Author Archive for Buckley Brinkman



13
Mar
11

Changing Capitalism — (Unintended) Part 3

The OWM checked in from his den.

 

The OWM Himself!

“You made some very good points last week and I agree with most of what you wrote.” He said. “I’m just not sure what I should be doing. What must I do to be saved?”

Here are three ideas:

  • ·         Help yourself – set high standards;
  • ·         Help fellow life travelers aim high; and
  • ·         Help a kid and show them the way.

Help yourself and set a high standard. I was talking with a friend last week about a man I work with and his extraordinary high standard of ethics. My friend commented that it was much easier to maintain a high standard of ethics than a lower one. “It takes away more of the gray areas.” He said. I thought about it for awhile and tend to agree.  

That makes the case for setting an impractically high ethical standard that stretches us to new levels. Set a clear standard for yourself. Two possible standards are the “New York Times” and the “If everyone…” standards. The “New York Times” standard calls for you to act in a way that you would be proud to see it on the front page of the “New York Times.” The other standard asks “If everyone acted the same as you, would the world be a better place?” Both of them are high standards and provide a way to measure and reflect on our actions. Aim high with your ethics. It’s much easier. 

Second, help your fellow travelers in life aim high with their standards. The first step is to set a good example by your own actions. It’s a necessary, but not a sufficient condition to helping others aim high. Next, engage and encourage your friends and peers to reach for their own high standards. Make sure you understand their perspective. Gary Cohen modifies the Golden Rule a bit in order to put this into a bit of perspective. We all know the “Do unto others…” part of the rule, but Gary changes the second half to read “…as others would do unto themselves.” That change forces us into their shoes. We need to understand their position, but refuse to accept anything but the highest ethical behavior from people in our personal circles. You can show other people that ethics do matter. 

Finally, help a kid and show them the way that ethics can make a huge difference in their lives. First, provide practical help. Be a tutor. Join a reading program. Serve as a mentor. Use these times to show them the high road and teach them how to make good choices. Then, encourage those good choices. Grow where you are planted – make a difference where you are. Move and get into the game! 

OK OWM, there are three ideas to put the ideas into action. The irony is that you taught them to me!

 

 

 

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06
Mar
11

Changing Capitalism – Part 2

It’s time to refresh our capitalistic system. It is the greatest economic system ever devised by mankind and it requires constant attention and vigilance to maintain its relevance and vitality. These are times that demand that leaders step forward and take a courageous stand. 

At its core, capitalism depends on trust and leadership to survive and thrive. Right now, trust in business leaders is at an all-time low. We need to change business-as-usual in order to change the tide. If we don’t raise the bar and hold our profession to a higher standard, we will cede the right to control our future to politicians and regulators. 

Unfortunately, we deserve the ratings we are receiving right now. Our leaders have been involved in numerous ethical breaches from Enron to Wall Street. We have failed to truly embrace innovation in a way that harnesses all our talents and potential. We surrendered some of the strongest parts of our economy to foreign producers. As businesspeople, we have not done a terrific job in maintaining our world leadership. 

The Great Recession only emphasized these points. The downturn left us with high unemployment and slow growth. Our traditional growth engines have stalled with little opportunity for robust recovery. It’s unclear how we will grow in the future and people are looking for leaders who can make sense out of the present situation. 

It’s time for business leaders to step up and the downturn provides many opportunities. Managers can no longer masquerade as leaders: The present situation is too important and too fertile to be left to people looking for incremental solutions or actions that worked in the past. Stress opens gaps for genuine change and opportunities to engage in a new way. 

The true challenge to refresh capitalism is to raise the bar for all participants. It’s time to demand better performance on all fronts – not just the financial metrics. All of us must live up to a higher standard of personal performance and ethical benchmarks. It starts with each one of us individually answering the challenge. 

We live up to the standards individually, but we are judged collectively. Therefore, it is no longer acceptable to just look at our own performance and the performance of our charges. We must also accept responsibility for the actions of our peers and hold them to the same level of accountability. It’s no longer acceptable to say “I’m good” and leave clean-up to someone else. We are being judged as a group and we are only as strong as our weakest link. We can no longer stand by, wring our hands, and grumble about those who let us down. 

As leaders, we must demand more from the system. That means you and it means me. How are you making yourself better this week? How are you helping your organization live up to a higher standard? What are you doing to make that standard a norm in your community? 

It’s a difficult challenge…but no hill for climbers! Our future success demands that we set the new standard.

 Are you ready for the challenge?

 

27
Feb
11

Changing Capitalism — Part 1

We face a major crisis as we move through this time of change. The Great Recession highlighted the role of businesspeople and our collective ability to impact the world’s economy. We came up wanting in this review and are now on the defensive, fighting for our ability to retain the same control over our world. Trust in business leaders is at an all-time low. We need to change the game.  

It’s time to take a stand for capitalism – a new type of capitalism. It’s an all-inclusive form of capitalism that goes beyond financial statements. The new capitalism takes a long-term view of business and a broad view of our impact. The new capitalism watches the bottom line and the impact business has on all stakeholders. It requires a new structure and a new ethical perspective. This week we discuss how to change the game structurally. Next time we will explore the ethical impact of our actions. 

There’s a great article outlining the structural changes necessary to change the game in the March 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Dominic Barton of McKinsey wrote “Capitalism for the Long Term.” In the article, he outlines three structural changes necessary to reposition capitalism:

  1.        Overcoming the tyranny of the short term;
  2.       Serving stakeholders and enriching shareholders; and
  3.       Acting like an owner.

Business leaders must take action to change the game on all three fronts.

We have been caught up in a self-perpetuating cycle of the short-term. Short-term returns from short-term owners have driven executives to focus on short-term results. The cycle continues to tighten as the pressure for higher and faster returns accelerates. Ironically, the focus on results actually reduces the enterprise value. New leaders must uncouple this cycle and have the courage and foresight to position the enterprise for the long-term. 

Adam Smith

Serving stakeholders and enriching shareholders have traditionally been seen as mutually exclusive. The new capitalism requires a return to some very old values – values outlined by Adam Smith in 1759. “All the members of human society stand in need of each others assistance, and are likewise exposed to mutual injuries…” Smith wrote outlining the interdependence between business and society at large and it never echoed as loud as it does now. Business needs a healthy society and vice-versa. It’s our responsibility to make both prosper. 

Acting Like Owners

Finally, there’s a need for all businesspeople to act like they own the place. Not just in the superficial way improvement consultants want us to approach day-to-day decisions, but also in the way we align our rewards with true ownership. That means a more sensible approach to pay, including real downside for top managers’ incentive plans. That also means stronger boards and a redefinition of shareholder democracy that rewards long-term ownership. These are all courageous stances – and all necessary to make a difference. 

These changes require new leadership. The traditional skills are still necessary, but no longer sufficient. New leaders must be able to lead from the rear as well as the front, integrating their entire teams into their activities. These three changes are just the start. In order for the changes to take root and grow, our ethical stance must also change… 

…but that’s next week’s blog!

 

 

20
Feb
11

Change Badger Style

I learn about change from many different sources. This time it’s been fascinating to watch the turmoil with the Wisconsin State Budget battle. The crisis is certainly a unique time in state government. I’ll let others analyze the politics. Instead, I prefer to look at the actions and consequences of the new Governor’s actions, and how it can apply to all of us. 

Scott Walker made it very clear that he would attack the budget deficits and state Unions would bear some of the brunt of his initiative. He won the election and his party took charge of the legislature. Gov. Walker was firmly within his rights and abilities to make the changes he proposed: Demanding that Unions pay for their benefits and curtailing their collective bargaining rights. 

He certainly caused incredible upheaval. Opposing Senators left the state in order to prevent the Senate from reaching the majority necessary to pass the bill. Tens of thousands of demonstrators flooded the Capitol and the surrounding square. Several school districts – including Madison and Milwaukee – were shut down as teachers joined the protests. All of this action brought national attention to the state, probably in an unwanted way.

 How many times do we plunge into change situations the same way? As bosses we have the legitimate right to make the changes we want in the way we want. We believe that if we communicate the change and it makes sense to us, all will go well. The change is made and very quickly we stumble into a gauntlet of unintended consequences.  

Change always takes more time and effort than expected. Communicating, gaining agreement, and implementing change is both an art and a science. Might doesn’t always make right, and our common sense is not necessarily our colleagues common sense. My experience says that most situations call for a pedantic approach to major change. Take time to plan, communicate, and understand the reactions to any moves. 

The reaction in our organizations rarely winds up in protests in the street. In fact, many times those reactions fail to reach the surface. Instead, disagreement goes underground, colleagues shut down, and key players can resort to malicious compliance in order to get by. We can create a situation every bit as complicated as Gov. Walker’s. 

As we watch the drama unfold in our neighbors’ Capitol, take the opportunity to reflect on how your approach to change can cause more disruption and reaction than you intended. The disruptions in your world may not make the nightly news, but they could have a bigger impact on your organization’s success.

 

13
Feb
11

Goodbye Stephanie!

Seventeen months ago it was Digger. Yesterday we lost Stephanie. She left us in much the same way: Heart failure and a steep decline in the final 24 hours. The trip to the Vet felt very final and the verdict was clear that it was the end of a very spirited 13-year life. Our hearts are very heavy as we remember our little girl.  

Stephanie was never a gentle soul. In fact, she was a bit of a diva. She came to us after a year being the smallest creature in a house that included dogs, kids, birds, cats…and her. She learned how to fight for her position. She let Digger know about that immediately and soon the rest of us knew that Stephie wanted to be in charge. In no time, everyone knew that it was her house and we were just guests!  

Stephanie loved her entire family, but she held a special place for her Grandma and Grandpa…and vice versa. That was never clearer than when Pete and Betty lived in Bergland and separations made neither side very happy. During one visit, the crying in the car and the crying Grandparents made it impossible not to turn around and reunite everyone.  

Fortunately, we lived close to Pete and Betty for most of Stephanie’s life. In fact, it was rare that she and Pete were separated for very long. If Stephanie was going to be alone, everything and everybody could wait until Grandpa took care of his dog. Most afternoons would find the two of them napping – I mean reading – together, waiting for everyone else to return home.  

Stephanie the Viqueen!

Stephanie will be dearly missed. She was a huge Viking fan and didn’t care much for the Packer Super Bowl win. She was a fierce protector of her realm, but always had plenty of love for her favorites. In fact, Stephanie knew how to love unconditionally and exactly how to demonstrate that love. There was always a kiss or a warm greeting ready for her inner circle. 

It’s a very lonely house without you! Have a safe passage to the other side and bite Digger once on the ear for all of us. We will see you soon!

 

06
Feb
11

Courage to Change

It takes courage to change. That was driven home to me through the world of politics and government this week.  

David BrooksI’m a big fan of David Brooks, the political commentator. He works very hard to develop deep, nuanced, and insightful perspectives on complicated situations. Brooks has a way of cutting through the clutter and getting to the heart of the matter. 

This week I heard him speak twice about the upcoming budget fight in Congress. On the positive side, Brooks sees cooperation in the coming weeks. It’s a great time for change and making good decisions about the future. There’s some great momentum to solve problems and get positive things done. 

Unfortunately, Brooks also fails to see the courage necessary to tackle the most difficult issues. Without that courage, it will be impossible to attack the ingrained entitlements in the system. Instead, we are likely to see cuts to programs that may actually generate returns and position the country for the future. A lack of courage may limit our future. 

I’m involved with Safe Passage, an organization that helps Minnesota counties focus on our at-risk kids. We focus attention on the most critical situations and facilitate solutions. Through this organization, I see the parallels in our state government. 

The state is in budget trouble. We are clearly spending too much money and having a difficult time coming to grips with competing interests. There are many obligations with few easy answers. Match that with little will or courage to compromise, and it becomes easy to pass the problems along. In our case, the requirements are passed to the counties – without funding – and the problem is solved. 

Is it the same in your life? Are there problems you can solve or situations that you can make better, but you aren’t acting? Is there something in your personal, professional, or community life that could benefit from your attention? Change requires courage to make a difference. It’s the perfect time to step up and move out of your comfort zone. Make an impact in a time where every impact is critical. 

Do you have the courage to change?

 

23
Jan
11

Innovation: Talk or Action?

I participated in two different innovation events last week. Sen. Amy Klobuchar held her Innovation Summit at the University of Minnesota and the GRIT met again. These two events showed the stark difference between talking about innovation and actually innovating. 

Sen. Klobuchar

The Klobuchar event had a terrific panel: Senators, CEOs, academics, and financiers. It was a great crowd, full of enthusiastic people from throughout the community. It was a great location in the middle of the University of Minnesota. The setting was perfect for a great session on innovation and how great leaders will make our state an innovation hotbed. 

Instead, we heard perspectives about old subjects – about the ways innovation is limited by conditions out of anyone’s control. The need for the four ts: Talent, Trade, Taxes, and Trade. The restrictive regulations that government puts in place. The panel talked about all the different things that are hindering innovation. 

It was a fine conversation, but without much action. I learned that success comes in “cans”, not in “can’ts”, and most of the talk surrounded the reasons we can’t innovate. The panel missed the entire side of the equation that involves engaging employees in new ways and building systems that foster innovation. It’s much easier to talk about why innovation can’t happen than to do the hard work to make it a reality. 

Contrast this with the GRIT – the Grass Roots Innovation Team, formed by employees of 3M to boost innovation in one of the most storied companies in the world. The group expanded to include those living innovation and making great new things happen. The GRIT and its members are oriented to action. 

True innovators move. Sure, they talk about innovation and highlight the need to change, but they find it more important to act. As I looked around the table, I saw innovators who worked their whole career to overcome obstacles. Their passion overcomes the nos in order to bring new ideas to fruition. 

Great innovators act rather than talk. They find a way to make the impossible happen and create new futures for all of us! Are you one of the talkers or the doers?  




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