Will You Take The Leading With Values Challenge?

Posted by Steve Brilling on Thursday, October 27, 2022 at 9:16 PM PDT

Fall foliage in front of the Pigott building

The Great Recession of 2007-2009 stress-tested the financial resilience of our business institutions and society in general. In the darkest days, many of us saw our investments shrink by more than 40% and businesses question whether they would survive. In my consulting practice, I saw leaders who were scared and not sure what new disaster would arrive at our doorstep the following day. The following day has now arrived. Are we better prepared?

Post Recession Leadership

Coming out of the recession, there was a cry for contingency planning to better prepare us for another unexpected shock. Now we face a double barrel challenge - keeping ourselves and our companies alive and again confronting the realities of rampant racial and social injustice across our country. Yet, I doubt many of us had that in our contingency plans! What could have helped us better include the concerns we are dealing with now? Perhaps more explicit, broader consideration beyond our perceived short-term needs by bringing in strategies of feeling with longer-term systemic problems.

Time For Change

In addition to dealing with basic survival needs, my clients find themselves needing to address the issues that support their mission and vision of the future as these relate to those who have been oppressed in societies. In August 2019, the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of America’s leading companies, announced it had abandoned its long-held position that shareholder interests should be the prime focus of a corporation and should instead be more inclusive in addressing all stakeholder interests: employees, customers, partners, and society in general. The acknowledgment on the part of major companies that it’s time to move from “It’s all about me” to a more inclusive “It’s about us” is a welcome change.

Value Challenge

With today’s growing public discontent over racial, income, healthcare, and education inequality, this new focus is being put to the test. Will companies, large and small, remember that the challenge moving forward goes beyond keeping their own companies viable? It is more imperative than ever to remember the stakeholders who are part of the lifeblood of the company. There are many hard questions that need to be addressed by our business leaders. Do you bring people back who had to be furloughed or decide you can take advantage of lowering salary costs? Do you listen to your employees who are directly affected by the social unrest witnessed on the streets or say “That’s not our problem; just show up for work”? Do you seriously address income inequality or continue to pay minimum wages to improve your bottom line? Do you continue to support financial outreach programs that desperately need your help? Do you focus only on who’s in the room or consider who hasn’t been in our rooms for too long?

In every crisis, there is an opportunity. This time around, I advise reflecting on the reinvention of your company through increasing your commitment to the “us.” Fight the temptation to only focus on cost savings but instead, think about other ways to serve your market and the people in your broader community. Getting more people in your boat and pulling in the same direction will increase the chance that you will truly realize the values you boldly stated for all to hear.