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CFO Corner: Is it the Demise of Capitalism or Lack of Effective Leadership?

Nick ShepherdRecent comments on the demise of capitalism reported in the Financial Times and attributed to Bernie Marcus, a co-founder of Home Depot might illustrate the challenge of promoting employee engagement. “Nobody works, nobody cares,” Marcus is reported to have said. “Just give it to me. Send me money. I don’t want to work – I’m too lazy, I’m too fat. I’m too dumb.”
 
By Nick Shepherd
 
People are only lazy and disengaged if leadership either has the wrong values or is delivering the wrong message.
 
The words of Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus reflect a failure in leadership, not people. Extremist views are the enemy of any debate about change and improvement. Marcus’ comments are as dangerous as the belief that pure socialism is the answer. “Let government run everything and all the problems with inequity and unfairness will disappear.” Most people in the western world, especially “middle America,” believe in the concept of a mixed capitalist economy that enables entrepreneurs and organizations to create wealth without imposing costs on society.
 
So, what are effective CEOs doing in a world in which extremes pull in opposite directions?
 
Ignore the blame game and focus on what you can do. Every older generation accuses the younger generation of laziness, going back to the baby boomers, GenX, the millennials and now GenZ. Focus on what your organization can do to instill a sense of purpose, meaning, and engagement in peoples’ lives rather than expecting them to give their all for a time clock and a paycheck. The pandemic appears to have made people throughout the world more reflective than ever about their lives; its unrealistic to believe people will go back to blind submission to jobs and lifestyles they find unfulfilling, or with an automatic passion for their work or your organization.
 
Inspire. Sell the vision. Build believers. Make your business a cause, both in the reality of the needs it fulfills for customers, its distribution partners, and community, and the need for a viable business model, as well as its social and strategic purpose, together with the values that underpin the desired behaviors.
 
Grasp the opportunities of change. Be aware that the world is constantly changing and evolving. Stay connected with the pulse of society and social evolution. What changes are likely to impact your traditional business model? Where are the risks? What are the opportunities being created by those changes?
 
Engage and align all stakeholders. Get as much input as possible from all stakeholders. Yes – do the analytics thing but also feast on intellectual capital. Crowd source ideas from customers and suppliers, employees, contractors, the public, regulators, advisors – wherever ideas are being generated: put them to use.
 
Innovate, create, and evolve. It is not always the strong that survive but those who adapt. What am I hearing that gives me ideas for adaptation? What worked in the past but now needs to be done differently? How can we adapt our business model to the new realities that we face? How can I make sure “my people” are on board as part of the changes needed?
 
Communicate with and align the interests of all stakeholders. Ensure everyone around you is regularly updated on the organization’s journey in a way that is rooted in reality and shares how events will affect the allocation of financial resources.
 
Making America great again is not about returning to what worked in the past but in recognizing and leading the changes needed for an evolving world. Stakeholder engagement is needed everywhere. Listening; idea generation; innovation and creativity; sharing the vision. Everywhere. Stakeholder engagement is foundational to building a strong future for your organization.
 
For More Information
 
Nick Shepherd
Responsible Business 2030
nick.shepherd@rbp2030.com

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