HBR and it's Contribution to Society by Frank Olsson

HBR and it's Contribution to Society by Frank Olsson

3 February 2016

HBR and it's Contribution to Society by Frank Olsson

Harvard Business Review, a handful of ideas over twelve years. Below please find a few thoughts picked from 18,000 pages of Harvard Business Review and my 320 pages of summaries from these 120 issues. 

I have been a keen reader of Harvard Business Review over many years and rate it highly. I find the magazine is trying hard in its choice of articles to act responsibly and contribute to build a better approach to business, and to moderate run-away capitalism. The problem here I think, is that when major companies become too powerful they skew the rules in their own favor – a bit like many top sports people reach their ultimate levels by cheating. We must recognize that cheating is not good as it is all about unfair advantage. Not every HBR article is about ethics and community enhancements but I do appreciate that many and perhaps a majority are. What is the meaning of business success if it doesn’t also create true customer and societal value. Arguably business and success cannot be sustainable unless it has a purpose to create some lasting community value. I believe a continuous alignment with what is in the interest of the general public is paramount to thriving in business in the longer term. If your success and fortune depends on breaking laws and rules and acting unethically you are on a dangerous path that may well lead to your destruction over time. 

From the year 2004 I picked out that promoting diversity means amplifying differences and seizing the business opportunities they present. If you want all your staff to look alike you are likely to be a looser. You need to make your business offering physically beautiful and emotionally compelling.

One key message from 2005 is that the more isolated we are, the more stressed we become. Mixing with and seeing and giving time to friends and other people is a key component in retaining your wits and strength. If you become too insular or isolated the quality of your life inevitably deteriorates and this is negative for your success chances. When we hire new people or promote in-house staff we must do so with an aim to change our direction to something better, not just fill a gap.

In 2006 what stuck with me is the need to move past productivity. Productivity is good but it is not the ultimate aim, it is only a means. Creating something useful and beautiful has little to do with productivity. Someone who is over-focused on cost reduction will never reach his/ her potential highs. You need to spend time and effort and money to realize outstanding success. Saving money is good but it is not inspirational or future oriented. Capture new ideas from front line staff, capture ideas from all staff!

What I liked in 2007 HBR was the line – if you are not at the table, you may well be on the menu. We need to be out there and engage – so many traps can be avoided by speaking to a broad range of people regularly. How can you serve the people if you are not one of them. People who care for the environment – care for anything and everything including customers and staff are likely to be more profitable. Positive emotions are tied to higher creativity. 

From 2008 I picked out: Performance payment structures are normally ineffective as they tend to dehumanize staff when a good company does exactly the opposite. Driving by number is like living by numbers. Perhaps good for accountants, but not for customers and staff and for sustainable success! Be open-minded, connect with people, be passionate and listen to what others are saying. 

One important message in 2009 is that leadership is about imbuing the entire work force with a sense of responsibility for the business. To maximize your potential you need to have all staff pulling to their capacity and this will only happen if they feel that it is worthwhile and something they want to do. We often overestimate our strengths and underestimate the risk for things going wrong. Being caring to all we deal with is inspirational and promotes success.

Messages I picked up from 2010 issues include: Cultivation of relationships is more important than building brands. Companies taking responsibility for a better world will reap rewards over time. More important than marketing is ensuring that we serve the community well. Strive to create something scarce, not something cheap. 

And from 2011: Profits involving a social purpose represent a higher form of capitalism. Business must reconnect company success with social progress. Using controls or carrots and sticks to motivate people underestimates the potential of the human brain. The ultimate commitment comes only from care and respect.

And in 2012 I particularly picked out that happy people are more creative and productive. People blossom when challenged and wither when threatened. Systems that encourage egoism are far from optimal – good systems need to foster a sense of community. Helping others can be good for health and reduce stress.

The lines I picked out of 2013 issues included: Leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights. If your sole goal is to maximize profit, you are on a collision course with time. Don’t spin a better story; become a better company. Nearly 2/3 of people feel the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.

And from 2014 I want to highlight that it is better to hire for potential than for experience. If you hire gifted people you have to give them room to act and develop. Finding the right people to run the company is crucial. If you want to lead, have the courage to do it from the heart./ The world would be a better place if businesses stopped thinking so much about short-term results and focused more on the long term.

To round this off, the thoughts that I found particularly important in 2015 issues are: Many companies are ditching performance ratings. CEOs should be assessed on espousing agreed values and community alignment. Responsible firms will have less problems with compliance. Purpose is how you drive transformation. Manage through culture./ Set goals for learning, not just performance/ 

frank@olsson.co.nz 18 January, 2016

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