OWL’S HOOTS No 15: RETURNING ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE EMPLOYEES BY BEING PREPARED TO ACT
October 30th, 2010
Richard Branson and Vinit Nayer have vitally important lessons for us. Both emphasise trust and openness and take risks, both focus on employees whom they recognise as being the source of a successful future.
First I have to apologise to the reader. This is the first post since February. I promised that the next post would deal with climate change: I drafted a note but was diverted by numerous other things. However, I expect a number of posts to appear in the next two weeks; one of them will deal with climate change.
Meanwhile back to another of my favourite subjects or more.
I have written on numerous occasions that organisations depend for their future on the way people work together. I do not hold to the notion that the world has changed so fast that what we have learned about human behaviour is outdated. Equally I reject the vision of humankind forced on everyone by the market economists and their utility maximisation-self interest mantra. (Another post will report concluding comments by Professor Tim Jackson of Surrey University in his Deakin Lecture based on studies in social psychology and behavioural economics.)
At this time here is a quote from Professor Amartya Sen, Noble prizewinner in economics, at a recent seminar about Adam Smith published in the Erasmus Journal:
“While some men are born small and some achieve smallness, it is clear that Adam Smith has had much smallness thrust upon him.”
It is fair to say that the 21st century, or at least the first couple of decades, are years of the brain. The emerging understanding about the flexibility of the brain, brain plasticity, and how different parts of the brain work are truly amazing. There are implications not least for education and learning. (For more on this go to the ABC Radio National’s website for the program “All in the Mind” presented by Natasha Mitchell.)
What has been happening in most organisations is decreasing attention to employees, an ever increasing retreat to routinisation. Even in the medical field – mixed practices – doctors are being told how long they can spend with patients and being sued if they don’t accept the instructions. To an extent this is a further development of the ongoing application of neoclassical economics.
So to encounter examples of this all being put aside, of attention being paid to an employee focused organisation is refreshing. I have previously mentioned one outstanding example of this in the firm Semco and also pointed up a couple of aspects of Southwest Airlines.
Another organisation well known for concern for employees is the Virgin group of companies. The founder, Richard Branson, was in Australia a couple of months ago and was extensively interviewed. At the end of the interview on ABC TVs â€˜Talking Heads‘ Â presenter Peter Thompson asked him about stress.
Here is his response:
PETER THOMPSON: You always seem quite fresh and not very stressed, which is remarkable considering the circumstances of your life.
RICHARD BRANSON: I should be fairly stress-free, in that I have the most incredible life. I’ve got the most incredible group of people around me. And I love learning. Every day I’m learning something new. And I love people. So I love life. So I certainly have no difficulty keeping going and challenging myself.
Earlier in the interview:
PETER THOMPSON: One of your trademarks is a special relationship with the Virgin staff.
RICHARD BRANSON: Yeah, I think a good leader is a good listener. And last night I was at the Holiday Inn in Potts Point, where I’ll stay any time that I come to Sydney, because all our staff stay there. And drinking with them, but most importantly listening, and having pocketfuls of notes by the end of the evening, which I’ve already gone on and dealt with today. So…
PETER THOMPSON: Yes, you’re famous for having an exercise book in which you write things down.
RICHARD BRANSON: Yeah. It’s very important. If you don’t write things down, you don’t remember. And I think an exceptional company is a company where you get all those little details right.
Continue to essay: “Leadership: Vinit Nayer and Employees First, Customers Second“