Let’s face it. Most of the time we only think until the next sprint or the next quarterly review. Our whole working life is short-sighted. Strategy meetings may be the exception – but they only take place once a year. But what about the big picture? What do we want to leave behind in the long term?
In my old company, we had a special core value: Stewardship. The idea behind it is that as executives we don’t possess the company and certainly not the employees. The company or the respective part was entrusted to us on a fiduciary basis and our task is to develop it further during our term in office and to improve it. Therefore, the main goal is to leave the entrusted item a bit better than we have taken it over.
As already described in chapter 4.8, we are just beginning to realize that this is no longer a matter of course. At least as far as the planet is concerned, we can’t say that we will hand it over in a better state than we had taken it over. This is also true of some companies that have emerged from groundbreaking innovations of recent decades and are now looking for the next big thing stuck in the saturation area of the innovation S-curve.
The topic of sustainability goes far beyond environmental protection. If you look at the sustainability reports of the companies, there has been an increased awareness of the social responsibility of companies in recent years. There are charity activities and environmental compatibility has become more important. But has this also penetrated daily work or is it just a green fig leaf for investors? And I am by no means referring to the abolition of plastic bottles in the coffee kitchen.
What about the sustainability of business models? Are we developing the company in such a way that it will still be successful in 10 or 20 years? This includes several aspects at once. The essential question, however, is what social benefits we create with our core business. In other words, our very own corporate purpose. So, the question is what role our company will play in society in the future. That is the core of the business model.
This question is plunging some industries into an identity crisis. Driven not least by digitization, they must radically redefine their previously successful model. If they fail to do so, they will be displaced by completely new market participants. Who still knows Kodak today?
Secondly, it is a question of how we are set up for this – in other words, the operating model. Here, too, there are parameters beyond employee growth or profitability. After all, as an employer, we also have a social responsibility. Globalization and automation have opened up many markets and economically optimized production. However, this has also exerted massive pressure on our companies. We are feeling the effects of this in the growing strength of isolatory counter-movements in society.
If we have a viable mission for our company and a solid operating model, we will attract the right people. They will identify with the company and burn for the common goal. By the way, this is not a new phenomenon. The philosophy of Robert Bosch or Wilhelm Raiffeisen shows that sustainability was already seen as the core of the company’s mission at that time. And these companies have been extremely successful for decades as a result – even successfully navigating over technological innovation leaps.
All this gives leaders a special responsibility beyond the narrow parameters of the next quarterly report. After all, everyone wants to hand over the house a little better. This is the real proof of a leader’s performance.
What about you?
Do you have a corporate social responsibility initiative in your company?
Is it about charity or the future of the company?
What will be your legacy when you hand over the key to the next generation?