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Why values need to be at heart of sustainable business transformation


Business needs to learn from Bill Gates. It needs to develop a human operating system, not the equivalent of more apps


Powered by article titled “Why values need to be at heart of sustainable business transformation” was written by Jo Confino, for on Wednesday 11th September 2013 18.00 UTC

Dov Seidman, the CEO of global consultancy LRN, is convinced that sustainable business transformation can come only as a result of values-based leadership.

I spoke to Seidman, ahead of his speech later this month to more than 1,000 CEOs at the United Nations Global Compact leaders summit, about how capitalism lost its way and the importance of business reintegrating itself back into society if it is to flourish.

While only a small number of CEOs are so far taking action, Seidman, named the “hottest advisor on the corporate virtue circuit” by Fortune Magazine, says the business sector will be forced to change as it confronts the need to be simultaneously resilient and growth-oriented.

Q: Is the capitalist system inherently destructive?

I’m deeply in touch with the fact that Adam Smith was the chairman of the moral philosophy department when he was engaging in writing the capitalistic framework. He’s been reinterpreted as an economist, but then capitalism always had a moral foundation. When we scale with a moral framework, capitalism is sustainable and the actors within capitalism can thrive sustainably, and when we disconnect with that idea, we start to see the boom and bust cycles and dysfunction, etc.

Q: So how did the capitalist system lose its way?

Elie Wiesel taught the world and me that the opposite of love is not necessarily hate, it’s indifference. Business did not become immoral. It became amoral. I’ve been to funerals where I heard that the man was a ruthless negotiator but a caring husband and people say not a bad guy. Business decided that it could create a separate sphere, within which bosses told people just do it, I don’t care how.

If you can maintain a separate sphere of just business, then greed is good, but the way the world is being constructed today, you can’t maintain the separate sphere. What you’re doing in Bangladesh affects your entire company.

Q: What is the purpose of your company?

We’re in the behaviour business and our mission is to help inspire, not coerce, not motivate, which is a carrots and sticks approach. You can double someone’s salary and say innovate and it won’t happen. You could take two people from different cultures and put them in a room and triple their salary and say find a way to trust and foster mutual respect and collaborate and it won’t happen.

There are required behaviours; things you must do by law, by regulation, by policy; and then there are inspired behaviours, responsible conduct, principled conduct, collaborative, creative conduct.

In addition to helping companies get both behaviours right, required and inspired, we’re helping them synchronise and harmonise them, which is really what a focus on corporate character, corporate culture allows you to do.

Q: You are speaking at the UN Global Compact conference. What would your message be to the 1,000-plus CEOs coming to New York?

Everything in business has been systematised except for the last frontier, the human operating system. We’re not systematic about the forces that shape, bear upon and guide, elevate and inspire behaviour.

When CEOs do mergers and acquistions, they spend millions of dollars on due diligence on environmental footprints, on ultra hazardous waste, on intellectual property protections, etc. What’s the cultural due diligence?

The two CEOs have a lovely dinner and agree your 57,000 people and my 42,000 people are going to work just fine together. We need to get as deliberate and intense and rigorous and systematic around corporate character – how things really happen around this place, how the folks really relate to society and to vendors and customers and stakeholders – as we are with every other aspect of the business.

Q: Why don’t you think sustainability in business is moving so slowly?

Let me give you an analogy to why these initiatives are hitting walls. Remember when Word and WordPerfect were having a battle of the killer apps? Then Bill Gates came along and said no, it’s about the operating system, because if we have the right operating system we can have Word and Excel and PowerPoint and email all work together.


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