The Business Poet – Chapter 8

The Business Poet – Chapter 8

On Wellbeing

Next to chip into the somewhat strange emergent dialogue was a human resources manager, one of the guardians of the jewels in the crown of the company, as Merlin liked to think of his people.

“I’ve noticed that many companies treat employees as an expense,” she began. “Even if they say they are their greatest asset. In some industries, staff are seen merely as cogs in the machinery of business, a source of productivity. Yet people are miraculous, complex beings, not a wheel in some industrialist’s dreamed up clockwork universe.”

She paused, taking a deep breath and chuckling lightly. “Well, as you can tell, I’m passionate about this, so I’d better not get myself started. I want to know what you think about the importance of Wellbeing?”

She was so right, and Merlin shared her feelings. He rifled through his scribbled pages and found a reply:

“Wellbeing is the untiring journey in search of meaning, an adventure in self-discovery, and a path towards comradeship.

“Popular theories of human motivation confuse needs with wants and mistake means for ends.

“They hypothesise hierarchies, dangle carrots and wave sticks, as if people in the workplace are circus animals being trained to do tricks.

“Modern peddlers of job satisfaction confuse roles with personality and mistake props for reality.

“They psychometricise behaviour, rate attitudes and score values, as if people can be measured and are mere variables in formulas to be plugged into the productivity equation.

“We are all pilgrims treading the sacred trail of our life’s work.

“Salvation lies not in finding the Holy Grail or ascending the final summit, but in walking with awareness and gratitude.

“The redeeming sacraments surround and enfold us, if we can only drag our gaze away from the false promises of heaven on earth.

“The pilgrim recognises that the end, like all goals and aspirations, is simply a reason to begin.

“The sojourner knows that all the lessons of life and growth and death are part of the journey itself.

“Lasting satisfaction is less about personal achievement and more about understanding.

“And meaningful effort comes from seeing its connection to the larger story that is being told.

“No pilgrimage is without its trials and tribulations.

“The terrain may be difficult or monotonous, the weather inhospitable or extreme, the company irritating or arrogant, but these may be the very thickets that conceal the path to our own development.

“The secret of wellbeing in business is to recognise the value of the unseen and the unspoken.

“Think not the task itself, but how it changes you.

“Train your eyes not the target itself, but how it challenges you.

“Focus not the team itself, but how it binds you in friendship.

“Cling not the position itself, but how it allows you to make a difference.

“Think not, therefore, of employees, but of master potters honing their art.

“Think not of jobs, but of ceramic studios amply equipped.

“Think not of work, but of shapely vessels skilfully made, into which we can pour our personal and collective sense of meaning.”

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The Business Poet – Chapter 7

The Business Poet – Chapter 7

On Governance

Merlin had good memories of working with most of the people in the room, in one way or another. But one who held a special place in his heart was his Chairman. She had been a pillar of strength for him, and a wise counsel in times of need. She had bided her time to speak – always one to listen first – but now she stood and said, with affection in her voice:

“What of Governance?”

Merlin knew this was a hot button for some. The string of financial scandals and outrageous CEO pay packages over the past decade had ushered in an age of onerous risk management procedures and rules around how boards should operate. But he wanted to remind people of the spirit – rather than the letter – of the law of governance. In Notebook 5, he found the relevant passages:

“Governance is the precious gift of flight, a science in need of art, a structure in need of fluidity.

“The science of flight – like the principles of governance – is a ladder to the skies, but not a pair of wings.

“The structure of flight – like the procedures of governance – is a good set of wings, but not a bird in the sky.

“The art of flying is to dance with the wind and to sculpt with the currents, to ride out the storms and to reach for the sun.

“The quest of governance is to embrace society as a partner and to create meaning together; to hold fast to values amidst chaos and to take business to new heights.

“Do not underestimate the importance of ability in getting governance off the ground.

“Think of the eagle’s clarity of sight, the owl’s attentive listening, the swallow’s acrobatic reflex, and the weaver’s tireless work.

“Also, take heed – not all who dress up in feathers are masters of flight.

“Those who choose to bury their heads in the sand as accomplices to corruption and irresponsibility are ostriches that will never fly.

“And those that profess their virtues with loud honking while clinging to power and secrecy are maimed geese falling from the sky.

“Not all who take to the skies have perfected the art of flight.

“Those who control the buoyancy of their enterprise with hot air rewards and flaring punishments are balloons at the mercy of the elements.

“And those who manage the complicated jet engine machinery of procedural checks and balances know only the efficiency of mechanical flight.

“Rare are those who have learned to truly fly with natural grace and agility.

“Effective governance allows the organisation to flex the muscle and sinew of internal control, yet still to ride the thermals of individual initiative.

“Inclusive governance allows the organisation to angle the wings of directional leadership, yet still to rely on the feathers of an empowered workforce.

“Inspiring governance allows the organisation to battle through the turbulence of stormy stakeholder encounters, yet still to believe in the sunshine of transparent accountability.

“Seek not, therefore, the formula for the flight, but rather kindle the passion for flying – for governance is not a cage of rules and codes, but a responsible way of being free.”

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The Business Poet – Chapter 6

The Business Poet – Chapter 6

On Marketing

Merlin took a sip of water and gazed around the room. He caught the eye of his Marketing Director, who was shifting slightly in his seat. Merlin raised his eyebrows, inviting him to share his thoughts. He stood and declared, somewhat defensively:

“Stakeholder engagement is all very well, but at the end of the day, we are a business. And if people don’t know about us, or our great products, we will soon by out of business. How do you see the role of Marketing?”

Merlin was aware that Marketing often got a bad rap these days. It was seen as pure spin. But he disagreed. Marketing was vital, if it was done right. He found his writing on the subject and spoke in reply:

“Marketing is the art of making music: skilfully played, it has the power to move all who hear its sweet melodies; badly recited, it offends the ear and renders the intended listener deaf.

“The secret of effective marketing is resonance.

“Communication becomes a symphony when the information echoes with the clear ring of truth and honesty, when the message reverberates with the rich tones of meaning and relevance, and when the medium combines to strike a harmonious chord of reach and direction.

“The curse of poor marketing is dissonance.

“Exaggerated claims jar with the reality of experience, monotonous repetition dulls the battered senses, and disingenuous tricks sound the alarm bells of suspicion.

“The wise marketer is the master of music, while the fool is the king of noise.

“The wise marketer is the student of pianissimo, while the fool knows only fortissimo.

“The wise marketer is the conductor of an orchestra, while the fool beats only his own drum.

“The true purpose of marketing is matching genuine needs with tailored services.

“The corrupted practice of marketing is associating coveted emotions with generic products.

“The grand masters of marketing are jazz musicians, adept in the art of listening, practiced in the skill of blending, refined in the intuition of creativity.

“The false prophets of marketing are paid pipers, playing on people’s dreams and desires, calling the tune to suit their own pockets, leading the innocent children away.

“The market is a lively place of songs, but beware: though some are music pure and true, many are designed to cast their spell.

“Beware of melodies sweet and alluring, for many are those who have met a rocky end with the mesmeric notes of sirens still singing in their ears.

“Beware of rhythms pounding with calls to impulsive action, for many before you have marched to their needless graves to the deadly beat of a drum.

“And beware of the fevered pitch of inspiring summons, for many have suffered under dictator kings heralded by the passionate salute of trumpets.

“The most exquisite music of marketing is pure silence, played on the precious instruments of quality and caring, resounding with crystal clarity up and down the scales of human trust.”

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The Business Poet – Chapter 5

The Business Poet – Chapter 5

On Stakeholders

Merlin hoped he hadn’t ruffled too many feathers by challenging customer supremacy. But long years of business experience had taught him that they are only one stakeholder group – albeit a critical one. So he was delighted by the follow up question, from their social responsibility officer, who spent a great deal of time listening to the needs to communities in which the company operated.

“Speak to us of Stakeholders. Will we ever seriously challenge the corporate obsession with shareholders?”

This was a matter close to Merlin’s heart. He often wondered if, for all the good capitalism had done in the world, the power of shareholders could be its ultimate Achilles heel. He consulted his notes, and read by the flickering candle light:

“Business is the living manifestation of a complex web of relationships.

“Just as the body depends on the coordinated functioning of all its parts, so companies rely on the constructive interaction of multiple stakeholders for their continued existence and success.

“The dreaming logic of the head must listen to the yearning intuitions of the heart.

“The craving appetite of the stomach must heed the cleansing capacity of the liver.

“The eager strides of the feet must match the energising breath of the lungs.

“Companies that pander exclusively to the demands of insatiable shareholders risk acquiring a compulsive eating disorder, while those that neglect returns to capital providers may soon be staring anorexia in the face.

“Managers that place their own comforts and rewards ahead of the welfare of their workers are selfish cancer cells that threaten to destroy the entire body, while employees that make blind demands without regard for the health of the company may unwittingly be spreading a debilitating virus.

“Businesses that pollute the environment or fail to look after the community are poisoning the body and eroding its immune system, while civic and green organisations that attack rather than engage constructively must face the full force of the body’s self defence mechanisms.

“The needs of the private sector are many and varied, like the diverse requirements of the body, for water, food, rest and stimulation.

“An enterprise without a market of willing customers is a baby still-born, and a business without a stable, transparent government is a tantrum child.

“A company without reliable suppliers is a fickle teenager and a commercial venture without a record of good media relations is a staid adult.

An organisation without an incubator of creative innovators is a dying elder.

“A healthy body maintains a state of dynamic equilibrium, yet there is no single measure to diagnose this ideal balance.

“Temperature, pulse and blood pressure, all combine to paint a picture of health or illness.

“Likewise, the vitality and sustainability of a business cannot be determined by the satisfaction of one stakeholder group only, or even all stakeholders at one point in time.

“The stakeholder-sensitive company invests in multiple instruments and tracks diverse measures for continuous bio-monitoring and bio-feedback that signals the state of health of the corporate body.

“In reality, a body does not consist of separate parts at all, but functions as an integrated whole.

“Machines can be dismantled, but if a body is dissected, it means it is dead.

“Those businesses are most alive that are inseparable, even indistinguishable, from their stakeholders, for this is the way of the living organisms.”

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The Business Poet – Chapter 4

The Business Poet – Chapter 4

On Customers

Merlin was pleased to see one of his frontline staff had stood up to speak. He had always believed that these were the real heroines and heroes of the company – those dealing with customers, face to face, every day, exchanging pleasantaries and dealing with their complaints.

“What about Customers?” she asked simply.

Merlin thumbed his notebooks and cleared his throat to speak:

“Customers are the weather gods worshiped by business, as the mercurial source of creation and destruction, feast and famine, wealth and destitution, life and death.”

He looked up and saw her nod knowingly and smile, as she took her seat. Merlin slipped back into role.

“Legend has it that the Philosopher’s Stone of business success is religious devotion to customer service.

“According to this belief, entrepreneurs are the mystical high priests who have the uncanny ability to tap into the moods of the weather gods and to profit from their esoteric knowledge.

“They appoint directors as clergy who, having taken strict vows of capitalism, organise and lead their flocks in the ways of placating and pleasing customers with price sacrifices and product gifts.

“In reality, however, customer sovereignty is an expression of healthy stakeholder tension rather than a royal pronouncement of a commercial truth.

“For the goals of customers are not always congruent with those of business owners, managers, employees or other interest groups.

“Customers may want the highest quality for the lowest price, while owners may want the highest returns with the lowest costs.

“Customers may want the widest choice for the least inconvenience, while managers may want maximum standardization for the most efficiency.

“Customers may want unrelenting 24/7 service with a smile, while employees prioritise work-life balance with meaning.

“And customers may want ever more ‘stuff’ for unlimited consumption, while special interest groups want to reign in the damaging behaviour of corporate excess.

“Although most business devotees pray for fair weather, the enterprising trader turns all weather to their advantage.

“They know that the sun fuels the plants which can be cultivated as crops and forests to feed a resource hungry world.

“They know that the wind turns the windmill which drives the turbine to generate energy for a power thirsty people.

“And they know that the rain channels into rivers which circulate through the veins of industry, keeping it cool and clean.

“Fly-by-night commercial opportunists prey on unexpected changes in the weather, living as slaves to the boom and bust cycles of customer fads.

“Amoral mercenaries seek out the most destructive storms and make bargains with the devil, living as shadow people in the underworld of bloodthirsty customers.

“More sustainable enterprises seek to understand the underlying principles and patterns of the weather, living as students of human needs and desires.

“The natural scientist understands that the weather is Earth’s way of maintaining a dynamic balance between its complex living systems.

“The macro economist understands that customers are society’s way of structuring a reciprocal relationship between production and consumption.

“The business practitioner understands that customers are the market’s way of matching latent demand with tailored supply.

“The industrial psychologist understands that customers are suggestible subjects whose distinction between needs and satisfiers is easily confused.

“And the critical philosopher understands that customers are typecast characters in a scripted narrative which blurs the margins between fantasy and reality.

“Customer demand is not a reliable proxy for social good, nor is business success a sound indicator of desirable activity.

“Nevertheless, customers can be activists for ethical behaviour and moral causes, and businesses can be pioneers in the delivery of social justice and environmental protection.

“In our legitimate and worthy striving to serve the customer, know that there is a spark of the divine in all of us, for we are all simultaneously weather worshippers and weather gods.

“Therefore, let our service be respectful and responsive and let our custom be careful and considered.

“In this way, business and its customers will form a soulful pact of sacred trust.

“And let us never forget that, as customers, we carry the weather within us.”

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