At Google, social science researchers have been engaged to advise on the optimal conditions in staff canteens:
“Researchers found that the ideal lunch line should be about three or four minutes long—that’s short enough that people don’t waste time but long enough that they can meet new people. The tables should be long, so workers who don’t know each other are forced to chat. And, after running an experiment, Google found that stocking cafeterias with 8-inch plates alongside 12-inch plates encouraged people to eat smaller, healthier portions.”
As a postscript to Martin Vogel’s blogpost here last week about our shock at realising that we weren’t properly communicating to our clients the strength of our commitment to what we do, here’s a reflection on what led to this epiphany. I think this was a long time coming but, for me at least, our recent meeting with the very impressive but self-effacing Andy Street, CEO of John Lewis, had a lot to do with it. When preparing for the meeting I was puzzled to find that the John Lewis Partnership defines its chief purpose as “the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business.”
At Vogel Wakefield HQ yesterday we were undertaking our annual strategic review and pondering our deep motivation for building our own business. We reached a startling conclusion: we don’t surface in how we present ourselves to clients our real passion for what we do. Instead, we neuter it by smothering it in business-friendly language. Our passion is to challenge the things that are toxic in organisations: to inspire people both to align themselves in their working lives more closely with their positive values and to push organisations into making a more positive contribution to society.
It’s not that all corporations are toxic nor that they make no contribution. But we have worked in organisations long enough to have developed a deep aversion to the negatives caused by internal politics, short-term perspectives, spin and the like. We have reached a stage in life where we can do more to mitigate these negative impacts on others, and to preserve our own welfare, by holding ourselves outside the organisation and working with those within.
Business leaders calling for a more socially-responsible capitalism had better mean what they say.
It’s a curious thing that in the midst of seemingly intractable global economic difficulties, business leaders are starting to talk about the need for a different approach to business which is explicit about the value it creates for society as a whole. Within the last month or so, we’ve seen two books published by business leaders, Richard Branson’s Screw Business as Usual and David Jones’s Who Cares Wins. From a more bottom-up perspective, business schools are seeing an increasing demand for teaching on the importance of social responsibility. One business school head recently told us that this was one of the top half dozen priorities for companies coming to him for executive education.
These developments are clearly part of a wider response to the financial crisis that began in 2008. David Cameron has tried in part to address this with his Big Society agenda and, last October, Ed Miliband made an attack on “fast buck”, predatory capitalism the focus of his speech at the Labour Party conference.
However, just as our political and business elites are getting excited at the prospect of doing things differently with a move away from the shareholder model of capitalism along comes the recently published British Social Attitudes Survey which seems to suggest that self-interest is back in vogue amongst the population at large.