Not impressed with “successful” companies, when it is at the expense of their people’s wellbeing or the future of our planet. I am also not impressed when they make more profit over their most loyal customers by hiking prices whenever they want, knowing they are hooked and they take advantage of them.
We have many “successful” companies in the sense of their revenues, their profit, their market share, their brand image. Looking at the totality of what real success means to me, I care about the human side of their business too.
Do not get me wrong, I admire the innovation, the creativity, the engineering, the inventions, the new way of thinking and the convenience they may bring to all of our lives. There is a lot to learn from them.
My question is, if all of these happened because they saw their people as machines, overworked them, stressed them to the level where they got sick or had no family time; if they polluted the air we breath, harmed animals, damaged our planet; if they increased their profits at the expense of their loyal customers, should we really consider them “successful”?
That is why I am very careful when I see lists like Fortune 100, Best Companies to Work For, Best Companies in the World, etc. I want to know exactly what criteria was used to create the list.
I have been a client of many companies where they treated me well, provided great customer experience. When I hear the stories of how they treat their people, when their CEO makes millions while their people suffer financially, when they put pressure on their people to work overtime without paying them, when they hold back important facts from their own people who give them their time, sweat and loyalty, I choose not to be their clients anymore. Like the book Soul of Money by Lynne Twist taught me years ago, I choose to spend my money where my values are aligned.
It is not enough to be profitable anymore to consider yourself a successful company. People like me and especially two generations coming after me have very different definitions of “success”. We care about how you treat all your stakeholders including our planet. Even the 181 CEO’s of the Roundtable decided they should change the norms of business and not have the shareholder value as the ultimate goal. (Even if they did not mean it, they feel the pressure. That on its own is the needle moving in the right direction even if we may not see the fruits of it for many years or even decades to come.)
It sometimes sounds even crazy to me as I give talks about bringing human back to the workplace. We were always human at work. Why do we even need to remind leaders that their people matter? How can anyone do anything that will damage our planet even further when we deal with climate change? What got into us in the last 150 years that killed all our soul?
Big companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon can do so much good in this world with the power they have. As one of my most favorite CEO’s Bob Chapman says the businesses can exist for the betterment of the world.
Tesla is not a total success if they invent the best cars, go to space but their people suffer at work. GM cannot be the best car manufacturer if they aren’t fair to their workers. Amazon cannot be the best company if they don’t create the best working conditions for their people in the warehouses. Wix cannot be the best website company when they increase their prices 45% in one year knowing their most loyal customers created everything in their platform and it will be too hard to leave. Wells Fargo cannot be the most successful bank because they treat me well at the branch as a customer while they created so much pressure on their people to open fake accounts. United cannot be the best airline when they drag a customer out of their plane. They can be good at what they do, they can be great at certain elements of their work, they can be exceptional at innovating but is that all OK when they also create human suffering?
We know someone unhappy at work brings that to his/her family. The unhappy families make up our communities. Unhappy families form unhappy nations and unhappy nations affect the world in negative ways. We cannot ignore the ripple effects.
We live at times where we see what companies are doing. There is no hiding (may be some until it comes out later). We know a lot more, we get more conscious, and we are watching all the time. Companies need the trust of their customers and workers. Success is not one dimensional anymore. It is a lot more comprehensive than just looking at their share prices.
So you may wonder who am I impressed with? I am truly impressed by CEOs, leaders who do the right thing for all stakeholders, treat their people with respect, dignity and care they all deserve and realize the profit as the byproduct. I admire them to stand up and do the right thing and abandon all the conventional teachings of Industrial Mindset despite the backlash and the business-as-usual practices that still dominate the business world. Those are the Garry Ridge’s (CEO of WD-40), Bob Chapman’s (CEO of Barry Wehlmiller), Herb Kellehers (Ex-CEO of Southwest we have lost last year), Rose Marcarios (CEO of Patagonia) of this world. They prove it is possible to create really amazing companies by being real human leaders. That is what I call real success!