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Five Leadership Tips For Uber’s New CEO

After much debate and public intrigue, ride-sharing company Uber has selected Dara Khosrowshahi — the former chief executive officer of travel website Expedia — as the company’s next CEO. He started on August 30, 2017.

I want him to be successful, just like he was at Expedia. So much so, I have come up with five key leadership actions he might consider.

Come Clean. Apologize.

If Khosrowshahi wants to win back the hearts and minds of any disaffected Uber employees at its headquarters, potentially disengaged drivers across the planet, as well as any disconcerted customers, he could apologize for its past mistakes.

Setting this type of tone on day one sends a remarkable signal. It demonstrates humility. It also evokes transparency. The new leader is not trying to hide from past errors in judgment. He is putting it on the table for all to see. Khosrowshahi need not detail each of the errors with the sordid details. Rather, he can simply make mention of past mistakes, allude to how the company can learn from those mistakes, and (perhaps) commit to being more open and transparent going forward. This brings me to my second leadership action.

Improve the Culture

If feedback is to be believed — and there is no reason in which not to — there is an opportunity to improve the culture at Uber. Notwithstanding the public apology, Khosrowshahi can commit to doing what he did at Expedia. Create a best place to work culture. Elizabeth, a marketing manager at Expedia says this about her company:

“Our work environment is healthy, happy and very collaborative. At Expedia you can work hard, while knowing that the organization is highly supportive of your personal time. Work-life balance and job satisfaction is a reality here!”

Expedia is revered for its corporate culture. It is something near and dear to Khosrowshahi’s heart, so I would not be surprised if “improving the culture” at Uber is number one on his own list. Rather remarkably, 90% of Expedia employees say that their workplace is great and 95% indicate the atmosphere at the company is great. In my research and professional life as a Chief Learning Officer and Chief Envisioner, I too know that “culture can be your competitive advantage.” There is no doubt Khosrowshahi believes in this adage, too.

Build a Gender-Balanced Leadership Team

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his first political cabinet in late 2015 it was gender-balanced. Of the 31 posts that made up Canada’s new government, 15 were held by women. When asked about the parity, Trudeau responded, “Because it’s 2015.”

Uber and Khosrowshahi possess a unique opportunity to steal a page from Canada’s photogenic prime minister. While it may not be possible to achieve it on day one of his tenure, Khosrowshahi can announce to the world that in due time, Uber’s leadership team will be equally balanced by men and women. The ripple effects would be far-reaching. More importantly it sets another important tone for Khosrowshahi. Men and women hail Uber cars so men and women are going to lead the company going forward.

Driver Relations and Compensation

Uber’s business model relies on a cadre of drivers right across the globe. These “employees” have become part of the over-used and quintessential definition of the so-called “gig economy.” In essence, they aren’t really employees. They are part-time contractors. According to data provided by Earnest, Uber drivers earn on average $364 per month. Granted many of them are supplementing their income through Uber, the company still has ways to go to improve relations.

The bottom line? If Uber drivers are unhappy, be it with their pay package, lack of incentives, or Uber technologies, the customer winds up unhappy. For every issue that an Uber driver is allowed to fester on or complain about, there is a customer who might be at the receiving end. Ride-sharing is a lonely job. There is no team, per se. Each customer (or party of customers) that an Uber driver picks up has the potential to be a customer service nightmare due to a disenfranchised driver. Finding ways to improve both the relations with Uber drivers as well as their compensation levels (think livable wage) can only positively affect the bottom line for Uber.

Denounce Your Stock Options Pay Package

The final leadership action Khosrowshahi ought to take is to denounce whatever pay package the Uber board of directors have put together to lure him away from Expedia. During his tenure at Expedia, Khosrowshahi earned a lot of money. According to Fortune,Khosrowshahi’s 2015 total pay package was approximately 4,756 times that of his team at Expedia. Management guru Peter Drucker advocated a ratio “around 25-to-1 (as he suggested in a 1977 article) or 20-to-1 (as he expressed in a 1984 essay and several times thereafter)” between the CEO and the average worker. Clearly Khosrowshahi’s ratio at Expedia was significantly more than Drucker’s recommendation.

But he has a chance to potentially do something unique. He has an opportunity to take a stand. Imagine if Khosrowshahi were to publicly announce that his total pay package (inclusive of any restricted stock units or stock options) was going to be within the 25-1 ratio that Drucker recommended. That is, Khosrowshahi would be paid with some normality. Not only would his leadership team have gender parity, he would be signaling to the world that the manner in which he was going to be compensated was going to be fair. Ethical, in fact. If not, perhaps he can donate whatever portion is above the 25-1 ratio to various charities and causes.

In summary, on top of being a successful Iranian immigrant, with these five leadership actions Khosrowshahi could be redefining what it means to be a CEO while redefining the culture and organizational purpose of Uber itself.

________

Dan Pontefract is the author of THE PURPOSE EFFECT & FLAT ARMY. His next bookOPEN to THINK, is publishing in 2018.

You can now buy signed copies (with customized, personal messages) of both of my books. Details over here. A great gift for your team!

The Rise, Fall and Rise of Detroit and its Higher Purpose

<Author’s Note: This is a long-form essay previously only available for purchase. It is now free and can be read in its entirety below or by downloading this PDF version.>

 

How did society land on this position of seemingly perpetual workplace disengagement? Why are so few of us possessing a sense of purpose in life and at work? Why has the corporation focused on profit over people? The Medieval Latin term, cancrizans, is defined as “moving backwards.” Indeed, it has felt as though civilization has been moving backwards—a cancrizans state—for several decades.

Detroit. Home of Motown, the Tigers and cars. Let us use this illustrious city as a metaphor for the rise, fall and (hopeful) rise of three categories of purpose: personal, organizational and role.

I believe we can allegorically use Detroit to help explain why the three categories of purpose that I outline in my book, The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization, are fleeting for so many, and how this decline has affected humanity. But I also believe we can use Detroit as an example that demonstrates how purpose can also rebound and mend.

There are several theories to explore as we unpack the rise, fall and rise of Detroit. For example, what if the upsurge in consumerism over the years has intangibly acted as a deterrent to purpose? What if the current form of capitalism and our penchant for more “stuff” has affected the chances for purpose both in our personal lives and at our places of employment? Furthermore, what if the corporation is culpable by its singular and myopic quest for higher profits? And, in some cases, its sole fixation on increasing shareholder return?

I have come to believe that Detroit can teach all of us a lesson or two as it relates to our working life and organizations in general. This metropolis—whose largest union portrays the now ironic tagline, “We Built This City”—is an apt metaphor for an investigation into the concept of purpose. If many of the stories from my latest book depict the combination of personal, organization and role purpose, Detroit ought to be coined a cancrizans, too.

But, I will also prove that even when purpose seems fleeting—when the “sweet spot” or intersection of the three categories of purpose seems lost forever—hope can spring forward if we decide we ought to change the way we show up each and every day of our lives. Purpose can be re-established. When we enact good deeds in the organization—when we serve all stakeholders and not just shareholders, profit mongers or power seekers—we are far more likely to achieve organizational purpose. Finally, when an individual possesses a sense of purpose in their life and their organization does so as well, more often than not the individual will exhibit purpose in their workplace role. Indeed, hope can spring eternal.

This is a long-form essay (a bonus piece of writing to my second book, The Purpose Effect) on the rise, fall and rise of purpose, based loosely on the story of Detroit. I include examples outside of Detroit within the following pages, but the overarching point revolves around “motorcity.” But first, let me briefly discuss The Purpose Effect.

The Purpose Effect in Brief

The Purpose Effect chronicles my thesis and findings on the link amongst purpose, engagement and satisfaction regarding life and work. The book draws on research, interviews and first-hand leadership experience, establishing a potentially positive and reciprocal connection between three distinct categories of purpose:

  • Personal purpose
  • Organizational purpose
  • Role purpose

If all three categories of purpose can come to fruition—if there is a positive interconnection between the three distinct definitions of purpose—the benefits should be felt by employees, teams, the organization, customers, owners and, perhaps most importantly, society as a whole. We can refer to this balanced state as the “sweet spot.” The central thesis is surfaced by the following diagram:

I have written The Purpose Effect as a mission to put “Stakeholders First.” The stakeholders I am referring to consist of customers (the group an organization serves), employees (the team members that carry out an organization’s mission and objectives), society (our planet and the communities in which we live) and, if applicable, owners/shareholders (those due a fair and just return for their investment).

The book is aimed at both leaders and employees who wish to achieve a purpose mindset on a personal level, for the organization where they are employed and in their role at work, too. They do so, I hope, in order to create meaning. The Purpose Effect is targeted at those individuals who seek to achieve the aforementioned sweet spot regardless of their title or level in the organization where they work.

The Purpose Effect is for anyone interested in becoming more purpose-driven. It is important to note that it takes courage to create the “sweet spot”. Individuals and the organization must demonstrate a degree of fearlessness and prowess if purpose is ever to be simultaneously recognized in the three categories.

I have crystalized the book down to one simple sentence:

The Purpose Effect results in a higher calling, where individuals and organizations seek to improve society to benefit all stakeholders.

For The Purpose Effect to materialize, the three categories of purpose—personal, organizational and role—must be defined, aligned, and enacted. When this has been accomplished, a “sweet spot” will materialize for both individuals and the organization. Each category that makes up The Purpose Effect is defined as follows:

  • Personal Purpose: What motivates someone in life; their why. An individual’s values, experience and beliefs inform personal decisions and actions.
  • Organizational Purpose: Why the organization exists. An organization’s principles, ethics and culture inform its ways of operating.
  • Role Purpose: Why a role exists in the organization. To achieve its goals and objectives, an organization establishes a variety of roles to support its mission.

It is this “sweet spot” that was once the centerpiece of Detroit and its citizens. Since 1957, it has become a rather “sour spot” for the city and far too many of its inhabitants. But like the sun does every day, it can rise again.

Introducing New Old Detroit

I took our children—aged 11, 9 and 7 years old at the time—through Detroit in the summer of 2014. It was eye-opening for them, to the say the least.

When you drive through the core of Detroit, parts of downtown and various avenues like 8-Mile Street, you might feel helpless, hopeless and even a bit frightened for humanity. How could it get to this? The abandoned buildings and houses number in the thousands. People take advantage of the disrepair by extracting anything they can and then liquidating their findings for cash. If you have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it’s a bit like Rey at the beginning of the film as she scavenges for parts on the planet Jakku.

Back in Detroit, copper and other metals or materials found in the abandoned, echo- friendly confines glisten as potential opportunity to put food on the table in this city where unemployment hovers around 50 percent in many neighborhoods.

Paradoxically, there are now more murders in Detroit than when it was actually coined the “murder capital of America” in 1987. Poverty rates have increased since the mid-1950s where it now sits at 44 percent. The American average is 15 percent.

The situation is compounded by the fact that only 37.5 percent of Detroit residents actually graduate from high school. By virtue of a degrading experience, the literacy rate of its city’s inhabitants is only 47 percent.

The number of school closures recently set a new record. There were 28 school closings due to a drop in enrollment numbers, from a high in 2000 of 150,000 to a 2014 enrollment of 40,000 students between kindergarten and grade twelve. It will come as no surprise then that Detroit Public Schools (DPS) was well over $500 million in debt at the beginning of 2016. An emergency meeting at the Michigan Legislature in March, 2016 saw the approval of $50 million, an act that ensured administration and teachers would actually be paid their salaries through June, 2016.

Can you imagine a city that actually produces over thirty fires every day, the majority intentionally set by its citizens as they did in 2014? Those abandoned schools—amid the other cavernous buildings and homes—have become an arsonist’s new playground of combustion carnivals.

In the summer of 2013, Detroit became the largest city in America ever to declare bankruptcy. It owed over $18 billion to various creditors and only came to terms with its path forward in December of 2014 when the city was given the chance by a bankruptcy judge to restructure $7 billion in debt. Headaches and lawsuits have been the order of the day ever since, while the individual who steered the city out of bankruptcy has now moved onto the DPS to sort out another financial mess.

In 1955, there were over 1.8 million inhabitants of “Motown.” More than 200,000 Detroit residents were working in manufacturing, making it the fastest growing city on the planet. By 1960, Detroit was the richest per capita city in all of the U.S.A. according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2016, remarkably, there were fewer than 700,000 residents living in Detroit. Interestingly, the suburban neighborhoods that surround the city have risen in population. In 1950 roughly 1.1 million people lived in the suburbs of Detroit whereas there are close to 3.5 million living in them now.

Imagine over a sixty-year period—roughly two generations in fact—the population of the town where you reside witnessed its inhabitants decrease by almost two-thirds. Where did the people go? Where did those jobs and careers migrate? It is a bit hard to hide over a million Detroit residents (and corresponding numbers of jobs) unless some underlying force is at play. What about those suburbs? What has all of this got to do with purpose?

The title track of Arcade Fire’s 2012 Grammy Award winning album, The Suburbs, provides a clue:

And all of the walls that they built in the seventies finally fall,

And all of the houses they build in the seventies finally fall,

Meant nothin’ at all,

Meant nothin’ at all.

Detroit: A Conundrum, Part One

I visited Detroit many times while growing up in Southern Ontario, Canada. The stately Ambassador Bridge that connects Windsor, Ontario to Detroit was a structure I crossed rather frequently. Sadly, the bridge is going to disappear in a few years as a new one is being built.

My dad was an electrical engineer and, in 1976—while based near Hamilton, Ontario—he launched a business with the eponymous name, Pontefract Controls Limited. He and his team of twenty or so developed and sold electrical engineering applications and systems to big and small companies. He created several partnerships with Canadian and U.S. firms, notably a supplier based in Michigan called Gemco Electric.

Once a month he made the three-hour, 330-kilometer journey from Hamilton to Clawson (one of the many suburbs in Detroit) in either an oversized van or a whimsical looking station wagon—replete with fake wood exterior paneling—to pick up engineering parts and gadgets from the supplier.

If it were summer or any other sort of holiday, I would tag along with my father to keep him company during the round-trip 660 kilometers. It was always a lesson in doing whatever it takes to get the job done.

During those trips throughout the 1980s, I remember talking with my dad about Detroit and its golden era. Growing up in the north of England during the 1950s and 1960s, my dad was fascinated by stories about Detroit. I suspect he was not alone. It was the embodiment of the American dream; the global dream, perhaps. But then the sun went down and somebody stole all the sand at the beach. “Go ahead and laugh at Detroit,” author Charlie LeDuff says in his book, Detroit: An American Autopsy, “because you are laughing at yourself.”

Today, like many people yearning for purpose, the city is lost. It is desperately trying to redefine its purpose. But like an organization exhibiting an insatiable appetite for power, profit and increasing shareholder value, Detroit must decide if it actually wants to shift its purpose.

Metaphorically though, it has affected us all. I find there to be a direct correlation to Detroit and a lack of foresight when it comes to more meaning and purpose in the roles we hold, in the organizations where we work and in the lives we lead.

People are becoming increasingly more isolated. The concept of NIMBY (Not In My Backyard Syndrome) is growing. We crave stuff. We want to get there faster. We yearn for sleeker cars. We want larger houses. We have become impatient. We demand the latest device. We want more.

Paradoxically, at work—and in our best MBA-speak—we now aim to address only the low hanging fruit. Our approach to employment has turned into a hedonic assault on our actual work style, crimping our ability to find true purpose in our workplace and in life. Detroit is a historical workplace metaphor. We might also argue Detroit is the global catalytic birthplace and metaphorical owner of “the age and vortex of consumerism.” This has aided our lack of purpose. For Westerners, it has led us to the road of societal chagrin.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “Between 1901 and 2003, the average U.S. household’s income increased 67-fold, from $750 to $50,302. During the same period, household expenditures increased 53-fold, from $769 to $40,748.” That same $40,748 of household expenditure would have bought more than $2,000 worth of goods in 1901 prices, which suggests a tripling of purchasing power.

Yes, society has become fixated not only on income, but on the purchase of consumer goods. In a talk delivered at the Drucker Institute in 2010 at Claremont University, famed management thinker and author Charles Handy said, “Maybe consumerism is the cancer of today’s society.”

I believe it is.

Does the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agree? From its 2012 research, “Dealing with Household Debt,” the IMF found as households accumulate more debt, the deeper the subsequent slump in the economy.. Furthermore, as they studied the Great Recession (the economic meltdown that occurred between 2009 and 2012) they found “housing busts preceded by larger run-ups in gross household debt—mortgages, personal loans, and credit card debt—are associated with significantly larger contractions in economic activity.”

We became our own worst enemy believing “the good ol’ days” would remain in perpetuity. Clearly, such is not the case. Detroit, as a metaphor for all of us, was built on the seduction of money and paychecks, not purpose. Consumerism assisted the assault on workplace misery. But there is more to this story.

Detroit: A Conundrum, Part Two

Further exacerbating the problem of society’s materialistic habits and their relationship to a lack of purpose is what I’ll coin “the age of industrialization abandonment.” Detroit is not only a metaphor for the rise and demise of a city—due in part to consumerism and flawed capitalism—equally so, is its investment, contraction and eventual outsourcing of manufacturing-related roles and responsibilities. Society’s reliance on a company to provide a paycheck and employment—a job for life, some say—has appropriately duped its citizens into a false sense of career growth security. The wool is over the eyes of far too many employees and, as a consequence, jealousy, rage and inappropriate workplace expectations are oozing out from all working life orifices.

According to a Brookings paper entitled Why Does Manufacturing Matter? Which Manufacturing Matters?, the United States lost 41 percent of its manufacturing jobs between June 1979 (when manufacturing employment peaked) and December 2009. Manufacturing’s share of total employment fell from 13.2 percent in January 2000 to 8.9 percent in December 2009.

Whereas the once dependable and laudable manufacturing jobs (and careers) that blanketed the Western world to uphold a prosperous middle class lifestyle have shrunk right at our doorsteps, employees of all stripes have been left to decipher what they have to do to keep a job let alone defining and enacting a greater sense of purpose.

Across all of Michigan, for example, of which the greater Detroit metropolitan makes up roughly 35 percent of the State population, United States Census reports the state lost 48 percent of its manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010. These data points are what have aided society’s interest in political characters such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders who were quick to point out the loss of such jobs during their respective U.S. presidential nomination periods. It was Intel founder, Andy Grove, who alarmed us of such a predicament in 2010, when he wrote, “What kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work—and masses of unemployed?”

Manufacturing job losses are simply the main course. There are plenty of labor data desserts and appetizers to ponder munching on as well. For example, let us head down to the farm.

In 1935, the number of farms in the United States sat at 6.8 million, but has since dwindled to a paltry 2.2 million. It seems the younger generations have already taken a hint. According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, “The percentage of principle farm operators 65 years or older has increased almost 10 percent since 1969.”

What about the contingent work force? Have there been any changes for the group of employees who hop from job to job, often working as a contractor? Since the 1950s, the number of American citizens working part-time has increased from 12.7 percent of the population to more than 20 percent in 2013. Those are the ones publicly self-identifying. There are plenty more who work “off the grid.”

How about youth unemployment rates; surely there are no issues there, right? Since 2007 the global youth unemployment rates for those aged 15 through 30 years has risen by 3.8 million to 74.2 million worldwide. Throughout the European Union, youth unemployment has risen from 18 percent in 2000 to 24 percent now. Over that time period, once proud European nations have seen rapid increases to their youth unemployment ranks including the United Kingdom (12.2 percent to 21.1 percent), Portugal (17.8 percent to 37.7 percent), France (19.1 percent to 24.9 percent) and the big prize winner, Spain (22.6 percent to 53.2 percent).

Let us investigate what transpired over the entire 20th century in America. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics produced a report entitled Occupational Changes During the 20th Century. The authors surfaced employment trends that suggested of the 11 major occupation groups identified, six declined as a share of the total percentage of jobs. Those losses consisted of occupations that “produce, repair, or transport goods and are concentrated in the agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, and transportation industries.”

The five occupation types that increased include occupations “having to do with information, ideas, or people [and] are more concentrated in services-producing industries.” The authors concluded, “The five groups that increased went from 24 percent to 75 percent of total employment, while the six groups that declined went from 76 percent to 25 percent.”

The same pattern is emerging in Canada. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the professional, scientific and technical services categories have witnessed employment growth that has outpaced all other sectors except construction and health care.

The Western world has become one giant services industry—sprinkled with the rise in Information Economy career opportunities—yet more jobs go unfilled, manufacturing departs for Asia, unemployment continues to be a problem and the income gap between top earners and the other classes widens. How is this not related to our state of workplace disengagement, you ask? It is a rhetorical if not facetious question. Indeed, it is all related.

In 1933, America instituted the “New Deal,” a series of economic programs to assist the working class get back on its feet after the Great Depression. Some argue it was not until World War II that the Great Depression began to truly shift, but a “New Deal” was indeed underway. It revolved around what was referred to as the 3 R’s: “Relief, Recovery, and Reform.” That is, Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression.

We need a new New Deal in the 21st century or employees might begin thinking they are getting a “Raw Deal.”

Indeed, as authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee point out in their book, Race Against the Machine, that the advances in technology, automation and robotics are partly the reasons for employment gaps. We are in for a wild ride:

Certainly, much of the recent unemployment is, as past business cycles, simply due to weak demand in the overall economy, reflecting an extremely severe downturn. However, this does not negate the important structural component to the falling levels of employment, and it is plausible that the Great Recession itself may, in part, reflect a delayed response to these deeper structural issues.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, the world’s robot population stood at approximately 600,000 in 1991 but by 2013 it had grown to 1.6 million.

The threat should not be taken lightly.

Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, for example, predicts 47 percent of American jobs are at high risk of being overtaken by computers and other robotic machines within the next two decades. But it is not the bold predictions and observations of academics that concern me. Let’s face it; technology is designed (in part) to speed up the nature of business. Conversely, humans are, at times, far too clumsy and slow compared to its technologically superior cousins made of chips and microprocessors.

What concerns me is that the psyche of the team member (and the organization) is stuck in the great run-up of our economies. It does not matter how old you are, history is our crutch and success is treated as an entitlement. This is to say nothing of greed and profit fixation and maximizing shareholder value theory.

Society not only contains economic and employment structural issues, as Brynjolfsson and McAfee portend. Society is awash with organizational blindness, misunderstanding and apathy.

This is clearly demonstrated by our continued use of the Detroit metaphor.

Detroit: A Conundrum, Part Three

Unless you are my father-in-law, who is a die-hard Detroit Red Wings hockey fan, it is impossible to say the word Detroit and not think first of the automobile. While Karl Benz may be credited with inventing the first gasoline-powered combustion engine automobile in 1885—despite Leonardo da Vinci’s grand designs for transport vehicles in 1478—I posit we must lay some blame with Henry Ford. I believe he helped turn Detroit into the birthplace of the short-sighted, self-serving and vainglorious society that has caused many of the issues we find today in the millions of employees who seek out workplace success, yet portray misery and unhappiness.

Yes, Ford was the founder and creator of Fordism, and the benefits of mass industry production. This helped unleash the manufacturing era itself in the early 1900s. His innovation is irrefutable. But it was the invention of the car itself that may have assisted the age and vortex of consumerism, which led to a rise of the machines helping to create our current day workplace malcontent predicament.

But let us first tackle the age of the automobile, its relation to consumerism and capitalism, as well as its relevance to purpose. It is because of Ford’s insistence on using unskilled laborers to operate the Ford automobile assembly lines at the precedent-setting five-dollar-per-day wage program he initiated back in 1914. Where was the purpose trajectory incentive, back in the day, when you were paid more than a gold digger? (And, gold diggers were all the rage back then,) Who cares what you had to do, it was five dollars a day! Your wage was doubled overnight by Ford, once you joined the plant from the gold digging world. Five dollars a day in 1914 was akin to having the best blue-collar job on the planet. Who needed a purpose? Who cared about what you were actually doing? Who really considered the needs of all stakeholders?

Ford’s welfare capitalism belief was brilliant. On one hand he more than doubled the daily wage of his employees with his insistence of upping their daily wage to five dollars. This meant, in a somewhat Machiavellian manner, his employees just might have enough money to purchase the automobiles they were producing. Some call it altruistic, but I see it as an ingenious example of getting employees to return some of their earned salary back to the company.

On the other hand, he mitigated a very critical and real issue for his company, which was a 370 percent turnover rate. It became rather cumbersome for workers to leave their job at Ford when their pay was improved to five dollars a day and the workday was being reduced from nine to eight hours. It was figuratively raining perquisites. Employees were happy. The owner was happy. Most of the customers were happy, too. (So long as they ordered a Model T in the color black.)

But, it was also the prescient innovation of the assembly line that really permitted all pistons to be firing, so to speak. Ford could reduce the workday through the invention of the assembly line—making the employees happier under the banner of Fordism—while increasing both the output of automobiles and his profits. This made Ford and his family happy.

Actually, it was a win-win for both parties—not to mention the consumer—and ergo, the age of happy workers, happy bosses, happy owners and happy consumers was born. The worker was given career security. They had a job for life. It was a time where union membership swelled and fortified. Manufacturing was booming. Everybody was thrilled.

Or, were they?

Let us fast forward to 1946. There have been thirty years of prosperity despite two world wars and the obvious economic malfunction that was the Depression. America has become the envy of the world. It is resilient and a perpetual land of hope and opportunity. Citizens from across the planet are trying to immigrate to the land of Stars and Stripes. It is both a military and economic super power. The Western world looks up to this obstreperous juggernaut.

Ford Motor Company continues to do very well in Detroit and competitors such as Chrysler and General Motors have solidified their operations and further sustain the American (and global) fascination of the car.

Detroit is thriving as a cosmopolitan city. Baseball player Jackie Robinson has just broken the color barrier in Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers in neighboring New York State. It is a time of endless possibilities everywhere. The television show, Leave it to Beaver, is just around the corner and Happy Days is off in the distance. Rumblings of landing on the moon are murmured in Washington hallways. And then, the invention of all inventions delivers the final blow to the age and vortex of consumerism: the freeway.

Detroit: A Conundrum, Part Four

Although the first known automobile-only motorway opened in 1908 as a toll road between Queens and Suffolk County, New York—known as the Long Island Motor Parkway and the rather unfortunate acronym LIMP—freeways became more prevalent in and around World War II. Once various levels of government saw its potential, thousands upon thousands of kilometres of freeway roads were developed in all corners of the world.

The intention of the freeway was for cars (and people) to move easily from one location to another at increased speeds, thus reducing travel time and enhancing mobility. Of course, unintended consequences ensued with pollution and noise being only two. But it is the economic impact that perhaps had the biggest detriment to purpose.

Now that automobile workers could easily afford the car they were building, they also could easily move to the swanky new suburbs—thanks to the newly installed freeway—and conveniently drive to their place of work,  typically in the hollowing-out downtown or adjacent suburbs. Other companies followed suit, picking up shop and heading for the suburbs.

At this point in time, employees from any company could drive anywhere at any time and continue to buy more stuff. With the freeway, it easily provided access to different types of goods at the locales of different merchants. It was materialism on wheels. It was conspicuous capitalism at its gas-induced finest, and the effect on workplace happiness is only now becoming evident. Citizens drove to a place of work, made a paycheck, and then drove around on the freeways spending their paychecks however and whenever they could. Head over to YouTube and search for any Black Friday shopping video to get a taste of what it was like during these days.

By 1958 the Interstate Highway Act in the U.S.A. connected all major cities with freeways. Similar arterial structures popped up throughout the Western world including the Autobahn in Germany, the Autostrade in Italy and, eventually, the UK motorway grid.

These newfound suburban issues were best summarized by F. J. Osborn in 1946:

These new forms of transportation [automobiles] . . . were used . . . to facilitate the sprawling of suburbs, a type of urban growth wasteful from the economic standpoint and disadvantageous socially. Coupled with the rise of real incomes, rapid transport has enabled the people moving out from the centers to find the open residential surroundings they desired. But they and the numerous immigrants from rural areas have obtained these surroundings at the expense of long and costly daily journeys to and from work. Local community life has been weakened or destroyed, and access to the country made more difficult for the large numbers of residents still left in the city centres.

Perhaps we should have heeded the advice of Lewis Mumford who brilliantly ended his 1938 book, The Culture of Cities, with the following: “The culture of cities is ultimately the culture of life in its highest manifestations.”

I do not believe Western society citizens are living a “culture of life in its highest manifestations.” Judging from all sorts of employee data points, workers are unhappy, disengaged, disenfranchised and hopelessly frustrated. Organizations have remained steadfast and myopic on profit, pushing the company for greater returns, no matter the cost. Far too many leaders fixate on power and increased pay. Unfortunately, we do not know how to break free from this predicament. We therefore might lay further blame on both the automobile and the freeway-suburbia combination as additional stagnation culprits.

To add insult to injury, there are now well over one billion automobiles in circulation on the planet and the OECD’s International Transport Forum forecast that the number of cars worldwide will climb to 2.5 billion by 2050. In 1950 America possessed a ratio of one automobile for every two drivers but by 2013 automobiles outstripped licensed drivers by approximately 40 million.

Yes, 40 million.

Detroit: A Conundrum, Part Five

What Henry Ford instituted in Detroit through the birth of the modern-day car, the assembly line and welfare capitalism, cannot be classified as a fundamental attribution error. In other words, we cannot simply point the finger at others. We are all responsible.

The invention and introduction of the freeway helped seal the deal of an entire generation’s own sense of purpose malfeasance. Many city residents were swept up in a sociologist’s dream case study and fled the city for the suburbs. The “age of industrialization abandonment” gripped Detroit and other industrial towns. Production plants and office buildings were downsized or outsourced to Asia or other foreign lands. Many businesses eventually closed, creating current-day arsonist playgrounds and the elimination of the “jobs for life” mantra. Philadelphia, Cleveland and other large American cities share similar plights.

This created the gaping hole—physical and psychological—one sees in Detroit today between the actual city and the suburbs. The city today is literally on fire, yet the workers who fled to the suburbs in their automobiles have continued to dial up their consumerism habits and levels of debt. Meanwhile, employee engagement levels remain anemic. Some people relied too heavily on the company for lifetime employment and now rely on food stamps or multiple part-time jobs just to get by in life. Indeed, the so-called “gig economy” has swept over Detroit but not in the manor mainstream media positively depicts the term. The “gig economy” in Detroit has been one of pure survival. The gig is to survive.

While Ford might have instituted part of 20th century industrialism (alongside other historical figures such as Frederick Taylor, Henri Fayol and Frank Bunker Gilbreth) this advanced management practice helped fuel consumerism and an employee’s requirement for more money.

Coupled by the “age of industrialization abandonment” and new-found automation practices, we are in the midst of the perfect working storm. Today’s organizational and corporate recalcitrance to establish new ways in which to operate through maximizing its profits and increasing shareholder value is one thing, but the culpability of workers is an equal aspersion.

We can blame both the big bosses and the workers for today’s desperate workplace situation.

This shift became prevalent throughout the Western world. It was not only the inception of consumerism for global citizens; it was the point at which we began working not for pleasure, passion or purpose, but to gain access to money to gain access to more goods to gain access to a comparison of how well we were doing against our friends, strangers and even celebrities. Society is truly trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” The outsourcing and reduction in manufacturing related roles—and let’s not forget the rise of automation, computers and robotics in society itself—is a confluence of workplace nightmares.

It begs the question for you the reader:

How has today’s capitalism and consumerism mindsets affected people in terms of their working life success and fulfillment?

Economist John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1930, “Now it is true that the needs of human beings may seem to be insatiable. But they fall into two classes—those needs which are absolute in the sense that we feel them whatever the situation of our fellow human beings may be, and those which are relative in the sense that we feel them only if their satisfaction lifts us above, makes us feel superior to, our fellows.”

Truer words could not have been written today. Employees suffer from career (and life, for some) unhappiness, in part, because they have no idea what happiness ought to look like. They struggle to determine how their own personal purpose or engagement might be achieved.

Conversely, far too many for-profit organizations continue the singular quest of short-term profits for stock price volatility while public sector firms add additional layers of bureaucracy to try fixing existing issues. Sadly, employees and leaders alike act as if they do not even know what changes need to be made in order to reset various categories of purpose.

Conspicuous Consumption

What if Ford, and thus the example of the automotive assembly plant as a model of role-based hierarchy, was merely something he did not have control over?

Thorsten Velblis seems to think we are the way we are today based on traits passed down by our feudal ancestors. In his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, Velblis proposes our economic way of life is broken down by social stratification; the division of labor by status. A hunter may be thought of as a high-profile job within what was coined a “leisure class” as it provides food for the clan and it is of utmost importance.

What we might call the working class in the feudal society, a cook, for example, would be thought of with less prestige as he or she is merely cooking the food that has been caught by the superior roles, the hunters.

We might argue, therefore, that the “leisure class” vs “working class” dichotomy spilled over into modern day society. Henry Ford was the high-ranking officer in Detroit sitting mighty at the top of the automobile empire chain while his workers did the work. Both are important, but it sets up an interesting dilemma.

Did his workers inadvertently try to emulate his wealth and stature? Was it an example of what is going wrong in society today, and thus an employee’s current level of disengagement?

What of the reliance on the company to provide the paycheck in perpetuity, otherwise known as the “job for life”?

Finally, when did we start outsourcing the hunting to other hunters outside the Western world? For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that manufacturing-related jobs in the U.S.A. are estimated to account for only 7.1 percent of all employment in the year 2022, down from 30 percent in 1979. What happens to one’s personal sense of purpose when they cannot even put food on the table? Remember what Andy Grove predicted?

Even in spite of this employment class divide, many of today’s employees continue to fuel consumerism habits. These are not good habits either. Many are hoping the company they work for can bankroll the next heyday, let alone payday.

Workers are praying no further jobs are exported to “destination elsewhere.” The working class—the proletariat—wants to have what the leisure class—the bourgeoisie—possesses. Of course the leisure class just wants more. The hunters want to hunt more often and the cooks want to become the hunters.

As a modern day comparison, let us examine consumer debt. In the United States, each adult now owns approximately 3.7 credit cards. They are alsothe owners of $15,799  in consumer-based debt. The total credit card debt in America alone is $2.43 trillion. In 1989 combined credit card debt sat at roughly $211 billion. Do you recognize a rather large discrepancy?

Things are worse in Canada where each adult now holds $27,131 in consumer debt. What about the UK? Total credit card debt in the UK has increased by £25 billion since 2001. Do you think it is the leisure class or the working class who holds the debt? Precisely, it is the working class who continues to rack up increased levels of consumer debt. Thorsten Velblis coined the act “conspicuous consumption,” the prevalence of spending money on goods or services to display one’s income or wealth level.

Not surprisingly, personal savings rates have decreased in the United States from 12 percent in 1982 to just under one percent in 2015.

Meanwhile, household debt as a percentage of GDP has risen from just over 45 percent to a remarkable 80 percent over the past fifty years. In the United Kingdom, household debt as a percentage of GDP currently sits at 98 percent. Singapore is 77 percent and South Korea is 88 percent. The problem, therefore, is not an isolated one to America, or Detroit for that matter.

To put the data points about our levels of consumer and credit card debt into perspective, and directly in light of the state of work uneasiness, let me recall a coaching exchange I once conducted with a colleague.

We had conducted several sessions up until this one particular day when I asked a rather blunt question, “Are you interested in a progressive career, one with purpose, or are you simply looking to make more money?” The reply was sober if not enlightening.

“Dan,” he said, “I’ve got to pay off my credit card debt before I can ever come close to owning a house like you do. Can you help me? I need to make more money, and I need to do it fast.” It was a classic example of being upward counterfactual which, in its simplest form, is a psychology term comparing the current state to some better future state. This particular individual was not so much interested in a role with purpose (and living in the moment) as they were desperately seeking an increased amount of money from a paycheck to pay off existing debts. It’s the metaphor of Detroit in a nutshell.

We wonder why worker satisfaction and employee disengagement and a lack of purpose remain issues in the organization. What a shame. Employees have always been the working class, but when they exasperate themselves by trying to make ends meet while remaining blindly fixated on money (and spending it) instead of finding a valid purpose in the work, trouble brews. The age and vortex of consumerism is devastatingly problematic for a just and purpose-driven society.

Conspicuous Capitalism

For all that I have railed on Detroit and Henry Ford throughout this essay (as a metaphor), we can thank the latter for inventing the concept of vertical integration. Many firms took his idea of the assembly plant and utilized it in their manufacturing houses. Whether it was IBM, General Electric, Dupont or other automobile manufacturers in Detroit, Ford’s idea to create a single-stop shop of production was revolutionary. Many emulated his vision.

But when society is saddled by a falsehood that a corporation’s growth, higher profits and maximizing shareholder return are the reasons it is in business in the first place, trouble will undoubtedly brew. Detroit is no different.

The vertical integration system that Ford pioneered has become dented. Many organizations have chosen to outsource the production of their goods for better margins on profitability. The real question is “at what cost?” This is no fender bender.

As an example, let’s scrutinize one of the world’s most successful companies. Apple products, like the iPhone or iPad, possess the tagline, “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” In 2012, The New York Times discovered that there were over 700,000 employees in Asia and Europe who were responsible for building and assembling Apple’s various products. Undoubtedly, there are more employees doing so in 2016.

Apple currently employs over 110,000 people worldwide. Roughly 40,000 are based in Silicon Valley. How is it that the United States—birthplace of Ford’s assembly line—with its most successful company, Apple, could not both  design and assemble its products in America?

When President Obama asked Steve Jobs that very question, his response was chilling.

“Those jobs aren’t coming back,” was the response from the famous co-founder of Apple.

Today, every full-time employee at Apple (not those who build or assemble their products in sub-contracted plants elsewhere) can be thought of as a cash cow for the company. In 2015, Apple’s revenue-per-employee metric was well over $2 million. That is, for every full-time employee on Apple’s books, each one represented $2 million in revenue. Profit-per-employee is an equally staggering half million dollars.

If you thought Apple was sitting on a pile of cash that might be used to reverse its trend of building and assembling its products offshore, by virtue of reinstituting Ford’s vertical integration on American soil, unfortunately that is not in the plans.

While it is true Apple sits on $215 billion of cash reserves, its CFO, Luca Maestri informed investors in 2016 that 93 percent of it is nested in offshore accounts, the majority of which are long-term marketable securities. The company is reluctant to bring those funds back to America. As Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO suggested, it is unwilling to sacrifice the 40 percent taxation hit it would take if the cash were brought back to the U.S.

What else can the company do with that cash? If it had been thinking about a higher organizational purpose, it might have developed a plan to develop, train and hire workers in America no different than what Ford did in the early 1900s. Instead, Apple focused on a model whereby higher margins and profits trumped a higher purpose. It could have easily reinvested those profits to build a manufacturing plant in Detroit. It could have decided to employ a form of conscious capitalism, versus conspicuous capitalism.

But Apple chose the path of putting profit and power ahead of a higher purpose. Apple is an easy target to highlight, but rest assured thousands of companies have made this decision as well.

Inconspicuous Higher Purpose

Creating a sense of higher purpose in our lives, our work, our society has been debated and discussed for decades. In 1996, a position paper from People-Centered Economic Development cut to the heart of the matter:

We are at the very beginning of a new type of society and civilization, the Information Age. Historically, this is only the third distinct age of civilization. We lived in an agricultural age for thousands of years, which gave way to the Industrial Revolution and Industrial Age during the last three hundred years. The Industrial Age is now giving way to the Information Revolution, which is giving rise to the Information Age. Understanding this, it is appropriate to be concerned with the impact this transition is having and will continue to have on the lives of all of us. In that it is a fundamental predicate of “people-centered” economic development that no person is disposable, it follows that close attention be paid to those in the waning Industrial Age who are not equipped and prepared to take active and productive roles in an Information Age. Many, in fact, are scared, angry, and deeply resentful that they are being left out, ignored, effectively disenfranchised, discarded, thrown away as human flotsam in the name of human and social progress. We have only to ask ourselves individually whether or not this is the sort of progress we want, where we accept consciously and intentionally that human progress allows for disposing of other human beings.

When we put purpose and people on par with profit, all stakeholders win. Human beings ultimately feel human. When leaders and owners think about society and not simply themselves, all stakeholders win. When individuals continue to develop, define and decide what their personal purpose is—culminating in a purpose mindset in their roles at work—the organization and society wins.

Detroit is learning this.

Zak Pashak moved from Calgary to downtown Detroit in 2011 to start a bicycle manufacturing business, honoring the tradition of Detroit and its spirited and entrepreneurial people. He wanted to partake in the redevelopment of Detroit. The company’s mission is to “encourage cycling by making an accessible, enjoyable bicycle while continuing Detroit’s legacy of quality manufacturing and design.” Zak wanted to help the city rediscover its true purpose. He said to Canadian Business, “Detroit feels like the apocalyptic future. There’s something to learn here.”

Indeed there is something to learn.

Amazon and Nike have learned, and recently announced their intention to open large offices in the city of Detroit. According to labor data research firm, Economic Modeling Specialists International, the Detroit region has added 55,000 new manufacturing jobs since 2009, of which 28,000 are related to the automobile industry. Maybe Apple will get in on the act.

The city of Detroit has a long way to go. The outlying suburbs are further ahead than what the downtown core has to go through to re-establish itself as a truly thriving, purpose-driven place to live. But if there are more Zak Pashaks, Nikes and Amazons willing to take a chance on the city and to help it become the mecca that is Motown, it might regain and redefine its sense of purpose.

For Detroit’s citizens and those that partake, it is an equal opportunity to redevelop, redefine and perhaps decide again what their own personal purpose is, and how will they partake in the city’s redevelopment.

Don’t give up on Detroit, for it could be the best example ever of the rise, fall and rise of purpose.

During one of those ridiculously long trips to Detroit and the return trip to Hamilton, my Dad gave me some sage advice, “Put your heart into what you love, son, and the money you need to feel fulfilled will inevitably follow.”

There is love in Detroit. There is love, Detroit.

Purpose will rise again in Detroit.

References

http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-Detroit-Michigan.html

http://www.detroitregionalworkforcefund.org/

EPE Research Center, 2009

Detroit Public Schools Face Drastic Cuts, Closures

http://wdet.org/posts/2016/03/24/82775-detroit-public-schools-gets-emergency-money-oversight/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/08/us/billions-in-debt-detroit-faces-millions-in-bills-for-bankruptcy.html

Detroit, an American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff, Penguin Press, New York, 2013

U.S. Department of Labor, 100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending

http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2012/01/pdf/c3.pdf

http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/02/22-manufacturing-helper-krueger-wial

How America Can Create Jobs, by Andy Grove. Bloomberg Business, July 1, 2010.

2007 US Census of Agriculture

http://www.bls.gov/OPUB/MLR/1991/03/art2full.pdf

http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/lang–en/index.htm

International Labor Organization

http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php?title=File:Youth_unemployment_rates,_EU-28_and_EA-17,_seasonally_adjusted,_January_2000_-_August_2013.png&filetimestamp=20131001065856

http://www.gfmag.com/component/content/article/119-economic-data/12384-worlds-unemployment-ratescom.html#axzz2hx6K8Dyg

http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2006/03/art3full.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Deal

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Race Against the Machines, Digital Frontier Press, 2011.

http://www.ifr.org/uploads/media/Executive_Summary_WR_2014_02.pdf

http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/institutes/Future_Tech)

The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation? Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne September 17, 2013

Osborn, Frederic J. 1946 [1965]. “Preface,” in Garden Cities of Tomorrow. Howard Ebenezer, ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Lewis Mumford. The Culture of Cities. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1938

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55943

John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, 1930

http://www.bos.frb.org/economic/ppdp/2011/ppdp1101.pdf

http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/g19/current/

8.28.13: Canadian consumer debt balloons to $27,131 in second quarter, study suggests

http://www.pwc.lu/en/banking/docs/pwc-precious-plastic-2011.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/business/apple-america-and-a-squeezed-middle-class.html?_r=2&hp=&pagewanted=all

http://www.businessinsider.com/revenue-per-employee-at-apple-facebook-google-others-2016-2

http://seekingalpha.com/article/3836826-apples-aapl-ceo-tim-cook-q1-2016-results-earnings-call-transcript

People-Centered Economic Development, P-CED, derived from a paper for the steering committee to reelect the [US] President in 1996.

http://www.canadianbusiness.com/companies-and-industries/detroit-bikes-zak-pashak/

http://www.detroitchamber.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/2015-State-of-the-Region.pdf

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http://www.economicmodeling.com/

My Augusta Horribilis

I received a Facebook message today from a friend. The first few lines read as follows: “Hi Dan, I’m not seeing much of the ‘real’ you around, and I’m guessing the new book is taking up much of your time. Hopefully you’ve had a great summer, and the goats are well.”

My friend meant well—and there was more to the message further down—but to be truthful, it was my breaking point. Or perhaps I cracked when an employee of a moving company blindly walked out from his truck into my bicycle riding path today. Crash. Ouch! Either way, my friend was right. The “real” me has not been around much on social media.

It’s hard to fathom the past 30 days or so. My reticence to be myself on social media was related to what I’m about to share. In part I believe it’s due to the “shiny happy people” syndrome that afflicts social media users. Everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses of happiness. Facebook is arguably the worst. It’s all rather boring. My abandonment is likely related but I’ll have to write about it another day.

For now it’s me, naked, opining about my Augusta Horribilis. I share it with you in this space because I like to think of myself as being a real human being, with faults, issues, idiosyncrasies and enemies. I love myself, don’t get me wrong, but there are oodles of things I’m still working on. Writing seems to be a cathartic way in which to become whole. I am not looking for pity, rather, (perhaps) using this medium as a way for others to learn from my mistakes. “We’re not here to see through each other; we’re here to see each other through.”

The month started out splendidly. Our second born turned 12 on July 28, a Friday, and then we were off to Nanoose Bay for a 3-week holiday. The tiny hamlet of Nanoose is located just north of Nanaimo, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. Door-to-door it’s about a two-hour drive from our home in Victoria. A glorious Oceanside house awaited us. No neighbours, only deer and hares. To be fair there were seals and orcas too, but I digress. After flying just over 100,000 miles between January and the end of July, I was ready for an unplugged family holiday that bathed in West-facing sunsets, fresh fish purchased off the boat, good books and wine. Glorious wine!

Calamity Number One

Calamity number one (of, ahem, three) started about seven days into the trip.

Denise received a phone call from a friend that was checking in on our Victoria house while we were away in Nanoose. The conversation went something like this. “Denise, hi. Umm, you are not going to believe this, but there is about a foot of water in your basement.”

Denise is my infinitely better half. True to form, before she could explain exactly what was happening she shot out the door—a bit like Clark Kent does when he has to turn into Superman to save Earth from freaky looking aliens—and headed back to Victoria to sort out the catastrophe.

Someone had to stay behind to pick up one of our goats later that night from a soccer tournament. Also, who would protect the deer? Who would bark back at the seals? Who would ride the orcas? There was also an open bottle of wine to finish. (If you are downright confused, goats is a term of endearment for our children, and yes, Denise is the “handyman” in our relationship.)

As it turns out, we are well versed at floods. Professionals you might say. After all, this was our fourth. (No, not a typo.) My favourite flood—when you have four, you are able to rank them—came on July 1, 2013. A pipe burst on the second floor of our Vancouver home, and, well, as we were sleeping in the basement it began to rain. Inside the house. It was not pretty. Scratch that, it was very pretty. How many times does it rain inside your house? There was even a rainbow. Don’t believe me? Check out the footage below.

 

Back to flood #4. Back to Augusta Horribilis. Denise was providing me with up-to-the-minute status reports via text, photos, videos and phone calls. The plumbers, restoration company, mayor and paperboy could not get over the amount of water that was piping through our sump pumps.

That’s right, I pluralized sump pump. We have three. One in the garage, with a back-up pump for emergency purposes. There is also one in our basement. The good news? I know what a sump pump is for. The bad news? Both sump pumps in the garage failed, causing external drain water from the perimeter drains around the house to leak into the basement. But was that water ever clear. You could see right through it.

But that’s a good question you just asked. “How did two sump pumps fail at the same time?”

Before I answer it, did you know that the restoration company called in a water removal tanker to clear the garage sump pump area of water and sludge? It did. Take a guess at how many gallons of water and sludge it cleared out of the sump pump area?

Higher.

Higher!

590 gallons.

WTF?

See below.

 

A City official showed up with a glint in his eye. “The historical records of this area shows a natural spring running under your property. The reason your sump pumps failed was due to iron ore build-up. The iron ore is as a result of the natural spring. You need to get your sump pump(s) and perimeter drains serviced every six months. That’s why your perimeter drains got clogged and flooded your basement.”

Mic drop.

He went on to say that had we inquired with the City when we purchased the house in 2011 about historical records, we would have discovered this information. Of course the people we bought the house off of in 2011 did not disclose this information to us. And I had no idea one was supposed to check on the historical information of a property with City Hall before purchase. (Irony? The individual we bought the home from was the developer/builder of the house, who had lived in it for two years prior. Ouch!)

So, to this moment, our basement remains unusable as the drywall is missing, the floor has been ripped out, and there is no bathroom. In other words, it looks as though North Korea has landed one of their “we’re not sure where it’s going” missiles on our basement.

 

The cost? If you include the deductible, the replacement sump pumps, the labour to fix the sump pumps, and the newly rewired DEFCON alarm system to prevent a calamity like this from ever happening again, the total bill is $12,000. None of the aforementioned is covered by insurance. So the lesson learned here kids is when buying a home, always check with City Hall and their historical records. You never know if there may be a catacomb tunneled underneath your property with not-so-dead mummies.

The good news is there is no way for this to ever happen again. The new system is literally waterproof. Further, we hired six kindergarten children to work for us underground. Their job is to bottle the water from the natural spring. We lower them down into the sump pump area every morning, and bring them back at night. If they’re productive there are snacks. It’s about 60 feet below ground, but they seem fine. Everyone gets Sundays off. We’re selling the water for $5/bottle and paying the children $1/hr. It works out splendidly in terms of net profit.

Calamity Number Two

If you enjoy irony of the dripping sort, we’re also in the middle of building a new home. Building a house is one of those bucket list items of ours, although I just realized I should not be using “bucket” and “house” in the same sentence ever again.

Gack! I shouldn’t use the word dripping either.

Thankfully those kindergarten children are now helping to pay for the new house.

About a week after Calamity Number One while still on holiday in Nanoose, I received a call from my banker. (Just saying that word out loud feels downright naughty.) Banker.

He said, “Dan, umm, I’ve got good news and bad news. I’ve managed to save you about $300,000 on your house build. The bad news is you can’t start as planned next week.”

Gulp.

WTF?

In February of this year we purchased a property in Victoria that was dreamy. West-facing backyard. A block from Willows Beach, a glorious spot in the Victoria area. There were only six houses on the street. It was perfect! We interviewed a few developers and chose one that we thought was going to steer us in the right direction of our dream home.

Over the next several months up until the beginning of July we worked on the plans. Being a “design guy” I took the lead. Denise provided feedback, but abdicated most of the responsibility to me. She fixes things, I design things that usually break. That’s basically our relationship in a nutshell.

I must say, it is a sexy, open-concept, respectful home. I can’t wait to move in at some point next century.

Not ever having built a house, I simply thought this was the normal pace of development. It turns out, it’s not. Furthermore, after the plans were submitted to City Hall for approval in early July, a budget finally landed in my inbox from the developer. I thought this was the normal process. Being naïve and a bit clueless, I took it at face value and submitted the budget to my banker. (What a word!)

He thanked me for it, and began to work on various valuations of our existing property and the future home.

When I received that call from him a week after Calamity Number One I thought the world was ending. How could this be? How could I have been led astray?

The demolition of the house did not happen. It sits in its dilapidated 1940’s glory yearning to be put out of its misery. Why? (For the record, we cannot lift it and move the building elsewhere.) My banker said he would not approve a construction mortgage based on the proposed budget. Although everyone in our family was excited to watch the “demo” and get on with the build, it has become a calamity-turned-good-news-story.

The house will be built. But it will be built nearly $300,000 cheaper. Our family will be thankful for it in the long run. (We’ll be able to afford their university tuition, for example.) But what a letdown, and what a disappointment to not be moving in next June 1, 2018 … which was the original plan.

The lesson? Don’t expect a developer to be looking out for your best interests. I really wanted to believe them, I wanted them to be that collaborative partner who understood we wanted a “nice” home, not an extravagant home. Sadly, it didn’t happen. I love Ford’s and I definitely don’t need a Mercedes-Benz. It’s just not my style, or my ride.

Calamity Number Three

While Calamity Number One has cost us roughly $12,000, Calamity Number Two has really only cost us time. Not too calamitous, really. This too shall pass.

Calamity Number Three will wind up costing me $50,000.

Yer right, it has not been a good month.

On top of having the time of my life as Chief Envisioner at TELUS, I am an author and speaker. These roles wind up overlapping, but if anyone ever approached me and asked if I’m in the “sweet spot” of personal, organizational and role purpose, you can bet your bottom dollar, pound or euro that I would scream “yes!”

I am very fortunate.

But that does not mean I am immune to bullshit in my professional life. Case in point a few days ago, to top off my Augusta Horribilis. I present to you Calamity Number Three.

I was informed by my book publisher that the entire staff had been laid off. After piecing together what was going on, it became clear to me my publisher was in the process of going insolvent.

WTF?

My heart went out to the fine people that worked there. They are “salt of the earth” folks who likely did not see it coming. Like with the floods, I am very good at publishing houses being closed down. Four floods, and two publishing houses so far. When I published my first book, FLAT ARMY, that same month in May of 2013 I was informed the Wiley Toronto publishing house was being “shuttered.” The good people that believed in me were being shown the door, and I was being punted to an American office. It did not end well.

I found myself shopping around for a new publisher. I knew I had several more books to write, so I wanted to be a part of a familial publishing office again. I landed at what I believed to be as close to a facsimile of Wiley Toronto as was possible.

My second book, THE PURPOSE EFFECT, published with Elevate Publishing based in Boise, Idaho. It was splendid. The experience was fabulous. I thoroughly enjoyed the process, their care, attention to detail, and commitment to be a partner. I raved about them so much I pointed four future authors toward Elevate. Each of them signed with the firm. Imagine my guilt when I received news of its imminent closure this week.

I bought back the rights to FLAT ARMY from the Wiley mother ship and placed its trust with my new publisher. After THE PURPOSE EFFECT released in May of 2016, I immediately began work on my next project, OPEN to THINK. Of course Elevate was the publisher again. Why change? Three books, and likely more to come.

Between May of 2016 and August of 2017, OPEN to THINK was written. I had my trusty independent editor, Richard Martin, at my side and Elevate was there to back the copy editing, indexing, typesetting, cover design, graphic design and of course production and distribution. All was going according to plan.

The book was finished with all of its final copy edits, and we began working on the production pieces. Cover, art, bio, book description, etc. A rough draft of the cover can be found to the right. (Open to your feedback now.)

OPEN to THINK was scheduled to release April 10, 2018. There is even an Amazon page.

Last week, the Elevate team stopped answering my emails. Any phone call into the office was either not returned, or a strange telecom “not in service” message was relayed.

WTF?

Imagine how low my heart sank when I received an email from the CEO about the company’s troubles. Picture me thinking about a conversation I had with the CEO last year. “Don’t worry about paying me any royalties for the January-June period of 2016, you can get me on the next one. I trust ya.”

“The next one” was due on June 30, 2017 for the book selling period between July and December, 2016.

Crickets.

I didn’t even inquire until last week. I thought it was normal.

So, not only have I not been paid a dime for the release of THE PURPOSE EFFECT, I do not have my third book coming out next April 10, 2018 which is already written and ready to release. Between the royalties, other investments and inventory, I am out approximately $50,000.

The good news?

If you are looking to have a flood or a publisher to go belly-up, look no further than ringing me up.

Seriously though, there are good people out there. I have already discussed my options, and I hope to have good news in short order. I have no idea if I will ever see my missing $50,000, but that is for another day.

In Summary

My royalties were supposed to pay for our family Xmas holiday to Oz which had already been booked in April of this year. Somehow I need to make the trip still happen. I wouldn’t ever want to disappoint the goats, but disappointment is a factor in life. Denise and I already let them know that there will be no Xmas gifts this year. They were shocked, nonetheless. We were blunt: “It’s how you handle the hurdles in life that defines who you are.” Life lessons are to be transparent in our house, not kept a secret.

Even if there are three hurdles in 20 days to jump over.

Take it from me, life can really suck at times. Always read the fine print, go the extra mile in terms of due diligence, don’t trust people “just because that’s your expectations, quid pro quo,” and always always always remember there are good people out there.

Never doubt your faith in humanity despite what might go wrong in your life.

And life does go wrong. Always.

But Calamities One, Two and Three have taught a lot about myself in Augusta Horribilis. In a masochistically weird way, I’m kinda thankful for what happened. I am better for it. I’m selling spring water, will eventually move into a new home, and will also eventually have a new, trusty publisher. OPEN to THINK will publish in 2018! (I wish you could preorder it, but, alas, you can’t.)

Finally, a request for everyone. Be a little more real on social media. We all have shitty months.

To my Facebook friend, I will (eventually) answer your questions. Thanks for pinging me.

As always, to you the reader, thanks for reading. Much love.

No pity, please.

Collaboration Is Not Just A Technology. It’s A Behavior.

The key for leaders to understanding collaboration is that it is not a technology. It is a behavior. But like a muscle, it is also something that has to be worked on if you want to improve performance, be it personally or across the organization. And once you understand how to improve collaborative behavior, increases in important metrics become possible. This is truly where leaders can make a difference.

The word collaboration pays homage to the patois lineage of the Latin term collaboratus, past participle to the word collaborare which is signified by the simple phrase “to labor together”. That’s right. When we collaborate, we are working together.

In an interconnected, networked world filled by countless technologies—with new ones coming afloat each day—we are all ‘laboring together’ to achieve common understanding of intellect, of ideas, of results, and so on through said technologies. And collaboration is something that will make sense to anyone in an organization, regardless of role or title because it is a term anyone already inherently understands.

To collaborate is to find the ways in which our objectives can be accomplished. Technology can aid and abet this desire for certain, but it cannot replace the fundamental principles of collaboration itself.

For teams and organizations to collaborate more effectively, I have discovered in my research and interviews that there are two key actions that have to occur before anything else: Connect and Consider. They are the first two stages of the Collaborative Leader Action Model (CLAM) that I outlined in my first book, FLAT ARMY.

Connect

Think about connecting with others who can assist the outcome. Who is it that may need to be involved? Who needs to be part of the process, the information gathering or the decision? Are there individuals on your team, other teams, partners, customers or elsewhere that can aid in the effort? Appreciating the collective intelligence of others is key to collaborative behavior.

Consider

Contemplate the pros and cons of doing something, or not doing something. Are other groups working on similar projects? Has something been tried before, and failed? Engagement, productivity and financial options should be weighed. You are hypothesizing not only choices but what may come as a result of completing the objective. It’s the encouragement of others to share their ideas and to consider what may come.

When we “Connect and Consider” first, there are countless benefits. Employees feel more engaged for starters. And when employees are engaged, benefits accrue including a 10 percent increase on customer ratings, 22 percent in profitability, and 21 percent in productivity, according to Gallup.

In fact, other research firms have also denoted the importance of collaboration. McKinsey Global Institute, for example, issued a paper entitled, “Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity“. Amongst other points of reference, the authors found there could be somewhere between a $900 billion to $1.3 trillion value to the economy by virtue of employees working more communicatively and collaboratively through collaboration techniques. This purported value comes almost solely by virtue of increased productivity, an outcome when an organization operates more collaboratively.

Research in 2017 from i4cp and Rob Cross, the Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Business at Babson College, found that the difference between unproductive and productive collaboration comes down to one word: purpose.

The researchers discovered that when there is purposeful collaboration—when organizations specifically decide to leverage collaboration as a behavior in order to achieve desired business outcomes—positive benefits are likely to occur, including:

  • 2-times more likely for employees to base their collaboration activities on specific business goals
  • 8-times more likely to have leaders who actively help employees build effective networks
  • 3-times more likely for employees to report problems to leaders
  • 5.5-times more likely for organizations to reward teams who encourage collaboration

Another study from Stanford University in 2014 entitled “Cues of working together fuel intrinsic motivation” suggested that even the perception of working collaboratively can enhance our performance. Researchers noted that “a defining aspect of human society is that people work together toward common ends” and that when we are primed to do so, people end up staying on task 64 percent longer than those who work alone. The researchers write: “The results showed that simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges.”

Alarmingly, according to the 20th annual PWC CEO survey, Canadian CEOs are not as worried about digital skills—like collaboration—as their global counterparts. According to PWC’s study, only 56 percent of Canadian CEOs believe digital skills are important to their organization whereas 79 percent of all global CEOs surveyed believe they are. While this may be alarming, it is also an opportunity for CEOs and organizations to outwit their competition, by strengthening the act of collaboration inside their organizations to fuel productivity, growth and innovation.

If you are an organization or leader looking to outfox your competition, you may want to first start by analyzing how your employees are collaborating with one another. The benefits are unassailable. Simply start by introducing the “Connect and Consider” mindset and you will be much further ahead than your competitors.

Facebook And Apple CEOs Ask Us To Serve Humanity. Will We?

During each spring, politicians, c-suite executives, movie stars, rock singers and authors are carted out in front of newly minted graduates to deliver “the commencement speech.” Some are excellent. Most are predictable. A few are downright cringe worthy.

Each year these higher education institutions seem to compete with one another to land the biggest name. Suffice to say in 2017 I was not surprised to read that two of America’s most famous campuses had landed two of America’s most famous CEOs.

At Harvard University, famous dropout and Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg was the main attraction while over at MIT, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, followed suit a few days later.

There are thousands of commencement speeches delivered each year. But when the CEOs of Apple and Facebook were announced at MIT and Harvard respectively, I paid a little more attention to what they might have to say. The companies possess a market capitalization of almost $1.3 trillion between them, employ thousands of people, while each of them in their own way are implementing life-changing technologies that have improved — and at times negatively affected — the lives of millions of people across the globe.

What did they encourage graduates to think about after graduation?

Perhaps they both did some homework first. Maybe they watched comedian Stephen Colbert who in his 2011 speech at Northwestern University said, “No more winning. Instead, try to love others and serve others and hopefully find those who love and serve you in return.” Or maybe Cook and Zuckerberg reviewed the speech of former Carnegie Mellon computer science professor, Randy Pausch. He rose to fame after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, having delivered a rather inspirational “Last Lecture” video that went viral. In his commencement speech, Pausch said, “We don’t beat the reaper by living longer. We beat the reaper by living more fully.”

Or, given the impact Steve Jobs had directly on Cook and indirectly on Zuckerberg, maybe both CEOs wanted to pay homage to Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University speech, where he opined, “All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

To my surprise yet equal delight, both Zuckerberg and Cook spoke to graduates about the importance of purpose.

Although the word was not used, it’s precisely what Colbert, Pausch and Jobs were getting at in their own commencement speeches.

“The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose. Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness,” said Zuckerberg.

Sharing insights into his personal journey of purpose, Tim Cook remarked, “I was never going to find my purpose working some place without a clear sense of purpose of its own.”

Put differently, we need to be in charge of defining and enacting our own personal purpose but we also need to work for an organization (and with leaders/peers in purpose-driven roles) that shares a sense of purpose in something greater than simply making money.

Zuckerberg added, “To keep our society moving forward, we have a generational challenge — to not only create new jobs, but create a renewed sense of purpose.” He cemented the point by saying, “You have to create a sense of purpose for others.”

It is not enough to be selfish. Although important — and as I argue, it is the first critical step to achieving the sweet spot — each of us is responsible to work toward something bigger than ourselves.

Cook asks, “How can I serve humanity? This is life’s biggest and most important question. When you work towards something greater than yourself, you find meaning, you find purpose. So the question I hope you will carry forward from here is how will you serve humanity?”

Zuckerberg believes there are three ways in which we can create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose. They are:

  • taking on big meaningful projects together,
  • redefining equality so everyone has the freedom to pursue purpose, and
  • building community across the world.

Cook believes our overarching purpose is to “serve humanity.” After meeting Steve Jobs — after searching for fifteen years for his purpose — something clicked for him. “I finally felt aligned,” he said, “aligned with a company that brought together challenging, cutting edge work with a higher purpose.”

The commencement speeches of Zuckerberg and Cook are both inspiring and terrifying.

Inspiring because two of the world’s most famous CEOs from two of the world’s most famous companies are pleading with humanity to serve humanity, to serve a higher purpose. Personally, I never thought the day would come where a Silicon Valley CEO would implore us to spend more focus and attention on purpose. (Let alone two.)

Equally so, however, the speeches were terrifying.

When the heads of Facebook and Apple show up at Harvard and MIT pleading with the next generation of leaders to be purpose driven, it means there is a gaping hole of purpose in today’s society.

Those speeches by Cook and Zuckerberg, although spoken at two different graduation venues, ought to be aimed at society in general.

Purpose is waning. Meaning has gone missing. Humanity is suffering.

It’s time to work collaboratively and equally, within a joint community to “serve humanity.”

This is not a mission for a few graduates from MIT and Harvard.

This is a mission for each of us.

L E A D E R S H I P

Some summer holiday thinking of mine. Leaders gain the respect of employees when they:

1) Listen with attentiveness.
2) Empathize without prejudice.
3) Act fairly, and ethically.
4) Discuss openly what is working, and what is not.
5) Educate to develop, not to correct.
6) Represent the interests of all stakeholders.
7) Safeguard team culture.
8) Hire for fit.
9) Invest in a higher purpose.
10) Praise the effort more than the result.

#leadership

An Engaged Culture Improves Performance, Not The Other Way Around

A vice-president approached me one day after I finished delivering a keynote. The talk was focused on organizational culture. He was friendly, but rather cocky. The first line he spoke to me was telling. “It takes too long,” he said. “These engagement things you talked about, it takes too long to implement. I need to drive results, not worry about people’s feelings.”

It was a wee bit strange to say the least. Why he decided to take the time to tell me I was wrong said more about his lack of emotional intelligence than it did his poor judgment. I asked if he thought the way his employees were being treated might have an adverse effect on his company’s performance. “It doesn’t matter,” he responded, “because if they’re not performing, they will be found out.”

That exchange haunts me somewhat. In part I am thankful he came forward. He was being truthful and honest, displaying what may be a pattern of leadership found in many organizations. What he did not pay attention to — or outright ignored — during the keynote was the irrefutable causality between culture and performance.

As always, I showcased reams of data, research and examples that proves an engaged organizational culture results in increased performance levels, not the other way around. I remain haunted because I know he’s still out there (like so many other so-called leaders) causing havoc with the people he is supposedly leading. We do have a ways to go.

I recently stumbled upon another excellent piece of research and feel compelled enough to share it in this space. I suspect the aforementioned vice-president won’t care, but I hope you do.

The paper is called “Which comes first, organizational culture or performance?” and published in the April, 2015 edition of the Journal of Organizational Behavior. The sub-title? “A longitudinal study of causal priority with automobile dealerships.”

The researchers responsible investigated 95 different automobile dealerships over the course of six years, analyzing multiple dimensions of culture and performance data in each of the dealer’s sales and service departments. Longitudinal studies like these are my favorite. They eviscerate statistical doubt while providing credible insights over a longer period of time rather than a short-term snapshot.

In their study the researchers looked at automobile dealerships that carried the same products. Furthermore, the dealers used the same performance metrics but each of them were owned and operated independently. Bottom line? There was an incredible level of consistency across multiple factors and data points.

Their hypothesis was simple. Based on their review of various culture and performance literature (they looked at dozens of published papers) the researchers “expected that department culture would have an effect on both customer satisfaction and sales.” Furthermore, they predicted that the overall culture and engagement of a dealership would be a stronger predictor of subsequent performance rather than vice versa. That is, culture affects performance not the other way around.

Dealerships were spread across the United States. Both culture and performance were operationalized at the department level — sales or service — within each dealership, which is to say each location possessed the autonomy to manage how it operated. Using the Denison Organizational Culture Survey (DOCS), researchers assessed four primary cultural traits: involvement, consistency, adaptability, and mission. They did so quarterly with each of the 95 dealerships. Customer satisfaction scores were the result of a quarterly customer survey. New vehicle sales also were reported quarterly. The researchers instituted various control factors as well, which included their final analysis having separated out sales and services departments.

The results are stunning, and prove yet again that if culture comes first, performance levels will follow.

  • Service departments: the results supported the hypothesis that culture has causal priority over customer satisfaction
  • Sales departments: the results also supported the hypothesis that culture has causal priority over customer satisfaction
  • Overall results supported the hypothesis that culture has causal priority over vehicle sales
  • Overall results supported customer satisfaction as fully mediating the culture-to-vehicle sales relationship

The researchers write, “Overall, department culture was found to consistently predict higher subsequent levels of customer satisfaction ratings and vehicle sales, with no evidence obtained for a reciprocal performance-to-culture feedback loop. In addition, the positive effect of culture on vehicle sales was mediated by customer satisfaction.”

Put simply, an engaged culture marked by high levels of involvement, consistency, adaptability, and a transparent mission improves sales and customer satisfaction. More proof about the causality of culture and performance comes from Queen’s University Centre for Business Venturing. Using data over a ten-year period of employee engagement surveys and company results, it found the following for organizations that possessed an engaged culture:

  • 65% greater share-price increase
  • 26% less employee turnover
  • 100% more unsolicited employment applications
  • 20% less absenteeism
  • 15% greater employee productivity
  • 30% greater customer satisfaction levels.

The counter punch to both sets of research is the current state of employee engagement. It remains anemic, aided and abetted by leaders who act like the vice-president that approached me after my keynote.

“Fewer employees are engaged and we expect this trend to continue,” says Ken Oehler, Global Culture and Engagement Practice leader at Aon Hewitt, a firm that has witnessed global employee engagement levels recently drop. Aon Hewitt discovered that, more than ever, senior leadership holds the cards to improving organizational culture.

They write:

“Contrary to what many believe, the immediate manager may not impact or have control over many of the top engagement opportunities. This may be an indication that the manager is not as important in the engagement equation as they once were. It is likely that employees are looking to senior leaders to point the way and make decisions for the future much more closely than before.”

Another organization that has been analyzing employee engagement for over two decades, Gallup, also sees the relationship between culture and performance. In its most recent engagement report it found that, “Highly engaged business units achieve a 10% increase in customer metrics and a 20% increase in sales.” Gallup provides further evidence that an engaged culture improves performance, not the other way around. They write, “The relationship between engagement and performance at the business/work unit level is substantial.”

In summary, the question is simple.

Do you seek to create an engaged culture first or are you more worried about performance?

I don’t need to tell you where I stand with this question. What frustrates me, however, pertains to the number of leaders who believe a myopic focus on performance can positively impact culture. It’s a very rare scenario. The real answer lies in knowing that it is an engaged culture that positively affects performance.

My thanks to Anthony S. Boyce, Levi Nieminen, Michael A Gillespie, Ann Marie Ryan, and Daniel Denison for publishing “Which comes first, organizational culture or performance?”

Originally posted to Forbes.

________

Dan Pontefract is the author of two best-selling books, THE PURPOSE EFFECT & FLAT ARMY.

He is writing his next book, OPEN to THINK, publishing April 10, 2018.

He is also Chief Envisioner at TELUS where he heads the Transformation Office.

Dan is an adjunct faculty of the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria.

One Year Later Is Purpose Winning?

It was a year ago today that my second book, THE PURPOSE EFFECT: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization published. I have been reflecting on the past year and wondered aloud recently, is purpose winning?

The short answer is sorta. Maybe. Kinda.

The good news is that the word “purpose” no longer feels as awkward as a Grade 8 dance. During the lead-up to the launch of the book I personally felt as though the concept of purpose was sound, yet many others remained in their corner of the gymnasium fearful of taking that first dance purpose step.

Whether through embarrassment, confusion or an acne breakout, people seemed to have cement in their shoes. As the weeks and months progressed after May 10, 2016, however, there was a palpable advancement. Not everyone was doing the moonwalk, but progress was happening. Purpose became an acceptable word.

My discussions with people over the past year always seemed to come back to one thing. How?

There were an endless number of questions that began with how.

  • How can I find purpose in my life?
  • How is it possible to create purpose in my role at work?
  • How does the organization shift from profit-driven to a balance profit and purpose culture?
  • How can I ever learn to break dance?

There was another ‘how’ question that kept popping up as well.

How important is culture to purpose?

That is perhaps my biggest takeaway over the past year. There is an inextricable link between culture and purpose. I found that as the summer turned into fall, and as winter turned into our spring, my keynotes, coaching, workshops and 1-1 discussions began to encompass both culture and purpose. Put differently, I no longer separate purpose from culture. My work–in whatever capacity it takes shape–is a combination of FLAT ARMY (my first book) and THE PURPOSE EFFECT. Whether working with a small or large organization, not-for-profit, public sector or for-profit, culture and purpose are in fact siblings from the same family.

Of course there is a personal element to both culture and purpose. One cannot rely solely on the organization to enact an engaged culture or a purpose-driven ethos. It really does start with you. I see this often in my conversations. Those that take charge of their own purpose are far more engaged at work.

Each day we must look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are prepared to continually develop what we are about, define who we want to be, and decide how we want to be known after we leave a room. This is the essence of personal purpose, but it can be reflected in the way we are engaged or disengaged in our roles at work, too.

So yes. Culture and purpose are actually fraternal twins. And whether we are engaged in life and in our roles at work has a significant impact on our dance moves. (or if we choose to dance at all)

The Organization

And what about organizations? Are we shifting toward a purpose-driven ethos, one that includes a highly engaged workforce?

I don’t see a rush to the dance floor–even though the base line is catchy, and twerking mercifully seems to be dead–but there are some glimmers of hope.

Dominic Barton, James Manyika and Sarah Keohane Williamson proved one part of THE PURPOSE EFFECT thesis. “Companies that operate with a true long-term mindset have consistently outperformed their industry peers since 2001 across almost every financial measure that matters.” That is, companies focused on the long term in their study ended up averaging revenue growth 47 percent higher and earnings growth 36 percent higher than those focused on short-term gains. This is part of the Good DEEDS model in the book.

On the downside, Gallup’s daily employee engagement tracking in the US sits at 33.5 percent. At the beginning of 2014 it was 32.9 percent. I would not call that progress. More needs to be done to create cultures of collaboration and purpose.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development continues to do amazing work in this space. It launched the Social Capital Protocol, a framework for organizations to measure, understand and value their interactions with society. Fortune Magazine initiated the Change the World list, a group of fifty companies who are building intentional efforts to address social problems (by way of organizational purpose) into the core of their business plans.

Michael Porter of Harvard Business School and Mark Kramer of FSG are the pioneers behind the list, and they write:

“Companies are moving beyond often fuzzy notions like sustainability and corporate citizenship to making meaningful social impact central to how they compete.”

There is some actual movement out there, often demonstrated by a new generation of leaders who understand the symbiotic relationship between culture and purpose. These are the ones not afraid to “bust-a-move” on the dance floor. I identified a few in THE PURPOSE EFFECT, including LSTN, Fairphone and Market Basket. Over the past year I have discovered several more.

Take for example, Katlin Smith, CEO of Simple Mills. Katlin recognized that foosball tables and a misaligned purpose does nothing to grow the business, or help society. Engagement and purpose is much more than perks and a fixation on profit.

Katlin writes:

“It starts with purpose.

At Simple Mills, we are here to positively impact the way food is made, enriching lives and bodies through delicious, convenient foods made from clean, nutritious ingredients. This is the first and most important component of our company and culture. Every piece, every person, must be centered on fueling our mission – from hiring criteria, to the way we source ingredients, to the products we make.

We focus on the right priorities, at the right time, with the right resources.”

Data and research continues (albeit slowly) to be produced supporting the argument of an enhanced purpose and culture. Alyson Daichendt, Managing Director, Human Capital Consulting Practice at Deloitte helped write a report at her firm titled “The Impact Project.” In it she discovered that the most important principle is something referred to as “Think Values and Value.” She says:

“Many of the exceptional brands included in the report have a deeply embedded sense of purpose in their organization, giving their employees a sense of meaning and deeply influencing decision making.”

As I often say in my keynotes, employees need to feel valued, they need to create value, and they need to believe their efforts are valuable through a values-based organizational culture and purpose.

I love Alyson’s line, particularly how she ends it. It speaks to the relationship between purpose and culture, but it also touches on something I have also realized. Purpose and an engaged culture are important factors, but they are often aided by a better way of thinking and decision making.

Not surprisingly, my next book, titled OPEN to THINK, will publish on April 10, 2018 and it is devoted to something I call Open Thinking. The concept centers around three types of thinking: Creative, Critical and Completion. When we recognize that Open Thinking can assist purpose and culture, well, that’s a dance party that I want to be invited to.

While THE PURPOSE EFFECT is only a year old, I hope it has the “book legs” to make an impact for the next decade. Purpose isn’t winning, but there is hope. If there is anything that I have learned, the dance floor needs more willing dancers.

Are you a dancer?

PS. If you have read the book or have a story to share, please feel free to write your thoughts or comments below.

 

Fifteen Years After My MBA

Fifteen years ago in 2002 I graduated with my MBA from Royal Roads University.

The university recently caught up with me to conduct an interview. It gave me the chance to reflect and think about how the MBA has shaped my professional life.

MBA experience shapes alumnus’ teaching on leadership

Alumnus Dan Pontefract first decided the dominant form of leadership had to change when he was cut from a provincial soccer team at age 16.

“Three men went to the front of the stage, called out the names of the 16 boys that made the team and left the other ten in the audience weeping, and basically said, ‘Better luck next time,’” Pontefract says. “And I said to myself then and there I’ll never treat anyone that way.”

That early experience of the potentially damaging effects of certain leadership styles eventually compelled Pontefract to explore how people lead and learn to be leaders in business and life.

A Master of Business Administration (2002) alumnus originally from Stony Creek, Ontario, Pontefract is chief envisioner for TELUS, where his Transformation Office helps organizations and leaders to improve employee engagement, leadership development and organizational culture.  He has published two books on leadership and purpose, with his third, Open to Think: A Strategy for Better Thinking, to be released in 2018.

“I am trying to help both employees and leaders shine a light…that management, leadership culture, purpose—it can all be done in a different way,” he says.

In 2000, Pontefract was working for the B.C. Institute of Technology and decided to improve his education in order to be a better academic. Royal Roads’ MBA was exactly what he needed, he says, despite the youth of the university and the program.

“I wanted something that was practical and real and didn’t feel as if it was just coming out of a book,” Pontefract says. “So I looked into faculty. I looked into the way programs were set up. I looked into the fact that I somewhat obviously wanted to continue to work.

“And as I started whittling down my parameters, I kept coming back to RRU, even though, in fairness, it was fledgling (at the time.)”

Pontefract says his experience at Royal Roads, from the way the MBA was delivered in a blended learning format, to its focus on collaboration, was essential both for how he views leadership and how he teaches others to be engaged, collaborative leaders.

“I was so enamoured and enthralled with the program’s structure that effectively I stole it and used it as the basis for the TELUS MBA we started a couple of years ago,” he says with a laugh. The TELUS program teaches MBA-level skills to employees in a blended learning model with six residences. Employees work in pods and teams, similar to the cohort model at Royal Roads.

“I remember RRU really unleashing the behaviour of collaboration,” Pontefract says. “As you progress in your studies, you recognize that the sum is greater than its individual parts. So these teams you were concentrated with really disentangled the notion that you had to do everything on your own in life.”

Those lessons influenced Pontefract’s first book, Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization.

“The connected part is not technology. It’s actually behaviour. It’s that notion of being collaborative and connecting with people to create results,” he says.

Pontefract stresses the top behavior for leaders is openness with their teams.

“I define openness as the act of engaging others to influence and execute a coordinated and harmonious conclusion,” he says.

“Employees aren’t looking for heaps of money. They just want to feel valued. So how you create value is you’re inclusive. You’re coordinating with them, you’re collaborating with them. That’s open.”

Pontefract’s vision for business transformation goes beyond more harmonious, engaged work teams. He says business done with openness and purpose has greater social value than making profit; it can improve the lives of its employees and the community.

“Profit is important but not the sole reason a company is in business in the first place,” he says. “The business of business is to improve society. And if one improves society the organization will be returned a healthy profit.”

~ Interview conducted by Cindy MacDougall and first appeared on the RRU website.