Commentary

Are We Focused Properly . . .

At first glance this may seem to be an arrogant question so typical of management consultants. I ask it though in all humility because I’m concerned about recent emphases in our troubled world economy and also some of the broad assumptions that we may all be making.

Events in the European Economic Community appear to be somewhat remote from us in North America and yet every pundit is telling us we should be directly concerned. We may be able to see with some clarity the mistakes that are being made in Greece, Italy, and Spain as well as in Germany, France and Britain. They are "us”!

It’s obvious to some, if not many, that one reason the EEC was established was to level the economic disparities that have prevailed for much of history. This is good theory but it hasn’t worked out in practice. The ‘have’ countries are becoming even wealthier while the ‘have-nots’ are suffering and sliding into oblivion. Short-term bail-outs are not the answer, especially if the basic model is flawed, as it appears to be.

As a direct comparison, the same situation is manifest in our North American business model; we have relied largely on free enterprise to level our economy. When it fails to do so, we intervene with short-term solutions rather than test the underlying assumptions and reconfigure our longer-term, strategic intentions.

Yet, isn’t this the mandate we give our Boards of Directors and Executives — to test and prove our basic assumptions and steer us on a safe and sustainable course for a progressive future?

It seems to me that every performance incentive we apply to these august bodies is counterproductive. We expect them to run our businesses efficiently rather than effectively, to optimize current economic returns sometimes at the expense of longer-term social responsibilities, and to build organizations to return short-term benefits to selected stakeholders versus a balanced long-tern benefit to society.

Today’s business leaders are focused on fixing problems rather than encouraging innovative, strategic creations. That’s what we’re compensating and rewarding them for — quarterly or annual performance. Is this the best use of their undoubted talents?

The world today is in crisis. We need to challenge many, if not most, of our current assumptions about what makes good business and a good, sustainable society. Those best suited for this task are those who have direct awareness of the ranging complexities in our business economies.

There are a wide range of opinions at this level which is a great advantage for I’m convinced that no one person or group has all the right answers. Where we may be short though is in our ability to work collaboratively to find the answers. The question is, can we work together?

When I look at the power that certain business ‘interest’ groups can wield as they influence policy, I’m shocked and dismayed. The Oil & Gas Lobby, the Armaments Industries, the Financial Institutions and their paper wealth, among many others, worry the dickens out of me.

Am I alone? I think not!

This is a gigantic and perhaps unassailable issue but we are not powerless. All we need to do is begin to put our own houses in order, to manage our immediate businesses responsibly with long-term objectives in proper balance and to develop the next generation of business leaders with more expansive perspectives.

The economy, as well as society as a whole, is akin to an ocean liner; it’s moving forward with accumulated momentum or impetus and it can’t be turned on a dime. This is good news as well as bad. It means that we can put the right pressure on the helm and eventually it will come about to a more realistic heading. If we fail to exert the right pressure though, it will persist in the same course until we run aground.

As my sainted Scottish aunt used to say, It’s better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness!