Posted: January 22, 2014

It’ll Never Work

It'll never workI was sitting in a meeting with a top leadership team that I was working with to introduce a new go-to-market strategy and operating model. Having chosen to build it on a platform of Customer Intimacy, they had set up three teams staffed by high-potentials – their best and brightest – to come back with innovative ways to use Customer Intimacy to drive competitive advantage in their lines of business. The thinking was that forming these teams would create high levels of engagement among the people they saw as the best internal candidates to move onto the executive team and give the top team an opportunity to further assess them in action.

There was a real buzz in the air. You could clearly tell that the teams were excited to get the opportunity to show their progress. As the meeting went on, with the teams presenting some really innovative ideas, I listened to the members of the top team offer feedback – feedback that took the form of comments like:


On a break, I asked one of the high-potentials what he thought about how it was going. He responded that he saw some real breakthrough ideas being presented by the teams. I told him that I did, too. Then he lamented that nothing would come of it. “I don’t know why they keep asking us to do stuff like this. They give it lip service, but they always shoot everything down. It’s like they don’t believe that anyone but them has ever had a good idea. I wish they would just number the excuses and use shorthand. Nope… number 3.”

Thomas Bata, the founder of Bata Shoe, was fond of telling the story of how he sent two salesmen to explore market potential in Africa. One cabled back to the home office: “No one here wears shoes. No potential.” The second salesman cabled: “Everyone here is barefoot. Infinite potential.”Bata believed in that potential long before any of his much larger Western competitors and went on to create the largest shoe company in the world, with over 30,000 employees at production facilities in more than 30 countries and, according to their web site, services more than a million customers a day through 5,000 international retail locations. Read More


Posted: August 6, 2013

Corporate Social Responsibility – Enlightened self-interest at work?

People who know me will tell you that I am a major advocate of socially-responsible business. Recently, I read a thought-provoking piece in The Economist, where Schumpeter [Sex, drugs and hope, April 13, 2013] describes how actions taken in the corporate world – in this case by a large mining company – addressed a desperate social problem that was decimating their work force.

In the early 2000’s, South Africa was facing what could only be described as an HIV/AIDS epidemic. From 1992 to 2002, the proportion of HIV-positive adults had increased exponentially from 1 percent to 17 percent. HIV testing was not routinely available, and drugs that were being used by HIV-positive people in the developed world were completely unaffordable for most South Africans. Confounding the situation even more was the inexplicable insistence of South Africa’s senior leaders, including then-President Thabo Mbeki, that HIV did not cause AIDS. The result was that people were becoming infected and dying in massive numbers.

As Schumpeter points out, “The story of how apocalypse was averted has many heroes, from health workers to AIDS activists. But big business also played its part.”

Some industries were far more vulnerable, and mining was one of them. Miners, many of whom were migrants, lived in hostels that were surrounded by prostitutes. HIV infection spread with alarming speed, and skilled workers were dying slowly from the ravages of AIDS. The situation became so dire that companies were training two people for each critical job in the mine – an insurance policy for the day when one became too ill to work. The loss of productivity threatened the very existence of the business.

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