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Home > Blog > The Future of Big Companies
Out of Our Minds
Monday, September 13, 2004 9:39 AM
The Future of Big Companies
Anita Sharpe on Business

It's hard to find a large company these days that isn't in some way trying to reinvent itself. Nearly every day the business pages are filled with stories about companies like Delta looking for a magic bullet -- almost always some form of financial engineering -- to cure their woes.

A few years ago, British economist/writer/professor Charles Handy took a hard look at the problem in his book, The Elephant and the Flea, and hit on a few things that big companies often overlook -- but are most likely the real keys to prosperity and longevity in this new era of business:

1. How to grow bigger, but remain small and personal.
2. How to combine creativity with efficiency.
3. How to be prosperous but also socially acceptable.
4. How to reward both the owners of the ideas as well as the owners of the company.

Handy points to BP as one company that's making some progress trying to refashion itself as Beyond Petroleum: 'A touch too good to be true, perhaps. . .but it is an indication that the new workforce wants a purpose for their time and their work that is more than increased shareholder value. They want to think that they are helping to make the world a better place. Companies can no longer buy respectability by a bit of philanthropy.'

The times are once-again a-changin', and the companies that figure it out first will emerge as the new leaders.




5 comments

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Mindwalker - 9/14/2004 9:54:04 AM
Jory, you should check out the book 'Seven Day Weekend' by Ricard Semler. It was talked about and recommended on this blog about a week ago (sorry I don't have the link handy). I can honestly say it's completely changed my perception on how a company *could* and *should* be run with respect to employee productivity.
Jory Des Jardins - 9/13/2004 2:50:21 PM
I think that companies shy away from focusing on employee satisfaction because these endeavors can have negative short-term impact on the bottom line. The key here is developing a longer-term model for shareholders--educating them on the need for slower growth for more profit in the long-term. Replacing burned-out workers is expensive!

I'm curious to know what companies out there have proven that positive employee perception of meaningful work has resulted in higher revenues. This info would be the Holy Grail to Executive Development staff!

Jory Des Jardins - 9/13/2004 2:49:29 PM
I think that companies shy away from focusing on employee satisfaction because these endeavors can have negative short-term impact on the bottom line. The key here is developing a longer-term model for shareholders--educating them on the need for slower growth for more profit in the long-term. Replacing burned-out workers is expensive!

I'm curious to know what companies out there have proven that positive employee perception of meaningful work has resulted in higher revenues. This info would be the Holy Grail to Executive Development staff!

Mindwalker - 9/13/2004 12:24:01 PM
The line that got me was Handy's description of the new BP: '...the new workforce wants a purpose for their time and their work that is more than increased shareholder value.'

Why should this come as a major revelation? Survey after survey keeps pointing out money is not the key motivator for the overwhelming majority of employees. If you believe in what you do, you'll do a better job. Plain and simple.

People want to feel engaged and that what they are doing has value. They want to feel as if they matter. Is any of this new? Why don't companies get it?

The times may be a-changing, but it seems to me like the answer is blowing in the wind. *grin*

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