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5.0 out of 5 stars Why "endearing companies tend to be enduring companies",
This review is from: Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose (Hardcover)In the Prologue, when discussing The Age of Transcendence through which the contemporary business world is now proceeding, the co-authors (Rajendra S. Sisodia, David B. Wolfe, and Jagdish N. Sheth) suggest that it is "a cultural movement in which physical (materialistic) influences that dominated culture in the twentieth-century are ebbing while metaphysical (experiential) influences become stronger. This is helping to drive a shift in the foundations of culture from an objective base to a subjective base: People are increasingly relying on their own counsel to decide what the truth is...That shift acknowledges a long-suppressed idea in a world largely guided by Newtonian certainty that chemistry Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine says is scattering to the winds: Ultimately, everything is personal."
Thus do the authors establish a frame-of-reference for the thesis of their book: That each stakeholder in an organization tends to thrive best when all stakeholders thrive. That is, no stakeholder group is more important than any other. "It is disciplined dedication to the well-being of all stakeholders that separates firms of endearment from their competition." Stakeholder relationship management (SRM), the authors suggest, can achieve and then sustain superior business performance that, in turn, will create n a decisive competitive advantage. They are convinced that SRM business models will increasingly be seen "as the most efficacious way to achieve sustained superior business performance in years to come" but only if (huge "if") the interests of all stakeholder groups are brought into strategic alignment.
Two Questions: Are all stakeholder groups of equal importance and do they have the same interests? Also, are all members of a stakeholder group (e.g. shareholders) of equal importance and do they have the same interests? These questions occurred to me as I read the first chapter, especially the brief discussion of the "distinctive" core values, policies, and attributes that firms of endearment (FoEs) share in common. Eventually, Sisodia, Wolfe, and Sheth provide answers to these questions, answers best revealed within the narrative.
If indeed "endearing companies tend to be enduring companies," how do the 28 FoEs that "made the final cut" for this book compare with the 11 companies praised by Jim Collins in Good to Great? "Over a 10-year horizon, FoEs outperformed the Good to Great companies by 1,026 percent to 331 percent (a 3.1-to-1 ratio). Over five years, FoEs outperformed the Good to Great companies by 128 percent to 77 percent (a 1.7-to-1 ratio). Over three years, FoEs performed on par the Good to Great companies: 73 percent to 75 percent." (FYI, there are no duplicates on the two lists.) As with the exemplary companies discussed by Thomas J. Peters in Robert H. Waterman, Jr. in In Search of Excellence, not all companies on any such list continue to meet the criteria that were the basis of their initial selection.
For me, some of the most interesting material is presented in Chapter 11, "Crossing Over to the Other Side." At one point, the authors cite Oliver Wendell Holmes's observation "I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." They then quote one of my favorite passages in James O'Toole's The Executive's Compass:
"To move beyond the confusion of complexity, executives must abandon their constant search for the immediately practice and, paradoxically, seek to understand the underlying ideas and values that have shaped the world they work in. Managers who clamor for how-to instruction are, by definition, stuck on the near side of complexity."
According to Sisodia, Wolfe, and Sheth, the big challenge of the times is to transcend the zero-sum mindset because, given the profusion of new opportunities, absolutes (by nature limiting) are found everywhere on the near side of complexity. "They emerge from people's perennial quest for pat solutions, or `silver bullets,' as they are sometimes described. This is a key point because, as Sisodia, Wolfe, and Sheth explain, a zero sum mindset leads to the conclusion that one stakeholder group can only benefit at the expense of the other stakeholder groups...However, opportunities increase by an order of magnitude when the mind breaks free of zero-sum thinking."
There are specific reasons why endearing companies tend to be enduring companies and one of the most important is their having "the ability to transcend ruthless competition and embrace the fruits of cooperation [which is] the essence of evolved humanness."
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Bill George's Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value and his later book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, co-authored with Peter Sims. Also Michael Ray's The Highest Goal, Adrian J. Slywotzky's The Upside: The 7 Strategies for Turning Big Threats into Growth Breakthroughs, Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson as well as Ram Charan's Know-How: The 8 Skills That Separate People Who Perform from Those Who Don't, Lynda Gratton's Hot Spots: Why Some Teams, Workplaces, and Organizations Buzz with Energy - And Others Don't, Robert J. Herbold's Seduced by Success: How the Best Companies Survive the 9 Traps of Winning, Jack Alexander's Performance Dashboards and Analysis for Value Creation, and Michael Useem's The Go Point: When It's Time to Decide--Knowing What to Do and When to Do It.
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive Examples of Serving the Full Gamut of Stakeholders,
This review is from: Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose (Hardcover)What is a Firm of Endearment? The authors argue that their example companies share a common set of core values, policies, and operating attributes which include:
1. aligning the interests of all stakeholder groups (customers, employees, partners, investors, and society) rather than seeking profit optimization
2. below-average executive compensation
3. open-door policies
4. employee compensation and benefits are above average for their industry
5. above-average employee training
6. empower employees to satisfy customers
7. hire employees who are passionate about the company's purpose
8. humanize customer and employee experiences
9. enjoy below-average marketing costs
10. honor the spirit as well as the letter of laws
11. focus on corporate culture as a competitive advantage
12. are often innovative in their industries
Companies identified include extensive examples drawn from Commerce Bank, Container Store, Costco, Harley-Davidson, Honda, IDEO, IKEA, jetBlue, Johnson & Johnson, Jordan's Furniture, New Balance, Patagonia, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Timberland, Toyota, Trader Joe's, UPS, Wegmans, and Whole Foods.
These companies are often contrasted with Wal-Mart and the Good to Great Companies identified by Jim Collins in 2001 in terms of stock price growth.
The authors argue that there is a new level of consciousness emerging that rewards those who do good while doing well. The implication is that all firms should shift to stakeholder optimization and the cultural values identified in the example companies.
While they don't make this argument, it's clear that the authors have identified many of the mindsets that lead a company to seek optimizing results for all stakeholders.
Before you assume total cause and effect, I would like to raise some issues not fully addressed in the book:
1. This is an after-the-fact evaluation. As such, (like Good to Great), we may mostly be seeing what the leaders are proud of . . . rather than what caused their success. For example, Southwest's success is focused on their corporate culture. But the company also has a better business model than almost any other airline (Ryanair's is better) and does a better job of fuel cost hedging than any other U.S. airline. Those factors aren't mentioned.
2. These companies are almost all in consumer products or services. A class of socially conscious consumers has sprung up who look hard for such firms. It's not clear that OEM and industrial buyers have evolved their preferences nearly to the same extent. So many of the lessons may only apply consumer goods and services (except for those validated by Gallup for having a motivated and effective group of people working for you).
3. Almost all of these firms are highly effective business model innovators who have gained enormous advantages over competitors who seldom innovate their business models. As a result, they can afford practices that may or may not pay off in profit without incurring any negative reaction. The next business model innovation will pay for the cost.
I was surprised that this book didn't look at the study I made from 1992-2001 that identified continuing business model innovation as the single best factor for explaining high levels of corporate performance (see The Ultimate Competitive Advantage). The books share some examples in common (including Jordan's Furniture and Timberland), but many of FoE's examples are also superior business model innovators (Amazon, BMW, CarMax, Caterpillar, Container Store, Costco, eBay, Google, Harley-Davidson, IDEO, IKEA, jetBlue, Patagonia, Starbucks, Trader Joe's, UPS, Wegmans, and Whole Food).
4. It often pays better to serve stakeholder interests than to ignore them. Why? Because ignoring stakeholders often burdens both the company and the stakeholder with costs and experiences that neither want. This economic case for stakeholder focus isn't fully developed outside of the customer arena.
5. The book emphasizes sustainability, but much of that argument is built around companies disappearing from the Fortune 500 (something that happens whenever a merger happens . . . which doesn't mean that the organization goes away, just the corporate headquarters in most cases). In the research of my students on environmental sustainability (see Hiroshi Fukushi's work, A Strategic Approach to the Environmentally Sustainable Business, for example), it's apparent that making the environment cleaner than when you touched it is economically advantaged in most situations. The idea of sustainability is based on the outmoded notion of not doing too much damage rather than finding profits in making the world better than you found it.
But it's a good book that creates more questions than it answers. This one will probably stimulate some more careful thinking in the area of where seeking to be more considerate of others is going to create better results as well as better sleep.
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Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose by Jagdish N. Sheth (Hardcover - Jan 31 2007)
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