Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Gift of 2008 and 2009

It’s hard to imagine what possible gift could have been spawned from the worst years of economic turmoil and fallout in most people’s lifetimes. While no doubt a disastrous set of circumstances for many, the turn of events was no big surprise to some astute observers of industry. Our cultural and attitudinal underpinnings that revolve around “what’s in it for me?” are perhaps now seen in a much different light.

To be clear, these underpinnings can also be beneficial, in that one byproduct of this attitude is that individuals and their employers have kept their eye on the important prize of improving financial position -- which does tend to improve quality of life.

In general, the gift of 2008 and 2009 is the universal recognition that these underpinnings are not long-term sustainable for either individuals, or the organizations that employ them, without being accompanied by questions like “how will our society, culture and our way of life (aka ‘the greater good’) also be positively impacted by our individual or corporate pursuits?” By definition, if something is not long-term sustainable, it eventually experiences a downward spiral or even perishes.

More specifically, the gift of 2008 and 2009 is the recognition that the benefit of the individual, the benefit of the organization and the benefit of society (the greater good) must be looked at together -- through the same lens.

For those still on the fence about whether large commercial enterprises should really care about alignment of these “sustainable value systems”:

- Kotter & Heskett studied the relationship between character and business performance across 200 companies over an 11 year period; and found that companies that formally and specifically focused on character in hiring and employee development experienced 682% revenue growth and 901% stock price appreciation in 11 years, as compared with 166% revenue growth and 74% stock price appreciation during the same period.

- Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeiffer's study on competitive advantage analyzed high performance stocks on the US market over a 30 year period … the 1970's through 2004. He found that companies that selected employees (at least) in-part based on character, and provided training to reinforce character and "good citizen" values – Companies like Southwest Airlines and Tyson Foods -- experienced a 16,000% to 21,000% appreciation in shareholder return (including dividend re-investment) over this period.

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