We are but parts of the whole. Each part informs the whole and the whole informs each part. This is true for a family, a team, an organization, community or society. We recognize cooperation is what best serves each of these units individually and collectively; from a single person to the largest of groups. So, why does competition dominate our minds and institutions?
Our corporate and political cultures are reflective of the Darwinian notion of competition, “kill or be killed”. We can see the result is an ever-expanding economic divide between the “haves and have nots”. This divide, in a sense has created a polarity. The opportunistic “haves” seize upon the polarity notion and posit, there are only two options and it must either be “this” or “that”. (You can see this reflected in today’s politics and our two party system.) These arguments are perfectly positioned by the “haves” to seem like there are only two choices and no matter how fancy they are framed, they all end in “I win, you lose”. We see examples of this by leaders and decision-makers where the deck is stacked in the favor of the decision-maker, by the decision-maker, which leads to distrust for positions of leadership and authority.
A novice observer could easily see we (individuals, families, teams, organizations, communities, etc.) cannot come together in unison and have the full power and benefit of our collective expertise, if our institutions and organizations model and reinforce internal competition. We are obviously then divided against each other, instead of united around our common challenges. Even worse, despite all the energy and resources being used most of it is wasted as we work against each other.
So, what does this have to do with corporate culture and leadership?
Remember, I said in the beginning the parts inform the whole and the whole informs the parts? We do not live in bubbles and the more businesses openly reflect the personalities, cultures and societal norms of its people the more the organization fosters cooperation over competition. Not only is a cooperative approach to work more profitable, healthy and sustainable but, the next largest talent pool available to the labor force, called the Millennial Generation is also keenly aware of how large institutions have impacted individuals, families, and the larger community through reported mass lay-offs, buy-outs and shutdowns. Millennials saw this happening to their parents or their friends’ parents and heard it discussed on the news, as well as, social media and throughout their communities and schools too. Needless to say, anything that causes a shaking to one’s sense of security is going to be remembered for a long time.
Therefore, the Millennials are responsively focused on supporting organizations that are mission and purpose driven, not simply money driven.
Despite years of conditioning and examples to the contrary, I’ve seen a few shining examples of the wisest of executives and leaders who have recognized and tapped into the abundance of cooperation, throwing off the constraints of competition.
In fact, a ten year, longitudinal study compared organizations who operated consistently with the tenants of Conscious Capitalism (Higher Purpose, Stakeholder Orientation, Conscious Leadership and Conscious Culture – a highly cooperative approach to workplace management) against the earnings of the S&P, revealing the organizations who operated from a conscious capitalism approach exceeded the S&P earnings by 1,025%. (That’s not a decimal point, it’s a comma – one thousand and twenty-five percent!)
How do we make the shift to cooperation when all we’ve known is competition?
The Conscious Leader
The aware, awake (conscious) leader is not threatened by cooperation but, recognizes the greater value of a workforce representative of their local community of consumers and stakeholders. That by serving the greater needs of the community through providing good jobs, good pay, safe working conditions, opportunities for growth and a chance to serve something greater than the individual themselves, the organization is best positioned to achieve long term success. To make the shift the leadership approach must be one of being a servant leader; enabling the greatest capabilities of our followers through support of education and resources, aligned with organizational purpose.
Walk the Talk
We hear executives and leaders from all levels of organizations state their desire for cooperation amongst employees, only to implement competitive bonus programs, play favorites, and operate from a win at all cost mentality, which can compromise employee health by a culture tolerating abusive and toxic behavior. Whether the executives recognize the incoherence of the stated vision and the actual environment is another matter. Examine policies, procedures and norms considering whether they are a barrier or conduit to the corporate mission.
Walk the Walk
It’s important to know the “temperature” of your greatest and most expensive assets. Get out there and be a leader known, recognized and loved for who you are and not feared because of your role. Conduct regular engagement surveys and other mechanisms for feedback and measure growth milestones to make sure operational priorities are well balanced with your people priorities. Investing in your people creates loyalty and foundational strength, not to mention a greater capability to serve customers. To put the operations ahead of your people will result in sub-par employees and regular turnover, impacting client services, as well as increasing headaches and costs!
Think Long Term
I’d like to believe that leaders would recognize the long term societal cost of squeezing employees with high demands and diminishing returns is not worth the short term gains to the business or executives. Yet… I’d be naïve to think there aren’t those bad actors that actually do put profit before people.
Yes, we have some work to do as a society in the areas of honoring long term commitment and sustained growth. Currently, the business norms honor and recognize immediate, short-term results! You know the feeling, living quarter-to-quarter and thinking “I gotta make the numbers”. It is these extreme demands to make the numbers or potentially face loss of employment that coerces an epidemic of short term thinking.
Please know, the decisions we make to support short terms gains are almost never the same as those we would choose for long term gains or successes. Why? Because the short game is predicated on the return, with no regard for the resources. However, a long term plan must consider the availability and sustainability of resources (natural and human). Without these (natural and human) resources neither products, nor services can be expanded to generate more revenue and profits.
Yet, almost paradoxically to the short term thinking, the long term interests of both business and responsible stewardship of resources are not mutually exclusive but, in fact complimentary to one another.
Unfortunately, we have seen extreme examples were short term interests where chosen, using the company and employees to serve selfish means. Names like Enron, Bernie Madoff and Volkswagon come to mind as top level executives who acted in their own best interest, ultimately harming individuals, families, businesses and communities as a result.
It’s evident many individuals and institutions still operate from a competition-perspective of I win, you lose. However, with an ever-increasing skepticism for authority, demand for greater transparency and a growing economic divide the cooperative-perspective may finally over-take the competition-perspective yet, for mutual short and long term gains.
A simple shift in perspective and a stepping out of our conditioned thinking around competition, demonstrates an elevated consciousness. We are no longer trapped by the limits of competitive thinking and the results in produces. Given our new cooperative perspective, we can now consider the sum of all parts and the impact of each on the whole. In other words, when we take the whole into consideration, we are now conscious of the impact of our decisions on our people, families, community and society at large and can make sure our decisions are of benefit to our people, as well as, our bottom line.
By Ryan McShane
Ryan, has been serving the Human Resources Profession for over 20 years and currently operates a consulting firm specializing in small business Human Resources Advisory Services, Leadership Development, Career Transitions Consulting and Outplacement.
Ryan is passionate about creating and leveraging conscious business practices and systems to enable both, individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential. By promoting greater self-awareness and a conscious approach to workforce management, Ryan seeks to enable a stakeholder orientation, giving rise to equal consideration of People, Planet and Profit.