Bestselling lean executive coach Michael Ballé, explains why businesses become stronger when leaders commit to creating value, encouraging teamwork, and putting people first.
Is there good and evil in business?
A bright side and a dark side? I would’ve have thought not – after all, business is business, right? If it makes a profit, it’s that some people want it bad enough to purchase it at that price, which means that it must have some value to society, right?
We have been taught to think that business is transactional and impersonal. Someone makes a product or delivers a service. Someone else finds it useful. Either they make a deal or they don’t. Increasingly, thanks to Internet technology, no one even has to meet, (which in many cases, I must confess I’m very grateful for). In this sense, feeling good or bad about a transaction is completely context-dependent and one’s own problem.
Yet, having had the opportunity to witness end-game transactions – buying and selling companies – I’ve begun to wonder…
New Ventures vs. Established Businesses
When you’re close to founders, either of start-ups or new ventures within established companies, it’s all about talents and passion. The dominant emotion is the excitement of building something new that is going to make things better for everyone out there. It sometimes does and it sometimes doesn’t but the excitement and fun are palpable. There is hope, there is risk, there is initiative and the pleasure of getting things done and finding customers who find what is offered useful and are willing to pay for it.
When you look at operations in an established business, emotions are tamer. People essentially want to do a good job, get ahead and avoid getting blamed directly when the unavoidable mishaps of big companies happen. Work centers essentially around relationships – with one’s boss, with one’s colleagues and with one’s company. Employees look for the safety of organizations where you can keep your head down, be serious in your work, occasionally be praised for an initiative and be recognized and rewarded for your efforts.
The Fear of Missing Out
And then you’re accidentally there when the real money is made: the company is bought or sold or an announcement is made that will shift the stock market shares up or down. All you can smell at the table is naked greed and fear. I’ve seen CEOs completely lose track of their business, of their people, and of their customers when they’re negotiating the “Big One”.
Greed drives getting that extra million, in either price or bonus compensation, for share price increase. The fear is of missing out, mostly because the financial calculations don’t turn out right at the right moment. The only thing that matters is how accounting numbers are massaged to present a financial statement that supports the written-on-a-napkin astronomical number being discussed during the lunch.
Talent and passion. Seriousness and trust. Greed and fear. Maybe George Lucas was right and there is a bright side and a dark side to everything we do. And maybe, as he masterfully portrayed, it is about the intent, not just the act, and the emotions that motivate this intent, not just the outcomes.
Commit to Being Stronger Together
We can be extractive – extracting value from customers, employees and society at large for our benefit – or inclusive – creating value by encouraging ingenuity, initiative and teamwork to find better ways to make things work for everybody. We can decide that it’s time to cash in and screw everything and everyone else. Or we can commit to being stronger together.
Nothing humans do is simply transactional or impersonal – it’s always personal.
Michael Ballé, PH.D. is a best-selling author, speaker and co-founder of the Institut Lean France. He holds a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Social Sciences and Knowledge Sciences. He is also a renowned lean executive coach. His latest book is The Lean Strategy (with Dan Jones, Jacques Chaize and Orry Fiume).