When I was in business school in the early 2000s, there was no question of how to measure business success — and little if any talk of social impact. The most powerful idea I learned in my first year was that the sole purpose of a corporation is to make money for the shareholders.
You have to understand that for me, with my background as a left-leaning clinical psychologist, this proposition was shocking. But I recognized that it was fundamental to how most businesses and business leaders operated.
So today, I’m flabbergasted. On August 19, the elite group of U.S. CEOs that form the Business Roundtable announced that big corporations should no longer focus exclusively on maximizing profits for their shareholders. Jamie Dimon, the chair of the Business Roundtable and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, presented a statement that business leaders should focus on delivering value to all their stakeholders — to customers, employees, suppliers, and local communities, as well as shareholders.
The statistics on driving change initiatives in organizations are pretty dismal. Nearly 70% of employees cannot describe their company’s strategy, even when there’s a poster on the wall. About the same number feel they’re not good at driving strategy. So it’s no surprise that strategic change initiatives fall short of the hoped-for impact at the same rate — 70%.
These statistics were shared in a recent webinar on “Fast and Collaborative Change Management: Embracing Digital Tools,” presented by the Fulcrum Network. Participants learned about the kinds of structural changes most companies are facing these days: monologue to dialogue, analog to digital, individual to group-based, and gut intelligence to data-driven, among many others.
When I hear how hiring managers are screening and evaluating candidates, I sometimes think back on a young woman I once met who was single and lonely. She told me she was looking for a serious relationship and then shared how she evaluated the men she met. She checked out their shoes. If they had fashionable, expensive shoes that were properly shined, she would go out with them. If not, not.
I think that is one of the worst criteria for selecting a potential mate that I have ever heard of. What do the shoes tell you? That the guy has money and spends it on shoes? That looking spiffy is important to him? I can assure you that neither trait is predictive of a long and happy marriage.
This was the first thing that came to mind when I read a recent article by Jessica Liebman, the executive managing editor of Business Insider, who eliminates job candidates from consideration if they don’t send a thank-you email after the job interview.
Early in my career as a management psychologist I had the good fortune to learn the importance of hiring the right manager. I was helping a major retailer transform the way it did business. Anyone who has participated in a large-scale change initiative knows how difficult it is to turn a company around. There are all kinds of barriers — inertia, fear, turf battles, company politics, the list goes on and on.
I learned a lot of valuable lessons from that project. One important insight was that the key player in this kind of change process is the store manager. More than the front-line workers and more than the corporate honchos, the store manager has the presence, the customer contact, and the clout to make change happen — or not. When we focused our change efforts on the store managers, the effect was very powerful.
“As baby boomers age, ‘we are in for a death boom’” the Chicago Tribune recently proclaimed. The older you are, the more people you know who are dying. Since baby boomers are staying in the workforce longer than recent generations, that means there will be more grieving people in the workplace over the next few years — and more use of the company bereavement policy.
Business leaders may ask, “So what?” It sounds heartless, but the purpose of a for-profit company is to make money. It’s not a therapeutic community. What is the responsibility of employers or colleagues to respond when someone has suffered a personal loss?
As the shape of business shifts rapidly, it’s crucial to optimize HR for the task of attracting, retaining, and motivating top talent in an evolving landscape. Many human resource practices that were effective in 2009 are now outdated. Here are the top trends in HR today, as outlined by Linda Villalobos at Insperity, along with my recommendations for how business leaders can respond with focus and agility.
Oh, those millennials and their generational differences in the workplace! We continue to tear out our hair about their horrible qualities — the laziness! the impatience! the entitlement! The list goes on and on. A colleague of mine recently send me a video of speaker Simon Sinek talking about the awful millennials — first, about how useless they are, and second, about how they’re really just helpless victims of their upbringing and their environment.
For those seeking to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, “microaggressions” has become a point of focus. The word refers to the multitude of little ways in which we ignore, diminish, or insult people who are different from ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously. It’s an uncomfortable word, because it challenges us to take a hard look at how we treat others, acknowledge that we are not as accepting and open-minded as we would like to believe, and do the work to change our problematic behaviors.
Navigating workplace conflict is tricky even when you’re not conflict-averse. In my case, I come from a family where open conflict was almost unknown — we muttered politely behind each other’s backs. When I entered the wider world, I discovered most people were not so constricted in their expressions of frustration and anger. It took me a while to learn conflict resolution techniques that landed me somewhere between domineering rage and silent submission.
Stable scheduling is the first step to work-life balance. Imagine life without it. You wouldn’t know what your work schedule will be next week — or even tomorrow. You couldn’t plan doctor’s appointments, childcare, or social activities because you never know when you’ll be called in to work.
I’m lucky enough to have the work-from-home vs. office productivity debate every morning. I work out of two offices: one in downtown Chicago and the other in my condo. I like working in both spaces for different reasons, and I am glad I get to move between them. But I have sometimes wondered where I do my best work, downtown or at home.
As business leaders confront the #MeToo crisis, many turn to sexual harassment training. It seems like such a great idea. Let’s train people not to be harassers. Let’s train people not to be victims. Let’s train everyone how to respect boundaries and respond to reports of sexual harassment. If we train every single person, eventually we’ll get this problem under control.
Sadly, the facts about sexual harassment training are not so great.
Leadership consultants like me can spend all day teaching business leaders how to manage better. Usually, that means emphasizing the skills needed to successfully manage other people. And while those are certainly critical, I’ve been at this long enough to know that leaders can only manage others effectively when they have a foundation of managing themselves.