06 January 2006

Enduring ideas

As a marketing consultant, I work with a variety of business firms. Looking back at last year, for instance, I see a motley collection of large corporate houses, leading advertising agencies, and smaller family or proprietorship businesses in areas as diverse as manufacturing, publishing and corporate communications. What I find most interesting about my work is not the nature or the content of the consulting assignments, but the unique value system that each organisation shares with me during my engagement. That’s where my greatest learning takes place.

In fact, it is here that many ground realities emerge and old concepts are challenged... shattering my understanding of corporate values. Take one of corporate world’s most enduring ideas: “Companies that care about ethics, trust, citizenship, and even meaning and spirituality in the workplace, perform better in the marketplace than companies that care just about making money.” In my experience, and significantly in the Indian context, this is far from the truth. I almost always find that the large profit-making organisation tends to always skimp on corporate values, while the smaller business firm encapsulating strong ethics, trust and integrity isn’t necessarily the one making money.

I also find that it’s the smaller business firm that nurtures its people by sharing knowledge, building skills and cultivating personal character. It is here that I find the beginnings of a learning organisation and organic growth, no matter how difficult it is for the smaller firm to meet its revenue targets. It is the smaller business firm that, by default, encourages “everyone in it to keep thinking, innovating, collaborating, talking candidly, improving their capabilities, making personal commitments to their collective future, and thereby increasing the firm’s long-term competitive advantage.”

Meanwhile, corporates – and this includes large advertising agencies – cash in their values in favour of fat bottom lines. Collaborating, talking candidly, making personal commitments to a collective future… are almost absent. The only competitive advantage corporates understand is the advantage of a higher profit margin. They know, in the long run, that’s the only ‘value’ that matters. It is this value that entitles them to talk about ethics, trust, citizenship, collaborating, talking candidly, making personal commitments, etc. in the mainline media. And, of course, we are there to listen. No wonder it's one of corporate world’s most enduring ideas.

[Citation: strategy+business magazine, “Our 10 Most Enduring Ideas” by Art Kleiner]

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