Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Why are we in the business?

August 30th, 2012

Someone said it brilliantly, what keeps us apart from all our competition is not what we do but why we do it.  The “why” has everything to do with our value as a company.

In his book, “Fixing the Game”, author Roger Martin talked about how businesses have gotten confused about their priorities and values as a result of over-practicing Capitalism

For decades, we have been indoctrinated to believe that our business goal is to maximize shareholder return.  This becomes a short-sighted game we play.

Actually if we put customers first, we will be able to make our shareholders happy.  But often we get our mission backwards.

Martin described two kinds of markets:  Real and Expectation.  In the real market, businesses strive to find a way to satisfy customers’ needs, solve their problems and delight the customers with solutions.  Real market represents our real performance.  When customers are happy, they are willing to pay for the goods and services.  As a result, businesses will grow and be able to share their profit with their shareholders as a reward for their investment in the business.

In the expectation market, shareholders buy shares with an expectation that the share price will go up.  Often, their expectation does not take into consideration the business cycle, which can cause the ups and downs of stock performance.  So in order to make shareholders happy, businesses need to constantly show that they can offer the kind of returns that are expected.  To do this, they end up cutting expenditure in areas such as capacity building that will hurt the business in the long run.

Peter Drucker said, “There is only one valid definition of a business’ purpose:  To create a customer.

In Martin’s book, he cited stories about two CEOs who made very different decisions.  In 2010, after the BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico hit the news, its CEO Tony Hayward took quite a long time to finally apologize for and acknowledge the severity of the disaster as a result of the blown-out oil well.  By that time, almost 5 million barrels of oil had been released into the Gulf.  The damage was done on several fronts.  What was his reason for the delay?  Perhaps by downplaying the problem, he intended to minimize the impact on BP’s share price.  What was the result?  It cost so much more money not just to clean up but also pay for the multiple lawsuits that followed.  Human and environment tolls were beyond calculation.  What did it do to the morale of the company?  What did it do to its reputation among customers?  At the end, was he able to make the shareholders happy?  Was he able to keep his own job?

Comparing to BP, Martin pointed out a different case where Johnson & Johnson had a Tylenol poison crisis in 1982.  CEO James Burke immediately ordered to halt all Tylenol production and advertising, distributed warnings to hospitals and announced a nationwide recall.  He made a very difficult choice in facing this crisis head-on.  In the short run, it cost Johnson & Johnson quite a bit of money to recall its product and their shares did suffer.  However, from this experience came their temper-proof packaging that has since become an industry standard and won the loyalty from the healthcare industry and its customers.  Their share price came back higher than before.

Martin asked: What was the difference between these two leaders?  You can say it has something to do with their personal characters.  But looking closely we noticed that the two leaders were merely carrying out their companies’ mission.  BP is in the business to be competitive and performance-driven that generally is interpreted as protecting shareholder value.   J&J believes their first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses, patients, mothers and fathers who use their products and services.  In a word, they put their customers first.  On the surface, both missions are legitimate.  But in practice, their priority can either uphold or compromise the company and its leaders’ value and integrity.

Being overly concerned with shareholders’ interest, leaders and companies might try too hard to appease the stock analysts.  They might cut corners and withhold spending on capital investment for research or capacity building for the long run just so that they can make their profit look good for the next quarter.

On top of it, executives are compensated by stock options.  If they can show profit, their own portfolio will look better too.  This has very little to do with satisfying customers’ needs.  When leaders try too hard to make Wall Street happy and in turn fatten their own pockets, they run the risk of sacrificing their personal authenticity.   Their tenure maybe short but they get paid well on the way out.  Everytime top leaders make a decision, it impact the people at the bottom.  Imagine turning the center of the wheel just an inch, the spokes that are on the far outside of the wheel will have to move a few feet just to keep up.  When leaders make a wrong choice, the “rank and file” will suffer greatly.

Then we have the hedge fund crowd that is there to gamble on the up and down of the stock market.  Sometime they even create artificial volatility just to profit from it. When the real market gets hijacked by the expectation market, it is like professional athletes playing for the bookies.  Where is the integrity?  Where is the value?

The United States has had 11 economic crashes since WWII.  These economic meltdowns came more frequently and more deeply as the years went by. Why is it?  All the government regulations and safety measures have not prevented these disasters.  Out of many complicated reasons, one has to do with the fundamental agenda of many businesses.  If we are here to make money for our shareholders by any means necessary, we might decide to withhold spending on upgrading the equipment, hiring more people or training and developing more talents, so that in the short run, our company value looks really good for Wall Street.  At the extreme, some leaders and companies even fixed their books or used illegal accounting practice to make their numbers look good.  The underbelly of the extreme capitalism is the moral decay.

In the last few decades, many smart people chose careers on Wall Street because they felt they could make much more money and faster than working in a field of building something.  But how do you feel by just manipulating the money game? Did you contribute to the real performance of the market?  Did you make a difference for the consumers?  Did you do any good for mankind?  Did you build anything? Did you save any lives?  Is money the only measurement you have for your hard work? Is there any soul left in this game of money?

When a business loses the true meaning of its mission, the customers will experience the lack of care for their needs.  The employees will detect the hypocrisy in the espoused mission and lose their faith and commitment.  This game will not sustain itself.  Eventually the shareholders will leave you too.

We need authenticity in our leadership and our corporate culture. When we put in an honest day’s work improving people’s lives with our products and services, we feel whole and complete.  We feel proud to be working.  When a company is doing the right thing by really trying to make a difference for the people they are serving, then the company is aligned with its authenticity.

The truth is:  If businesses focus on making sure they provide the best value to their customers, they will have happy employees who are willing to give their best to make sure the company continues to innovate and turn out the next generation of products that will keep their customers happy.  By improving its performance in the real market, they will reward their shareholders with a decent return on their investment.

Leaders are flesh and blood human beings just like the rest of us.  So, the question is:  Are we courageous and do we have enough honor to stand up and do the right thing even if it will cause pain in the short run?  Are we willing to put our personal integrity on the line?

Right now, it seems that many leaders in politics and business have lost their value compass.  We all have been talking about the problems of working for short-term gains.  Our culture has been measuring its progress in three months increments for years.  Just knowing this reality does not make us shift to long term thinking and actions. There seems to be real shortage of courage to reform the way we run a business or our country.

Most of us who go to work just want to contribute our ability, make a difference and raise a family.  However, when we have a small percentage of people who play the zero-sum game and win big while the rest of us watch our life’s saving dwindle and end up having nothing to show for it when we retire.  What kind of world are we living in?

I don’t believe in the Darwin theory of “survival of the fittest”.  I believe we human beings should have more compassion than animals.  And even animals take care of their own kind.  When did the world become obsessed with making money only?  When did we measure ourselves only by the dollar amount we accumulate?

It does not matter who our next president will be, this capitalist system on steroids cannot continue without some calamitous consequences.

 

 

Celia Young helps her clients reconnect with their true purpose to be in the business and restore integrity for sustainable business success.

Is Our Soul for Sale?

February 27th, 2012

 

In a cheesy little movie, a young woman activist just found out that the bill she was lobbying for up on Capitol Hill was defeated because an older woman senator, who was supposed to help her champion the bill, has traded it for a bill that the senator’s corporate backers had wanted to pass.  Confronted for this perceived betrayal, the senator said; “I cannot do any good if I am not here on the Hill anymore.”  The young woman activist said, “But you are not doing any good here.”

This seems to be a common argument that many politicians carry with them as if getting re-elected is their primary purpose.  They have neglected to ask if they sell themselves to the highest bidder in order to stay in the office of power, what good they would do.  And who would they become?

For over 25 years, I have been working as a change consultant for major corporations.  I have witnessed many initiatives that started with great purpose but failed to produce the intended results at the end because too many people looked the other way when the need for real reform ran against the need for individual career survival.

For example, the work of “Diversity” has become an industry in the last few years.  Now there is even a position called the Chief Diversity Officer.   The Office of Diversity has a budget and a few staff.  But what is its purpose?  Has it found its voice?  Or has this work become a million dollar “box to check”?  A true diversity initiative is meant for an organization to fully utilize its diverse talents to support innovation in turn, to increase its competitive advantage in the marketplace.  In order to do this, we first have to have the diverse workforce from which to draw diverse talents.  In order to have a diverse workforce, we have to do more than just recruit different people.  We cannot capitalize on our people’s diverse talents if we don’t appreciate their differences.  In order to appreciate our people’s differences, we must have an organization culture that is open and receptive to their diverse ideas, styles and values.

But after years of doing the “diversity” work, many companies still have not seen enough diverse people in every level of their organizations. And most of the work was done to help women, minority and other underrepresented groups to succeed in the organization by teaching them to master the existing “success formula”.  In another word, this is the work of “assimilation”, not “diversity”.  We have not designed or implemented a process or a path to capture their differences.  If the organization culture stays the same while trying to recruit diverse talents, there is no capacity to absorb the differences.  It is like the body continues to reject the transplant.  At some point we ought to stop blaming the transplant for not fitting in but the body that is not ready to fit the transplant.  This is when we need a cadre of true change leaders internally, that has enough courage to tell the truth and challenge the status quo.  However, too often I’ve noticed that the people who were put into the position to lead the “change”, ended up towing the company line instead of standing up and speaking out for “change”.  They helped the organization stay the same while climbing their own personal career ladder.  Often they did not know that they were put there to window dress for an organization that really was not ready or interested to change.  So all they do is move the food around on the same plate while the diner starves to death.

The same can be said about training.  Many organizations spend millions of dollars sending their managers to training but never had a clear expectation or attach specific accountability to their deliverables.  While a percentage of the individuals indeed were impacted and changed because they were already open to change, the majority of them went back to their desk and did their job as usual when the glow from their faces faded after a week.  Did the organization have an intention to change by having these managers lead the change?

Talking to a potential client on the phone the other day, I told her I was interested in doing the “real” work of helping her people and organization change.  I knew I ran a risk of not getting any assignment from her but I also knew that after 26 years working in the business, I am tired of supporting clients to push the same food around the plate again.  And I also know that as an external consultant, I cannot do any work without the help from the internal change agent who is willing to champion the change.  It is often easier for me to stay true to myself as an external.  But as an internal staff, people often think they need to bend and camouflage themselves in order to get along.  I believe when a person assimilates too much, they will become irrelevant to the organization they just assimilated to because at that moment, they are no different than the person sitting in the next cubicle and now replaceable.  Even if we think we need the job, to add value to our job, we need to maintain our differences and marginality, which means we need to stay true to who we are.  Otherwise, we are not doing any good here just like that woman senator on the Hill

To become a true champion for “change” is hard work.  We have to be willing to pay a price to stand up for what is right and beneficial for the whole.  Every single day, we go to work and have to make a decision whether to go along with the status quo just so that we can have a job.  When we overdo this, we have become so assimilated that we are no good to ourselves and to the cause we say we believe in.

Many years ago, I interviewed for a potential executive coaching assignment with a woman in a major national agency in Washington DC.  Not too long after we were into our conversation, she said she worried that her people didn’t come to her for advice or mentoring.  And she was under the impression that they did not think she cared or was capable of nurturing them.  As she talked, she started to cry.  While we had not yet agreed on the coaching assignment, I thought I would use my coaching skills to help her put herself back together before she would face the world for the rest of the day.

A few weeks later, I found out I was not chosen to be her coach.  I am sure many factors played into her decision.  But one of them stood out loud enough for me.   For a moment, she let her guard down, became vulnerable and showed her intimate self to me.  Somehow this frightened her as if she could not afford to let anyone see that side of her.

I wonder how high a price she has paid to get to the second-in-command position of the agency.  The price probably included her ability to nurture, or her femininity that her employees were missing.  This might have caused them to lose their trust for her.

Is it her fault to become so camouflaged?  Not entirely.  If the organization did not demand that she fit into a “hard hitting”, “sharp focused” and “charging up the hill” type of leader, in other words to become more like a man, would she have been more of who she really was?

Many of us changed and adapted ourselves so much in order to come to work, after a while, do we still know who we are?

Many men I worked with have also suffered long with this dilemma.  They don’t usually discover this loss of self until they hit 50 years old and realize that they are not going to be the president of the company.  Their health turned bad.  Their marriage fell apart.  And they did not know how their children grew up.  Many white men especially can feel the sharp pain since they were the first to get on the career ladder in most of the business organizations.  White men, as a group, like to think of themselves as only individuals. And they believe that they got to where they are in their career totally because of their individual hard work.  So when their world falls apart, they have no one to turn to.  They have woken up to see that the years they put in to be good soldiers and good company men had not gotten them the true happiness they longed for.  By that time, they became so lost.

Change is hard work and it takes time.  It often requires a significant portion of the organization to take on the role of internal change agents with a lot of courage to sometime go against the existing trend in order to champion for change.   Yet too many organizations still think that change will happen in a 2-hour training class.  However when no one is willing to stop the train, challenge the path we are on and advocate for alternatives, we all have just become sheep following each other over a cliff.

Steve Job at his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech said “…Find what you love to do.  Don’t stop until you are truly satisfied in doing what you believe as great work….Live as if there is no tomorrow.  Avoid the trap of believing you have something to lose…Don’t waste time living others’ lives…  Stay hungry.  Stay foolish.”  This is not just a job.  If we cannot be ourselves and are not doing what we love to do, why are we wasting time doing it?

Finding our passion and staying true to ourselves are two sides of the same coin.  Even if we need a job just to pay the bills, we can still find pleasure and passion in it so we will feel better about ourselves and our performance will be better.  Why should anyone sell themselves short?

In order to find pleasure and passion in the work we do, we better align our core values to it.  Every time we chip away a little bit of our true self on the job, we moved a little farther from our passion and our core.  We have basically created a deficit in our soul’s bank account.  I don’t want to live this way.  I don’t want to conclude at the end of my life that I have sold out before I close the book on myself.

Hiro and his wife Miho own and operate a running shoe store called “Run More” in my little town.  The other day, I went in their store for the first time, Miho bowed to me several times and smiled broadly.  When Hiro finished with his last customer, he came over and shook my hand warmly and proceeded to get an imprint of my feet.  Next thing he did was to get down on his knees and observe the way I walked back and forth.  Afterwards, he pointed to a section of the product display called the “structured cushion” and recommend that I choose a pair of sneakers from this section.  He then took out two pairs of insoles and had me try on to decide which fit me better in order to help correct the way my right foot is overcompensating for my left foot due to knee injuries.

I was so struck not only by his knowledge but also his intensity.  In those 20 minutes, I was totally convinced that Hiro believed in the shoes that he was selling and in his work of helping amateur athlete like me to keep doing what I love to do without causing more damage to myself.  Hiro and Miho are just ordinary people.  They came from Japan not more than a year ago.  Their English was far from perfect but their enthusiasm has trumped all the obstacles they might have encountered in this new land.

Yesterday, my girlfriend and I were in the local Starbucks to get coffees.  Somehow when she opened the lid to add cream, the hot coffee spilled onto her hand.  We asked the young woman behind the counter if they had an icepack to stop the burn.  She answered no but offered no help to us.  I had to keep asking what else she could do.   She said she could give us some ice but she had no plastic bag to put the ice in.  Instead of standing there, I had my girlfriend run to the bathroom and quickly rinse her hand under the cold water.  We finally got some ice in a plastic cup from the young woman as we walked away.

What do you think Hiro and Miho would have done differently if they worked behind the Starbucks counter yesterday?  They probably still might not have an icepack.  But I am sure they would run a bit faster and try a bit harder to find the next best solution for my girlfriend’s burnt hand.  What is missing in the young lady at the Starbucks?  Is it lack of training from the company?  Or is it lack of passion for her job?

What does it take for people to care, knowing it is not just a job that they spend their most precious lives on?

What does it take for that woman executive to reclaim her whole self?

What does it take for us to renegotiate our worth based on our core compass, not some big paycheck and big title alone?

How ready is your organization to accept your employees as who they really are, in order to encourage innovation?

 

Celia Young helps her clients to be true to themselves as individuals and as organizations in order to achieve their highest purpose in life and in business.

 

Can You See Me? – An Asian American Experience

February 13th, 2012

 

Last Friday night, New York Knicks beat LA Lakers 92-85. I am not much of a basketball fan but I got swept up in the game because of Jeremy Lin, the Knicks’ point guard. Lin alone scored 38 points. To his fans, he represented a true “Cinderella” and an “Underdog” following a long road to the NBA. In New York, they call him “Lin-Sanity”. To me and all my friends at the dinner table, he represented the first Chinese American who made it to the NBA. When I saw his number 17 jersey, I cried.

During last Friday night, hundreds and thousands of iPhone, text and e-mail messages overloaded the network from both sides of the Pacific Rim. Our excitement for Lin was different than that for Yao Ming who was a Chinese player, sought after and drafted by the Houston Rockets. As a Chinese American, Lin was never drafted. Universities that are well known for their basketball programs did not want him. Finally Harvard took him in. From playing in the summer league, to the Golden State Warriors, getting cut and finally getting into the Knick’s development league and back up team, it was a long road that almost ended because his contract was to expire in 10 days.

The real story is not just about basketball. It is about how invisible Asian Americans are in the U.S. landscape. When I watched the Beijing Summer Olympic on TV in 2008, I danced up and down and cried at the same time with pride. Although I was not born there, I felt the cellular connection to the mother land. But China is far away and its glory might not have helped us Chinese Americans very much when it comes to making it in our careers in the U.S. When the movie “Joy Luck Club” came out in 1993, it stirred up so much emotion among many Asian Americans. Although not all their ancestors were Chinese, they celebrated this Chinese story because it was the first time that a movie was written, produced and acted in by an all Asian American cast. Since 1993, it has been a long time we Asian Americans saw the image of ourselves on the main stage of our society.

In the national dialogue on race, we Asian Americans are often not included. When it comes to minorities, people would think of Blacks and Hispanics first. Perhaps they do not think we need representation. But what happens to a kid who wants to be in theater or sports, or just wants to be a leader when there are not too many role models that look like him or her.

Just like when Chuck Cooper, Nat Clifton and Earl Lloyd broke the color line as the first African Americans that got into the NBA in 1950, this time the excitement belongs to the Asian Americans. Until the day when it is not unusual to see Asians or any other racial minorities in any line of work, people like me will continue to get choked up about the news.

Here is a deeper issue: There is a difference between being Asian nationals and being Asian Americans. Average folks in the U.S. just cannot see it. Working with so many major U.S. corporations in the last 26 years of my life, I have not seen too many Asian Americans in the senior ranks. As long as we still measure a person’s career success by how high they climb on their career ladder, to be missing from the senior ranks is not a good success indicator. Very often, when we do see Asians in the senior ranks, they tend to be the Asian nationals who had succeeded in Asia working for either Asian companies or multinational companies with operations in Asia. They then got helicopter-ed back into the U.S. headquarters and landed in executive positions. In many cases, white management would pat themselves on the back to think that they did very well promoting Asians. But these Asian nationals did not grow up in the U.S. or climb the typical American corporate ladder. They did not experience the organization cultural bias and the glass ceiling. Often it is not easy for them to be the role models for their fellow Asian Americans.

While we cheered for Yao Ming’s success for getting into the NBA, how he got there did not necessarily help build the ladder for Asian Americans who were born or raised in the U.S. and aspire to be professional basketball players until Jeremy Lin.

We Asian Americans often live a double-edged dilemma. On the one edge, we have been raised and influenced deeply by our cultural upbringing that encouraged us to get into a “professional” career. Playing sports and getting into the theater certainly are not seen as real professional career choices by many of our parents. On the other edge, when we do try to break out, we are seen through a stereotypical lens by the society. If we show up as anything beyond our stereotypical profile, such as being good at math and science, we are seldom taken seriously. Perhaps those other universities did not see Jeremy Lin as a good enough athlete either.

It is wonderful to see an underdog on his way to becoming a superstar. Americans love an underdog because most of them see a bit of themselves that way. Cheering for the underdog gives them hope that someday they can make it too. This is how this country has been founded. However, Jeremy Lin is not just an individual. He represents a group called Asian Americans who most of time are not seen as minorities but are not whites either. So, where are they in this society? Maybe one day, race won’t matter. But at this moment, it does. For a white player to be a superstar or get promoted in a corporation, he or she just has to be better than everyone else. And he or she would only be seen as an individual. Whites are already in. This is why their whiteness never needs to come up.

Asians in corporate America have an inherent disadvantage because of the cultural gaps. Whether we are immigrants or born and raised here after so many generations, we still have our cultural traditions in our genes. We were raised not to stand out and not to self promote. Our communication style tends to be more indirect. With this indirect communication style, our strength is in our ability to listen and observe in order to capture other’s messages. Except in Corporate America, we are expected to speak up more often, speak well and come to the point more directly. Otherwise, we are not seen as leadership material. Asian Americans who do not fit this profile would tend not to be noticed. And we often do not get the promotion we deserve. Statistics show that we Asian Americans certainly do not have difficulties getting hired. But where did we go after we get hired? In any major U.S. corporation, potential leaders are encouraged to constantly build their network, market themselves and work on perfecting their personal “brand”. This is so opposite to the values that we Asians hold dear to ourselves.

But can you say that Asian Americans are not good leadership material? Just come to Silicon Valley, California. There are so many entrepreneur companies that were founded and led by Asian Americans. We just lead differently. The question is: why can’t the large companies see that and value us more as who we truly are?

At the Friday night’s dinner, my friends wondered out loud if Jeremy Lin’s life would have been different if he actually got admitted to one of those major basketball schools. If he did not get dropped by the Golden State Warriors, would he have become a superstar much sooner? Perhaps he had to take such a long and lonely journey, risking losing his contract in 10 days to get to his “superstar” performance on Friday night. Good for him.

What lessons did we learn from this? We learned that individual perseverance against all odds can work. We also learned that the environment needs to open its eyes and create opportunities for people who normally might not have been the obvious choice for the next job or the next promotion.

In his book “Outlier” Malcolm Gladwell wrote: “…The University of Michigan law school, like many elite US educational institutions, uses a policy of affirmative action when it comes to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. Around 10 percent of the students Michigan enrolls each fall are members of racial minorities and if the law school did not significantly relax its entry requirement for those students – admitting them with lower undergraduate grades and lower standardized-test scores than everyone else- it estimates that percentage would be less than 3 percent.” In fact, Gladwell went on to write that the University’s affirmative action program became a case disputed in front of the US Supreme Court. But a few years ago, when the school decided to track their students after graduation, they found that there was no difference in the rate of career success among the white graduates and the minority graduates. Perhaps it is not as important as to how the minority students got in the school. It is more important to provide opportunities to a group of people who otherwise might not have a chance to succeed in life. Jeremy Lin might not be from a disadvantaged background, but he was perhaps disadvantaged because no one recognized his true potential.

“Players don’t usually come out of nowhere,” Kobe Bryant said after Lin helped New York snap a nine-game losing streak that dated back to February 2007. “If you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. But no one ever noticed.” (USA Today) Jeremy Lin did not get that chance until Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Soudemire and Baron Davis were out injured. It is like all of a sudden the understudy got a chance to step into a Broadway play. Sometimes you might have worked very hard and all it takes is a bit of luck and to be given a chance.

Asian Americans often don’t stand out as obvious choices for leadership. Because of their lack of visibility, they don’t often get the kind of assignments that present career enhancing opportunities. When they don’t brag about their own achievement, senior management doesn’t usually have them on the radar screen when it comes to career advancement. Should the corporation ask its Asian employees to do all the changes in order to assimilate? If yes, we will not only force them to become who they are not but also lose all their unique and different talents.

In order to capture all the diverse talents, organizations need to be open and welcoming to these talents instead of changing them. Remember, sometime all it takes is giving people a chance.

People said that ever since they got into the NBA, black players have changed how the game is played. I hope that Jeremy Lin and the other Asian American players that come after him will change the game with their unique talents too.

 

Celia Young consults to major corporations in maximizing the values of their diverse workforce. She also specializes in Asian American Leadership Development.

 

Why Do We Call Them “Soft Skills”?

February 7th, 2012

Sitting next to a young man on a flight from LAX to New York one day, we automatically opened our greetings with “what do you do for a living?”  He said he worked for one of those big management consulting firms.  When I told him I am an Organization Development Consultant, he twitched his nose a bit and said they did not focus on the “soft side” of their clients business.  Having heard the terms, “soft side” and “soft skills” so many times in the last 26 years, I decided to examine what they really mean.

There seems to be a perception out there that the real business is run on its functionality in Finance, Manufacturing, Engineering, IT, R&D, Sales, etc. These are the hardware of the business like a machine.  It is easier to measure output of a machine but what keeps the machine running is the energy, which is harder to measure. Energy comes from the people. Most business people would agree that the people side of the enterprise is very important to the success of the business. However, they don’t often think of the business as a human system, built with such “software” as organization culture, workplace relations and leadership.  And many of the same business people tend to view the skills that deal with these “software” as “soft skills” and believe these “touchy feely” issues should belong to HR.  “Soft” is certainly not seen as powerful as “hard”.  And we tend not to assign equal value to anything soft.   Many of us privately think that no serious business career ought to focus on the “soft” side of the enterprise.  Yet, historically, these “software” have proven to have the power to either make or break a business.

On one of the many trips I took to Washington DC on client assignments, I found something was not quite right after checking in at my usual hotel and called the front desk for assistance.  The housekeeping staff freshening up the rooms on my floor saw the problem and called the front desk again to suggest that they move me to a different room.  She then followed up with a bottle of wine and a plate of fruits.  I was quite impressed with the actions she took.   I did not think this was part of her job beyond cleaning the room.  When I asked her, she pointed to the big bright orange button on her lapel that said “Customer First”.  She had pride in her smile.  On that same trip, we had a sudden ice storm.  I found out I had locked my keys in the rental car.  By the time the rental car company’s representative came to open the car door for me, there were several inches of the ice and snow already accumulated on top of and all around the car.  The hotel doorman and the valet went out there and help me scrape and shuffle the snow so that I could get in the car.  And they all had the same big buttons on their lapels.

I did not believe this hotel paid their staff more money than other hotels.  And this was not even the most expensive hotel around the area.  So what made the staff so energized to stand behind their slogan?  I believe this had something to do with their organization culture.  Housekeeping staff, the doorman or the valet, just like the company receptionists are the front line or the face of our business.  They can expand or destroy the brand image of our business that took millions of dollars to build.  So the question is:  How does a company make sure its mission and vision are shared all the way to the bottom level of the organization?  And can we ignore this “soft side” of the business?

Another time, my colleagues and I were in a different town to do some executive training for an auto company.  First thing we found out when we got into the training room was that many of the training supplies that they agreed to provide, were not there.  When we inquired, the support staff said they did not have the supplies and we would need to go to the company store and buy them.  When it was time for lunch, we discovered a shortage and asked the kitchen to bring in more food.   The kitchen staff said they were not told that more people had attended the training than planned and did not have enough food to cover the extra attendees. It did not matter that this training class was for members of the top 100 senior management staff, and the kitchen staffs work for their executive dining room.  At three O’clock, the company announced the largest mini-van recall for its history.  Most of the participants had to leave the training to attend to the urgent matter at hand.

So the question is: Was there a direct correlation between how the support and kitchen staff behaved and the product recall on that day?  What made them behave so negatively even in front of the senior staff?  They could not have had this attitude from the first day on the job.  Otherwise the issue has to do with this company’s bad hiring practice.    But not all bad employees are bad “hire”.  Once again it is fair to say that this incident had a lot to do with the organization culture of the client company.  To find out about an organization’s culture, all you need to do is to discover what behaviors are rewarded and what are punished.  A new employee will often find out very quickly after they are on board.

So, what is in the work environment that causes employees to become “apathetic” and “uncommitted”?

Many companies assume people are just soldiers who are supposed to follow orders and do their job.  Many company cultures believe “work” is supposed to be “hard” and the employees are supposed to be self-motivated.  In this kind of culture, when people find out their “hard work” did not get rewarded, they will begin to lose their enthusiasm.

Many managers believe the employees should learn to adapt to the system.  They would even mentor and teach the selected few how the “game” is played.  It is not likely that these types of companies will adjust themselves to the employees.  If a young recruit asks too many questions, and is told to shut up and learn the company way first, he would quickly learn to keep his fresh ideas to himself.  When employees feel their opinions are not valued and their voices are not heard, they would stop caring.  And the company will lose the innovative value of the employees that they spent so much of their resources to hire in the first place.

When employees notice that there are double standards being practiced in the company and leaders are not “walking” their “talk”, they will think the mission and values on the wall are not worth the paper and ink they are printed on.  At that moment, people will begin to sound very cynical.  Cynicism is a very serious contagion that generally kills the spirit of the company.

“Apathy” is not the only hindrance to our business success.  Let us examine the “lack of courage.” Since employees act like good soldiers, they have learned to follow but not challenge the rules.  They learned not to speak up even when they know it is the right thing to do for the company.  Often, they choose to keep their job instead of doing their job.  In addition, managers are reluctant to give real feedback to the employees because they were afraid of dealing with difficult issues or they lack the “soft” skills.  Eventually they end up with mediocre staffs that create mediocre business results.  Finally, senior leaders are not willing to accept feedback, so no one around them will give them any.  Many big decisions at the senior level are made without up-to-date and honest data.  This can have a huge business consequence.  Many companies made merger and acquisition deals that failed and cost thousands of jobs.  These jobs were lost among the employees who were not in the position to impact the fatal decisions.

Since there is no room for truth-telling up and down the chain of command, can you see how the mini-van recall happened?

And, can we afford not to pay any attention to the soft side of the business?

Tom Peters, a popular author and management expert once said, “You cannot treat your customers better than your employees and succeed in business for very long.” Whether you are a superstar because you made a lot of money for your company or you brought in a lot of fame as a brilliant doctor, you cannot succeed without the help of others.  Currently many business schools do not offer more than one or two courses to teach the future managers to be “human”.   These human skills are the so-called “soft skills” required to create a workplace where people are willing to come to work every day and give you 120% of their energy.   This is not rocket science, but it requires all managers to commit to practicing the skills, not just leave it to HR.

On last Thursday night’s panel hosted by Executive Next Practices (ENP), every speaker said the best way to “brand” our business is to express clearly why we are in business and what our passion is.  For Disney, it is about creating the “happiest” place on earth.  While conducting employee focus groups, I often ask the group what keeps them on the job with their current employer. If they could honestly say it was about the company value, not just for a paycheck, I would quietly make three cheers for the client company for getting on the right track to build a positive work culture.

To create an effective human system for business, we must have:

  • - Top level leaders who not only have the vision but who can also turn the rest of the company on with this vision.
  • - Top level leaders who are willing to be the role model for change.
  • - All leaders who are willing to take in feedback and spend more time developing their employees so that they can be freed to think strategically and build the future.
  • - Increased level of trust among teams as well as along the chain of command.
  • - Clear and collective passion as the foundation for business success.

To accomplish all the above, we need soft skills.  To discover if your business culture needs improving, a suggested organization health check list can be found here.

Good luck to all of us, 21th Century business leaders.

 

 

Celia Young & Associates, Inc. provides tools and skill sets to transform businesses as human systems.

 

Did We Give Up Too Soon?

January 30th, 2012

When I was a young child growing up in Taiwan, we used to have this icebox in the kitchen. To keep food cold, we would buy ice blocks every few days from the ice delivery man. Then one day, my parents bought our very first refrigerator. It was a GE. I still remember the sparkles in my parents’ eyes. We had popsicles every summer after that. Its humming sound softly reverberated throughout the house when we slept. By the time I left for graduate school in the U.S., 15 years later, that white electric “icebox” still stood faithfully in the corner of our dining room.

As I take a stroll down memory lane, an image of a black Singer sewing machine appeared. My mother was not a good seamstress but she managed to do minor alterations to my father’s pants and my school uniforms on that magical machine. I can still hear the wheels turning as I studied in the next room. Of course, every now and then, my mother’s friend Mrs. Lew would bring over a Sears Roebuck’s catalog. The cover pages were torn and many corners of the inside pages had folding creases. Those days, having something ordered from the U.S. would elevate a housewife’s social standing. As we children glued our eyes to the TV to watch the few American shows with awe and envy, adults would hang onto things that were made in the U.S. because we knew they would last forever. In 1985, when I went to visit China for the very first time right after my father passed away, people on the street offered me any amount of money for the blue jeans I had on. I suspect, by that time, their enthusiasm was more than for the quality of my Levy’s but the symbol of freedom it represented. I remember being overwhelmed and proud to be an American.

I don’t really know when we stopped making some of these products in the U.S. but I did notice the economic migration that has taken place in the last 40 years. It started out as a search for less expensive labor in order to lower the production cost and compete with the cheaper imports. Those days, products that were “made in Japan” had a “cheap” reputation. As Japanese labor cost became too high, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan stepped in, thus the birth of the “Four Asian Tigers.” They later became the sources of our cheap labor. China came next. Pretty soon, we did not just ship the most mundane jobs overseas, we outsourced whole business functions overseas as well. By the time we were done, we did not just make cheap goods to satisfy our domestic market. We had created a total supply chain economy.

Today, globalization has taken hold. In order to compete in the global market, we need to be close to where the customers are by setting up operations everywhere outside the U.S. We no longer make anything or deliver anything all by ourselves anymore. On the one hand, we have reduced the risks of carrying inventories, manufacturing and distributions by pushing these functions down the chain and into other parts of the world. On the other hand, our total dependency on the chain has just increased our risks. We traded the independence that we are so proud of for interdependence.

In too many corners, I hear people say that manufacturing in the U.S. is over and our future is in the service industry. Yes, certain industries are gone forever but should we really give up making anything in the U.S?
For 40 years, Asian countries have operated totally as export economies. They did this purely for survival. In order for the export economy to succeed, their citizens made the most sacrifice. I remember average Japanese consumers could not afford to buy the same TVs they made for export. They had to learn to delay their individual gratifications. They did it because as the members of a collective culture, they were used to subordinating their individual needs for the good of the whole country. The same thing can be seen in the other four tiger countries as well. Only recently, their export economy created a middle class that has seen its discretionary income increase and are now flexing its purchasing power. They started to have an expanding domestic market. On the contrary, U.S. did not start as an export economy, since we have been the biggest market in the world. Businesses continually tried to satisfy the insatiable consumer appetite by feeding it with cheaper imports. I frankly think we lost the willpower to delay our individual gratification for the good of the country. We did have it once right after the economic crash in the 30’s. Maybe we forgot the true taste of “hunger for survival.”

But using cheap labor overseas has an economic and social consequence at home. Imagine yesterday, there was a TV manufacturing plant in our town. But, the same product could be made in China for a fraction of the cost. We soon only paid $100 for this TV, instead of $800. As we continued to enjoy the cheaper TVs, the TV plant in our town could not compete and had to close down. Today, on the same spot, they built a Wal-Mart, selling all kinds of cheap goods made overseas. While we enjoy shopping and saving money, the best place we can hope to find a job is at Wal-Mart now. But a retail wage of $8 an hour cannot sustain our living standard that used to be supported by a factory job of $16 an hour plus all the benefits. Pretty soon, we will not even be able to afford to shop at Wal-Mart.

I bought an Epson printer and never thought of getting an extended warranty because the price is cheap enough that I can always buy another one if this one stops working. When a product that used to have high quality becomes nothing but a commodity, we no longer care if it lasts. But competing solely on cheap price should not be our only business strategy. If our goal is to sell a new one to replace the old one as quickly as we can, we have just commoditized ourselves. And when we do, we become replaceable and irrelevant in the world. Once we step on the downward economic spiral that we have helped create, it will be increasingly hard to get off.

Japan quickly learned that it could not survive on cheap exports alone, since there would always be other countries that could do it cheaper. It moved onto perfecting its quality. In the old days, when Dr. Deming first put together the “Continuous Improvement” business theory and model, it did not get a whole lot of fan fares in the U.S. first. But it caught fire in Japan. I believe it was because the theory and practice fit the Japanese culture. Traditionally the Asian cultures encourage perfectionism. That means you have to keep doing and improving until you get a perfect result. This is one of the reasons that Honda and Toyota had such brand loyalty in the U.S., not because their cars are cheap.

A friend of mine went to Japan to learn pottery. She found an old master. When she first started, he had her sweep the floor for a whole year. Then the following year, he let her start making the pots. Every morning he would come into the studio and examine her work. Without a word, he would break every pot she made and had her do it again. He did not speak any English and she did not speak any Japanese. This went on for two more years. By doing it again and again, she had to figure out how to get close to perfection. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Excellence is born out of the desire to be perfect. Do we Americans have this in our culture?

Culturally, there is a difference between Asia and the U.S. in their pursuit of excellence. In Asia, traditionally, children were taught to do things by repetition. They learned to find improvement within the box. In the U.S., children were taught to think first and to break the box and invent something new. This was why for years, we laughed at the Japanese for never inventing anything new but copying something already invented in the West. However, they were the ones who perfected many U.S. inventions and dominated the market. Sony Walkman, Canon or Nikon cameras are just a few products that come in mind. To win in this global economy, we need talents for both invention and perfection.
I don’t think we Americans lack the innovative spirit but do we have the ability to persist to perfection and build things that will last again?

Fareed Zakaria, CNN Talk Show host, did a special program on “Education”. His guests suggested that to compete in the world economy, we have to either upgrade our education to restore our innovative strength, or downgrade our wages. I think the solution lies in the “both/and,” not “either/or.” Apple Inc. has seen its sales of I Pad and I Phone soar even in the down market. But most of their products were made overseas. They claimed that cheaper labor cost was not the only reason for them to build overseas but skilled workers. So, the question is: can we make a high quality product at cheaper labor costs in the U.S. in order to compete in the global market? We may not be able to lower our wages to the third world county’s level, but I believe we can certainly find ways to reduce the overall cost of production in this country. As we continue to spend more money than any country on education, we ought to find a way to spend it on increasing and upgrading the world-class talent pool as well. After all, it is the American workers who build Honda and Toyota cars in the U.S. We should be able to build other products here as well.

Maybe we cannot build every product and revive every industry in the U.S, but I believe we can certainly make products with the highest quality at a competitive price in the global market. The question is: “Do we have the wills to keep reinventing ourselves to the perfection?”

I hope we can move beyond the rhetoric and commit to the “built to last” blueprint put out in President Obama’s State of Union address last Tuesday and restore the standard of excellence we used to have.

Celia Young consults with multinational businesses to help restore their business vision of “excellence.”

Are We Winning?

January 23rd, 2012

Every time I watched a movie called “Taking Chance”, I would cry.  It is a simple story about a Marine colonel escorting the body of a dead fellow marine to his hometown in Montana.  I was touched by the way ordinary Americans stopped and paid respect to his flag draped coffin along the way.  I was also touched by the way the colonel struggled with his own mixed emotions on this journey.  My heart ached for all those young lives lost in the war.

Then I got angry at those who made it seemingly so easy to send young men and women to wars.  I am frustrated by our single-minded pursuit of the world order.  This leads me to think about the U.S. foreign policy for the last few decades.  We Americans have mystified ourselves into believing that we are the “superhero” or the lone ranger on a white horse who is the only one that can save the world from its demise.   As a superhero, we have several choices to lead the world.  We can beat our enemies into submission with our super weapons and super army.  We can coerce the world into loyalty with our money.  We can collaborate with or inspire the world in order to establish mutual benefit and lasting harmony.  We have been using our weapons and our money to lead in the world for so long that we don’t think about the other choices.   Since the U.S. is mainly an individualistic culture, acting like a lone ranger makes sense.  And many of us believe that to collaborate is to compromise; and to compromise is to show we are weak.  This is why moving toward global collaboration remains as an intellectual exercise.  Instead, we hang on to our superpower status, even though sending more troops or weapons and spending more money that we can no longer afford will not bring victory.  I often wonder why there is not a loud enough protest when we continue to spend billions of taxpayers’ money in wars that we don’t understand and will not win because we don’t really have a clear picture of what “winning” is supposed to look like.

History shows that yesterday’s ally is often tomorrow’s enemy.  This is not some old Western movie where the two gunmen meet up at high noon in the public square.  The one with the quicker draw will win.  In real life, we don’t know if we are winning or losing the war.  So why are we in the war?  Haven’t we learned anything from the history?    We say that the fanatics create “martyrs” out of their dead.     We call our fallen solders “heroes” instead.  We say we are proud of them for sacrificing their lives for the country.  But did we not just create our own brand of martyrsm?  For what purpose?

I live in a town near a Marine base.  Every weekend, I see people offer to pay for some young marines’ dinner in a restaurant.  They say to the young soldiers, “thanks for your service.”  While this looks and feels very patriotic, why can’t we work harder not to send them to war in the first place? During this presidential election season, there seems to be only two voices.  One wants to close the border.  The other one wants to continue to be the world’s police.  I am so afraid to wake up tomorrow morning and find out we have gone to war with yet another country such as Iran.  Is there any room for a third alternative?

As we continue to insist on being the only superpower in the world, the other nations have learned to adapt to us.  Many of us don’t see anything wrong with the fact that people outside the U.S. know so much more about us than we the world.  How did we decide that speaking only one language makes us more competent than those who can speak two or more?

Should being the superpower include removing a leader of another country and bringing them to our land by force?  What makes us think we can just put people in prison for years without a trial for the sake of national security?  And we pride ourselves for being a people of justice?  How is it that after we have polluted our land for so long, we now preach environmental protection around the world while letting our wastes get dumped outside our border?

A previous business partner often insisted on paying for everything from our dinners to product development by himself.  This created such a top/down power dynamics between us that drove a wedge in our partnership.  I realized in the end that he would rather sacrifice our partnership for the sake of hanging onto his power and control.

In the 80’s, Japan’s economy was on top of the world.  It had a perfect opportunity to step in and partner with the U.S. as leaders of the world but did not.  Now, it is China’s turn.  It does not seem to be stepping in either.  Recently, I asked a few of my friends if the U.S. would welcome a co-leader for the world.  They all said not in their life time.  I believe this sentiment is widely shared.

In mid 80’s, Vincent Ching, a young Chinese American was beaten to death the night before his wedding in Detroit, because an unemployed father and son auto workers blamed the Japanese importers for their job loss.  They took out their hatred on Ching, even though he was not Japanese.    Many Americans have long held suspicions toward the Japanese and now the Chinese.  We did not share the world’s leadership with Japan then and we certainly would not with China now.  This is why Japan and China choose to stand in the shadow of the U.S., letting us bear the sole burden of occupying the world’s superpower’s position and leading us into more debt, more wars that sacrifice more young lives and widening the gap between our ideology and our reality.  We do all this for the sake of keeping our control.

Actually, the most admired quality of our leadership in the world is our spirit of ingenuity without us trying to project or force our ideology onto other countries.  While we still enjoy being the center of the world as a superpower, the center of the world has been moving.  There are now multiple centers, each holding a different kind of power because they have begun to emulate our ingenuity hoping by becoming more innovative, they will find the freedom that they have admired the most about the U.S.

Globalization has already happened.  The world is increasingly complex with its emerging multiple centers of power.  And it requires a very different kind of leadership and citizenship.  I often start my global leadership workshops by having the participants draw a picture that represents their view of the world and how they are connected to it.  The drawings usually say a lot about what they do or don’t pay attention to.  Today’s leaders cannot afford to have blind spots in their world view.

I hope we Americans can come back to our core and continue to be the most inspiring country, and be true to the symbol of freedom we represent.  Living by example is the best leadership without persuasion or coercion.

 

 

In her consulting practice, Celia Young works with global business leaders to help them use their power effectively.

Are Our Beliefs Really That Sacred?

January 16th, 2012

As a social scientist, I continue to fascinate myself with the intense energy around the defense of one’s belief.  So I thought I would poke at this social phenomenon a little bit.

We were born into this world naked as a piece of blank canvass.  Circumstance and environment are like paint brushes that stroke us with different colors, shapes and impressions. We are constantly influenced by the teachings of our experience and socialization.  Very often, we swallowed whole these teachings since we were children.  These experiences helped form our world view.  We wear this view like a pair of colored glasses through which we see the world.

These colored glasses are the distortions we learned to depend on.  Our beliefs are our distortions.   They are our truth.  But the moment we think our truth is THE TRUTH, we are stuck.  Actually, to discover the UNIVERSAL TRUTH, we need to go back to be that new born baby, who came into this world with innocence, curiosity, pleasure, acceptance, need for love and ability to sense etc.   Along with compassion and forgiveness, these are a handful of universal truths that we share as human beings regardless where we come from.  During the bombing of the twin towers, many people used their cell phones to express their “love”.  They did not express “judgment”, “condemnation” or “hatred.”  We had to learn these expressions through our distorted belief systems.

There are two major influences to our beliefs: religion and culture.  And they are both learned and often swallowed.  Sometimes, our cultures are intertwined with our religions. We learned not only to defend them, but also to pass them on to the next generations without questioning.  We think they are sacred.  But are they?  If we have learned them, we can unlearn them as well.

I like to think that our contemporary world has so much capacity to embrace a variety of beliefs.  But when some of us use our own belief as a shield to judge and alienate others, or a weapon to condemn others with such an air of righteousness, then, we have become slaves to our belief.

We might believe we are the “white knight’ that will save and protect the world from evil.  But do we have the right to convert other countries into our ways according to our ideology and our definition of democracy?

Two generations before me in China, women in my family still had bounded feet because the culture believed that “three-inch” feet show the true beauty of a woman.  Never mind that the mother had to crush all the bones in the feet of her 8-year old daughter just so that she would have a chance to get matched into a good marriage.  This belief was so strong that anyone against this practice will be thrown out of the family.

Other social phenomenon may not be as bone crushing as the bounded feet of a young girl but equally oppressive.

Many European settlers came to this land because they wanted to escape religious persecution.   On the surface, we might see ourselves in this country as having religious freedom, but in practice I see many unconscious biases.  First of all, Christmas and Easter are officially still the only religious holidays on the calendar.  There is such an unspoken assumption that everyone believes in God and this is a Christian country.  Secondly, there seems to be an undercurrent questioning who the true Christians are.  I had a student who declared that she was a Mormon in my class and then apologized immediately.  The only reason, I figured, for her apology was her need to avoid offending anyone in the room.  In so many corners, people murmured, sometime loudly enough that Mormonism, along with Buddhism, Judaism and Islam are not real religions.  What happened to love, acceptance, and our proclaimed religious freedom?

Now, if you don’t believe in God at all, would you feel comfortable enough to say it in public?

Then a girlfriend of mine recounted a flight from JFK to LAX sitting next to an Arab woman with a baby.  She made comment on how frightened she was.  What clues did she get that made her equate this woman to a terrorist?

In his 2006 book, “Faith and Politics”, former three-term Republican senator from Missouri and an ordained Episcopal priest, John Danforth, observed how religion had become a divisive force in the American political life.    I don’t necessarily agree with everything he wrote.  But I have noticed that many public policies or practices in this country carry a faith-base agenda. We as Americans like to think that we truly have a separation between church and state.  But as a leader, can you really leave your religious or even cultural beliefs at the door when you take on a leadership role for a company or our country?

When I was a teenager growing up in Taiwan for a period of time, my mother would take me to a different place of worship every week.   This week was the Catholic.  Next week was the Baptist.  Over the following weeks we visited the Buddhist, Taoist, Mormon, Jewish temples, and so on.  I finally had to ask what she was doing.  She said, “Honey, we are buying insurance.  We cannot afford to offend anyone’s God.”

I thought my mother was the most equal opportunity believer.

If we truly want to live up to the image we have about ourselves, we ought to dig deep in ourselves beyond our beliefs and get re-acquainted with the universal truth we all carry so that we can be better human beings. While we are at it, we ought to be able to create a tent that is big enough for every belief and make sure we give ourselves freedom to change our own.

 

When consulting with her FORTUNE 500 clients, Celia Young often helps point out how unexamined beliefs can influence business policies and strategies with unintended global consequences.

 

Who is the true “Conservative”?

January 9th, 2012

For years, I have been intrigued by the seemingly endless pursuit of “a true conservative” in the Republican Party during every election season.  I understand that there is a value polarity between “conservative” and “liberal”. However, I have never seen the almost frantic search of “a true liberal” in the Democrat Party.

If you ask most of the Americans and if they are willing to be honest, they will tell you that they hold a middle of the road value and point of view.  So, why spend so much energy and money debating on who the true conservative is?

There is a down side of every extreme view when practiced.  These extreme views usually are very narrow views.  Most of the time, they don’t represent the real world out here.  It is like the frog that sits at the bottom of the well, fervently arguing the definition of the sky.  Not only does he believe his definition of the sky is true but also will silence anyone who think there is much more to the sky than what he sees.  When we insist on holding that narrow view, we get bogged down in our own ideology.  Then the world is seen as only “black” and “white” and “right” and “wrong”.

If we truly believe in “thou shall not kill”, then why do we have endless wars in the world?  How do we find it justifiable to kill someone just to be true to our ideology?

For thousands of years, many old cultures on this planet based their lives on the notion that energy moves naturally along the path of “Infinity”.  This energy includes a force and counterforce.  When the force pushes hard in one direction, the counterforce will naturally push equally hard in the opposite direction.  This is the self-correcting principle of the universe.  It is like “exhale” and “inhale”.  We cannot survive very long at the one end, without the other end.

To me, the struggle between “conservative” and “liberal” has very little meaning.  This is not an either/or game.  The moment we buy into the labeling, we restrict and force ourselves to think there is one “right” way.   And we believe we must choose one vs. the other.  It is like to win; we must make our opponents look like a monster so that we can beat them into submission or kill them.  Getting swept up in this game of duality can do more damage than good to us all.

If we win by beating down our opponents, would this “win” sustain itself?  Would those who get defeated be willing to stay down forever?  Does winning a war equate “peace”?

So, the “conservative” wants to take over the country because they believe the country has become too liberal.  However, if the conservative beat out the liberal and gain the upper hand, wouldn’t the liberal become the counterforce just to wait for a chance to revenge itself?  Is this really healthy for the country?  Just ask those companies that vacillated between centralization and decentralization for decades to assess if they have reaped any net gain.

I feel sorry for any candidates who are labeled “moderate” because their voices are not heard very much.  They actually represent a whole lot of us.  This means many of our voices are not heard either.  Or at least, our voices are not sexy or provocative enough to get any press coverage.

In the real world, business leaders face the task of choosing the most advantageous strategy for  business every single day.  Often, there is no clear choice but mounting dilemma between options.  Every path has its upside and its down side.  The most effective leaders are the ones who can skillfully manage these dilemmas by incorporating the “both/and” values contributed by competing options, in order to create business success.

I certainly hope the leaders of this country can demonstrate their skills to lead from “both/and”, not “either/or.”

 

Celia Young, a global organization development consultant, has been using the “infinity” principle to advise and assist business leaders to formulate and implement winning strategies for the last 25 years.

The Meaning of Apology

August 10th, 2010
Ever since the announcement of the massive recall of their cars, Toyota has apologized publiclyon TV and in newspaper again and again to its customers and in the marketplace.For Japanese and other Asian countries, an apology is the highest form of humility and takingresponsibility for their mistakes. In ancient times in Japan, the highest code of honor for theSamurai was to commit to a form of Seppuku, or Kara kin (suicide by cutting into onesstomach). I have not heard too many direct or indirect apologies from Enron, Goldman Sachsor AIG for what they have done, let alone committing suicide! So, when an American businessleader or politician says they would take full responsibilities for some negative events, I am notsure what they mean. Will they resign? Will they volunteer to go to jail? Will they offer to payback all the money? Or, will they commit suicide?
Ever since the announcement of the massive recall of their cars, Toyota has apologized publicly on TV and in newspaper again and again to its customers and in the marketplace.
For Japanese and other Asian countries, an apology is the highest form of humility and taking?responsibility for their mistakes. In ancient times in Japan, the highest code of honor for the Samurai was to commit to a form of Seppuku, or Kara kin (suicide by cutting into ones stomach). I have not heard too many direct or indirect apologies from Enron, Goldman Sachs?or AIG for what they have done, let alone committing suicide! So, when an American business?leader or politician says they would take full responsibilities for some negative events, I am not?sure what they mean. Will they resign? Will they volunteer to go to jail? Will they offer to pay?back all the money? Or, will they commit suicide?
Suicide in the Japanese culture is viewed as the highest form of respect for the self and from?others. Suicide in most Christian cultures is viewed as a sin. Of course Kara Kin is not?commonly practiced anymore in Japan. However, perhaps there are still two ways of looking?at the different meanings of apology between the U.S. and Asian cultures.
In the U.S. court systems, an apology can be viewed as admitting of guilt. Therefore, many?defendants including major corporations ?would agree to pay a settlement but never admit guilt. And culturally when someone does issue an apology, it often comes with lots of logical explanations. So at the end, these explanations almost justify the wrong doing and draw out the impact of the apology. In Japan and other Asian countries, an apology is not necessarily?viewed as basis for a guilty verdict.
During the recent Senate hearings, I also noticed that several Senators repeated similar?questions at Mr. Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota. And Mr. Toyoda’s answers were also similar. So I wonder what the real value of these hearings is. Toyota already apologized and promised?that they would fix the problems and take good care of their customers. I wonder after days of questioning, what do these Senators want? What else is there to find out, except to?grandstand the Senator’s own points of view?
Finally, when a Senator asked Mr. Toyoda if his company was prepared to deal with tort cases?as a result of this recall, I realized all the questions served as a prelude to the eminent?massive lawsuits which are for sure to follow. And I wonder if the lawyers will use Toyota’s?apologies as basis for their legal actions.
About Celia Young & Associates, Inc – Since 1986, Ms. Young and her associates have?helped their global business clients develop vision and strategies and implement change in?their businesses worldwide. They coach and develop globally competent and multi-culturally?versatile leaders on the individual and group basis in order to help mold a new organization?that is open to and capable of fully utilizing the “diversity” of its people. Such an organization?is well positioned to respond to the needs of its customers internally and externally, in the U.S.?and in the world. Their clients span a wide variety of industries including Telecommunications,Banking/Finance, Healthcare, Utilities, Oil Products, Personal Care, Pharmaceuticals, Print Media, Real Estate and Government Agencies. For more information about Celia Young &?Associates, Inc., its clients and work, visit <a href=”www.celiayoungandassociates.com”>www.celiayoungandassociates.com</a>.

Ever since the announcement of the massive recall of their cars, Toyota has apologized publicly on TV and in newspaper again and again to its customers and in the marketplace.

For Japanese and other Asian countries, an apology is the highest form of humility and taking responsibility for their mistakes. In ancient times in Japan, the highest code of honor for the Samurai was to commit to a form of Seppuku, or Kara kin (suicide by cutting into ones stomach). I have not heard too many direct or indirect apologies from Enron, Goldman Sachs or AIG for what they have done, let alone committing suicide! So, when an American business leader or politician says they would take full responsibilities for some negative events, I am not sure what they mean. Will they resign? Will they volunteer to go to jail? Will they offer to pay?back all the money? Or, will they commit suicide?

Suicide in the Japanese culture is viewed as the highest form of respect for the self and from others. Suicide in most Christian cultures is viewed as a sin. Of course Kara Kin is not commonly practiced anymore in Japan. However, perhaps there are still two ways of looking?at the different meanings of apology between the U.S. and Asian cultures.

In the U.S. court systems, an apology can be viewed as admitting of guilt. Therefore, many defendants including major corporations would agree to pay a settlement but never admit guilt. And culturally when someone does issue an apology, it often comes with lots of logical explanations. So at the end, these explanations almost justify the wrong doing and draw out the impact of the apology. In Japan and other Asian countries, an apology is not necessarily viewed as basis for a guilty verdict.

During the recent Senate hearings, I also noticed that several Senators repeated similar questions at Mr. Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota. And Mr. Toyoda’s answers were also similar. So I wonder what the real value of these hearings is. Toyota already apologized and promised that they would fix the problems and take good care of their customers. I wonder after days of questioning, what do these Senators want? What else is there to find out, except to grandstand the Senator’s own points of view?

Finally, when a Senator asked Mr. Toyoda if his company was prepared to deal with tort cases as a result of this recall, I realized all the questions served as a prelude to the eminent massive lawsuits which are for sure to follow. And I wonder if the lawyers will use Toyota’s apologies as basis for their legal actions.

About Celia Young & Associates, Inc – Since 1986, Ms. Young and her associates have helped their global business clients develop vision and strategies and implement change in their businesses worldwide. They coach and develop globally competent and multi-culturally versatile leaders on the individual and group basis in order to help mold a new organization that is open to and capable of fully utilizing the “diversity” of its people. Such an organization is well positioned to respond to the needs of its customers internally and externally, in the U.S. and in the world. Their clients span a wide variety of industries including Telecommunications,Banking/Finance, Healthcare, Utilities, Oil Products, Personal Care, Pharmaceuticals, Print Media, Real Estate and Government Agencies. For more information about Celia Young & Associates, Inc., its clients and work, visit www.celiayoungandassociates.com.

Globalization

August 10th, 2010
Ever since we opened our doors to trade, we have become increasingly interdependent with our trading partners. In recent times, this phenomenon is exacerbated by the supply chain economy we co-created around the world. So, the world is at our doorstep and the global village is no longer a concept. The physical distance among people is getting shorter everyday. However, are we really getting closer to each other?
Our business strategy around the globe is often tied to our foreign policy. And our foreign policy is dictated by the way we see ourselves.
The U.S. culture is mainly an individualistic culture. We see ourselves as lone rangers. Our movies are often about an individual “hero on a white horse” that comes into town and saves the day. We believe that we are the only ones who can save the world from its demise. As a “superpower” of the world, we believe our way is the right way and our values ought to be universal ones. Since the rest of the world has been adapting to us for so long, that made it easy for us to see our privilege as a birth right.
However, as the world becomes smaller and our relationship with other countries becomes more complex, we must have a new strategy to win friends and influence people around the globe. Just by beating our enemies into submission with our “super” weapons or coercing our allies into loyalty with our money has not won us any friends or lasting world peace. Since we
often operate from an individualistic point of view, we believe we can single-handedly create a new world order according to our ideology. This is a strategy that we can no longer afford.
To find a new way to lead in this world, the U.S. needs to move away from “going it alone” and take a more collective and collaborative stand in the world. In order to become more collaborative in the world, we must be willing to share our power as a leader. This has proven to be very challenging for a nation that is built on its “superhero” psyche. In the meantime, the world is shifting. Due to years of redistribution of wealth, education and skills, there is new a crop of power centers on the horizon. Other nations may still look to the U.S. to lead, but they are no longer willing to roll over like puppies. It is time for the U.S. to join the world but not to superimpose itself on the world.
Similar to our foreign policy, we have been managing our organizations and our businesses around the world as superheroes. We think our businesses are global. But are we truly global, or are we just everywhere? The reality is that our brand of globalization is often nothing more than Americanization.

Ever since we opened our doors to trade, we have become increasingly interdependent with our trading partners. In recent times, this phenomenon is exacerbated by the supply chain economy we co-created around the world. So, the world is at our doorstep and the global village is no longer a concept. The physical distance among people is getting shorter everyday. However, are we really getting closer to each other?

Our business strategy around the globe is often tied to our foreign policy. And our foreign policy is dictated by the way we see ourselves.

The U.S. culture is mainly an individualistic culture. We see ourselves as lone rangers. Our movies are often about an individual “hero on a white horse” that comes into town and saves the day. We believe that we are the only ones who can save the world from its demise. As a “superpower” of the world, we believe our way is the right way and our values ought to be universal ones. Since the rest of the world has been adapting to us for so long, that made it easy for us to see our privilege as a birth right.

However, as the world becomes smaller and our relationship with other countries becomes more complex, we must have a new strategy to win friends and influence people around the globe. Just by beating our enemies into submission with our “super” weapons or coercing our allies into loyalty with our money has not won us any friends or lasting world peace. Since we often operate from an individualistic point of view, we believe we can single-handedly create a new world order according to our ideology. This is a strategy that we can no longer afford.

To find a new way to lead in this world, the U.S. needs to move away from “going it alone” and take a more collective and collaborative stand in the world. In order to become more collaborative in the world, we must be willing to share our power as a leader. This has proven to be very challenging for a nation that is built on its “superhero” psyche. In the meantime, the world is shifting. Due to years of redistribution of wealth, education and skills, there is new a crop of power centers on the horizon. Other nations may still look to the U.S. to lead, but they are no longer willing to roll over like puppies. It is time for the U.S. to join the world but not to superimpose itself on the world.

Similar to our foreign policy, we have been managing our organizations and our businesses around the world as superheroes. We think our businesses are global. But are we truly global, or are we just everywhere? The reality is that our brand of globalization is often nothing more than Americanization.

For every force that moves toward “globalism”, there is a counter force that moves toward “nationalism”. There is a loud section of our society that believes that “Buy American” is an?act of patriotism. However, what is the definition of an American product anyway? Does it?mean the product has to be made by American workers in the U.S.? Does it mean that the?company needs to be owned and operated by Americans? Or does it mean that the profit has?to stay within the U.S.? Sometimes this “Buy American” sentiment is part of that counter force?to the unstoppable tide that sweeps across the globe wherever businesses can find better and cheaper resources to make products in order to satisfy the insatiable consumer appetite. We?are those consumers. Can we still take our frustrations out on Japan, China, or India? Who?next?

Ever since I started in my international marketing career and later became a global?organization culture consultant, I noticed U.S.-based business organizations have not moved?away from the “superhero” model very much. At the beginning, “going international” meant?selling our products overseas. I remember General Mills trying to sell cake mix to Japanese?housewives when the average Japanese household did not even own an oven. I remember?John Deere trying to sell China tractors when the average Chinese farmer’s notion of success is?to have lots of children living together and working around the farm. They certainly would not put their children out of work by replacing them with a tractor. So they used the tractor as?transportation instead of farm equipment. Our one-size-fits-all mentality and strategy did not?work then and continues to fail now.

Next, we built manufacturing facilities overseas in order to supply our overseas market. We sent our employees overseas to manage and control the operations. Even though our products?might have changed to fit the local market, the way we operate has not changed. Many of our expatriate managers could not speak the local language and had to collect local intelligence through translators’ filters. Then we decided it was quicker to enter the foreign market by?buying or merging with a foreign company since they know the local market better. However,?we continued to try to “convert” our foreign staff to our way of running the business. Lastly,many of us started to push our entire supply sources out of the U.S. in order to feed our domestic consumers’ appetite for cheaper products. While we have become totally dependent on our foreign suppliers to keep our domestic businesses going, we still believe we are the lone rangers.

We talked about global partnering. However in reality, we continue to see our foreign?counterparts as less than competent and resistant to conform to our standards. Our global?partners often felt their ideas being devalued and their cultures being disrespected. Our headquarter-centric attitude and behavior continue to widen our power distance and in turn?perpetuates the perceived “Americanization”.

As we continue to grow closer to the world, we cannot afford to think and act as if we are the only ones who have the great ideas and the resources to meet customers’ needs all over the world. If we don’t shorten the power distance among all parts of our global operation, we will?have wasted valuable talents and resources, and eventually lose the competitive advantage in the global market.

Since there are increasing numbers of power centers in the world, our foreign policy as well as our global business strategy must strive for more collaboration, mutual benefits, and balancing and sharing of the power. In the process of globalization, national boundaries are becoming less important. Holding onto our national identity without strengthening our connection to the world will make us weak and irrelevant. On the other hand, today’s corporations are in a perfect position and have the obligation to be a major player in helping us responsibly and strategically utilize the global resources and raise the collective standard of human lives on this planet. We can succeed without shedding any more blood or increasing our national debt.

Becoming truly global is the only way to help sustain this planet.