it speaks to companies voluntarily adopting a triple bottom line, one that takes into account social, economic, and environmental considerations as well as financial results. Though some associate corporate citizenship with charity and philanthropy, the concept goes further; it embraces a corporate conscience above and beyond profits and markets. David Vidal, who directs research in global corporate citizenship at The Conference Board, comments, “Citizenship is not, as some critics charge, window dressing for the corporation. It deals with primary business relationships that are part of a company’s strategic vision, and a good business case can be made for corporate citizenship.”

Whether you are a critic or believer, however, there is no question that corporate citizenship—a term that embraces corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability—is no longer a concept fostered by idealists on the fringe. It has entered the mainstream.

But why now? Though the era of corporate citizenship was ushered in with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of market capitalism worldwide, current sentiment against big business has given new weight to the cause. Virtually every opinion survey shows that people think corporations have too much power, and that they will do anything in the pursuit of profits. And now, to add to public distrust, we have a flagging economy, a shambolic stock market, and what have been called “pornographic” CEO salaries. These circumstances have given citizenship’s champions new planks for their platform, such as accounting and compensation practices. At the same time, attacks on the very nature of business have sent corporate leaders searching for a bright spot, and that spot may very well be the concept of corporate citizenship.

 

Fast Company
www.fastcompany.com
January 2003

What Should I Do With My Life?
It’s time to define the new era. Our faith has been shaken. We’ve lost confidence in our leaders and in our institutions. Our beliefs have been tested. We’ve discredited the notion that the Internet would change everything (and the stock market would buy us an exit strategy from the grind). Our expectations have been dashed. We’ve abandoned the idea that work should be a 24-hour-a-day rush and that careers should be a wild adventure. Yet we’re still holding on.

We’re seduced by the idea that picking up the pieces and simply tweaking the formula will get the party started again. In spite of our best thinking and most searing experience, our ideas about growth and success are mired in a boom-bust mentality. Just as LBOs gave way to IPOs, the market is primed for the next engine of wealth creation. Just as we traded in the pinstripes and monster bonuses of the Wall Street era for T-shirts and a piece of the action during the start-up revolution, we’re waiting to latch on to the new trappings of success.

There’s a way out. Instead of focusing on what’s next, let’s get back to what’s first. The previous era of business was defined by the question, “Where’s the opportunity?” Business success in the future starts with the question, “What should I do with my life?” Yes, that’s right. The most obvious and universal question on our plates as human beings is the most urgent and pragmatic approach to sustainable success in our organizations. People don’t succeed by migrating to a “hot” industry (dot-com) or by adopting a particular career-guiding mantra (remember “horizontal careers?”). They thrive by focusing on the question of who they really are—and connecting that to work that they truly love (and, in so doing, unleashing a productive and creative power that they never imagined). Companies don’t grow because they represent a particular sector or adopt the latest management approach. They win because they engage the hearts and minds of individuals who are dedicated to answering that life question.

 

Fast Company’s Idea Fest
The New Business Conversation Starts Here. 23 Bright Ideas for a Stellar 2003
#7—Roger McNamee; Co-founder, Integral Capital Partners and Silver Lake Partners

Will 2003 be the year of the Next Big Thing? Fat chance. The year of WiFi? Not likely. The year of the Next Bull Market? We can only hope. The year of the Big Deal? Possibly, but probably not your big deal. What’s certain is that this environment isn’t some blip down an otherwise unfettered march to technology fame and riches. It’s all about the New Normal, and 2003 will be the first full year of it.

The New Normal demands a different kind of management. Like the European armies during World War I, tech-industry leaders are struggling to adjust to new realities. Most rose to power in the era of biz dev, Internet time, and overnight paper fortunes. Now they must figure out how to make products and services that customers will pay for in an era when investors don’t care. Vision matters, but only if it can be financed and delivered in a reasonable period of time. Without the magnetic power of options, managers will have to find new—or old-fashioned—ways to motivate their teams.

 

Fortune Magazine
www.fortune.com
January 7, 2003

100 Best Companies to Work For: How We Pick the 100 Best
To select this year’s list we surveyed a random sample of employees from 269 candidate companies—more than 1,000 firms were considered—to get their opinions about their workplaces. A total of 40,713 employees responded to the survey (the Great Place to Work Trust Index, an instrument created by the Great Place to Work Institute in San Francisco). Nearly half gave us additional written comments. We also asked each of the companies to fill out a questionnaire describing its HR policies and workplace culture. In scoring the responses, we placed the greatest weight on the employee responses (two-thirds of the total), with the remainder being our evaluation of the company’s benefits and practices.

 

HR Magazine
www.shrm.org
January 2003

Someone to Listen
For many HR professionals, sitting and listening to employees’ grievances can eat up a substantial part of the day. So, the prospect of having someone else dedicate all their time to helping employees with their complaints and conflicts can sound incredibly appealing.

Enter organizational ombuds—also known as ombudspeople and ombudsmen. These individuals can help HR professionals by handling many employee-relations concerns, including potentially unethical or illegal behavior, before they get out of hand.

This benefit is especially important in light of recent high-profile scandals involving Enron Corp. and other companies. These recent scandals are also a reason why proponents believe the number of organizational ombuds—currently about 500 at large companies, universities, and colleges—is likely to rise.

Another factor that may prompt the growth of ombuds is the new Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which encourages reporting of corporate wrongdoing and prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers. A central element of the ombuds’ role is confidentiality, which means ombuds can alert management to whistleblowers’ stories without naming their sources—a factor that can safeguard against retaliation.

Such confidentiality also can encourage employees to file complaints internally, which gives companies a chance to correct problems before they become full-blown public relations nightmares. That is important because Sarbanes-Oxley does not require employees to file a complaint In-House/On-Site before contacting an outside enforcement agency.

 

Inc. Magazine
www.inc.com
January 2003

Case Study: The Offer You Almost Can’t Refuse
A woman from Target is on the line. She wants your product, but you’ll have to completely change your company to get the deal. Do you dare to say no?

Louis J. Stack felt it in his gut. His company, Fitter International Inc., was well primed to enter the mass market. Based in Calgary, the business had a reputation as a trendsetter in a lucrative niche—selling expensive balance-related fitness equipment to physical therapists and athletic trainers. “Things started in my basement 17 years ago after I had knee surgery and double foot surgery,” says the former speed skier and luge racer. The business had grown nicely, first earning a profit in 1995 and reaching revenue of $3 million in 2001.

Early in 2001, Stack’s ambitions to take his products mainstream began to blossom. He saw Reebok and Nike start to develop balance products of their own. He also detected more interest in his high-priced wares among specialty outdoor and sports retailers, which accounted for 10% of his sales. Then, at a trade show that spring, a scout working for Target approached Stack’s tiny, poorly situated booth. “She said she had looked at other companies that do what we do, had asked around about us, and had discovered that we were the real deal,” recalls Stack. An hour and a half later, the CEO had an irresistible offer: Come to Target’s headquarters in Minneapolis to discuss a possible vendor relationship. “I was so pumped up, I felt lighter on my feet,” he says.

Four months later, Stack strolled into Target’s offices wearing his best Fitter golf shirt and khakis. The pitch he made that day was simple: Aging, affluent baby boomers constituted a large and growing market for his products. “Why does the average Joe have to wait to get injured to buy from us?” Stack asked the Target reps rhetorically. “Let’s go after them before they’re hurt.”

Stack then showed his audience Fitter’s “wobble board”—a $60 slab of wood mounted on a spherical base—as well as a balance ball and a sitting disc to be used atop a standard office chair. At the end of the meeting the Target buyers told Stack they were very interested. But there was a “but.” He would have to slash his prices in half and create a branded line of three complementary products in order to get the deal.

On the flight home, Stack did what he does best: He mulled. If he was going to go for it, he would need to revamp his entire business.

 

T+D Magazine
www.astd.org
January 2003

Navigating the Badlands
A road map from the Institute of the Future provides a metaphor and launch point for powerful conversations on how organizations can successfully trek through the rugged terrain of the global business environment.

Badlands—the rugged, global business landscape corporations now face—are the result of shifting corporate priorities during the past 10 years. Businesses have experienced dramatic changes, such as drops in stock valuation and worker migration, and are now having to overhaul traditional methods of strategic planning and leadership skills.

Larger segments of an organization must be involved in shaping strategic direction. Employees will demand to be involved in strategic direction and decision making. As organizations face a whole new set of challenges, the training and development arena will undergo a parallel transformation. Some specific challenges are:

  • Coping with cultural disintegration.
  • Increased rapid decision making and learning.
  • Valuation and volatility resulting in increased demands for ROI.
  • Mobile networks of knowledge workers.
  • Critical need to match people to business results.

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