Tag Archives: cultural values

Is the era of the fence-sitting corporation over?

Corporate CEOs have historically remained silent on politically divisive issues to avoid a potential backlash from consumers and their own employees. Last week, this rule was turned on its head.

Three high-profile advisory councils were disbanded by U.S. President Donald Trump last week after a cascade of CEO resignations over his response to the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally.

Mr Trump dissolved the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum after it was leaked that the remaining members of the two councils were planning a press announcement on Wednesday 16th August about disbanding the groups. High-profile resignations up to that point included Kenneth Frazier (Merck CEO), Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich, ADL-CIO’s Richard Trumka and Thea Lee, the Alliance for American Manufacturing president Scott Paul, Campbell Soup’s Denise Morrison and 3M’s Inge Thulin.

A similar revolt in the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities took place two days later, with 16 out of the 17 members quitting, leading to the White House stating that the committee’s executive order would not be renewed.

Is the line between politics and business dissolving?

Michael Maslansky, the head of a language strategy firm that advises major companies, told the BBC last week that “the era of the fence-sitting corporation is over”.

In an unprecedented situation, the moral compass has now been placed in the hands of business leaders, who are coming under increasing pressure to comment on political events. Donald Trump’s tweet about “pressure on the businesspeople of the [councils]” gets this absolutely correct.

Many of the CEOs who resigned from the advisory councils made statements along the lines of having “no choice” about the matter. In other words, Trump’s response to Charlottesville put them in a situation where their connection with the president contradicted their company’s corporate positions on race, diversity and equality.

Even CEOs without a formal position on an advisory board, including Apple’s Tim Cook, spoke out in condemnation last week. In the past, it was seen as safer to remain silent, or risk the wrath of customers (and employees) from the other side of the political spectrum.

Why is this happening? “If you’re silent about an issue, then each side will assume you’re on the wrong side. You end up really having to choose”, says Maslansky. Another sentiment that was frequently expressed after Charlottesville was the idea that silence in the face of injustice (including racism) is tantamount to complicity.

Ideally, every company would have a Values Statement which would dictate the CEO’s response to any relevant issue. This means the “choice” doesn’t come down to the personal whim or leaning of any individual business leader.

Where will this end? With political divisions only increasing, will we see consumers do business only with companies that reflect their political views? This is already happening on the fringes, with regular calls going out from both sides to boycott various companies (think #DeleteUber, or #AnywherebutTarget). Terms for this include “dollar voting”, “ethical consumerism” and “moral boycotting”.

For procurement and supply managers, daily buying decisions could become so fraught with larger implications that it will become hard to keep track. But if the end customer expects organisations to make purchasing decisions that are in line with their own values, this is certainly a space to watch.

As for CEOs, the era of carefully-worded, politically-neutral statements may be over. When a new CEO steps into a role, their customers, their employees and the Board will want to know where they stand politically and how this will influence the corporate culture.

To quote a meme that’s currently doing the rounds on social media: sitting on the fence only gets you one thing: splinters.

The vanishing line between business and politics will be one of the topics under discussion at the Chicago Big Ideas Summit on Thursday 28th September. If you’re a CPO and located in or near the Chicago area, there are still some seats available (limited to 50 attendees). If you’re not quite CPO-level (yet) or based on the other side of the globe, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. Simply register for free as a digital delegate on Procurious, and we’ll bring all the Big Ideas from Chicago to you! Click here to find out more.


 In other news this week:

Australia to develop anti-slavery legislation

  • Australia’s Turnbull government will soon require companies with an annual turnover of at least $100 million to publish “Modern Slavery Statements” on a publicly accessible central repository.
  • The statements will include measures companies are taking in their supply chains to combat modern slavery, including human trafficking, debt bondage and forced labour.
  • The government is also considering drafting a Modern Slavery Act and an independent anti-slavery watchdog to investigate complaints and educate businesses.

Read more in The Age.

 The City of Los Angeles is looking for a CPO

  • The city of LA is seeking a CPO to fill a newly-created position created as part of a wider local government remodelling.
  • The new CPO “will be responsible for the development of a plan to strategically leverage the city’s spend, identify cost savings, employ long-range operational policies and procedures that align with industry best practices, increase transparency, and reduce time to contract with the city”.

Read more at Supply Chain Digital.

Work-life, work-death and the right to disconnect

It’s a tale of two cities when it comes to work-life balance. Tokyo continues to struggle with a dangerous culture of self-sacrifice through “overwork”, while in Paris, lawmakers have recently enshrined French workers’ “right to disconnect”.

It’s 10.00pm. The kids are asleep, you’ve tidied the kitchen and you’re considering whether to fire up Netflix or turn in for a relatively early night. Your phone gives a soft “ding” and you reach for it, wondering which of your colleagues is emailing you at this hour.

Put. The Phone. Down.

2017 may be the year that we see the turning point in the fight against the “always-on” work culture, which has rapidly eroded the border between work and private lives. Unpaid overtime has surged as businesses increasingly judge employees by their availability, while employees themselves fall into the trap of “just checking one more email” in the evenings. Hyper-connectivity has led to increased levels of stress, sleeplessness, relationship problems, and, in places where the culture has reached an extreme level – death.

Karoshi

Yes, death. If you’re concerned about where the always-on work culture might be heading, there’s no need to imagine a dystopian future where employees work until they drop dead from exhaustion. The situation already exists in Japan, where the notoriously gruelling work culture has given rise to a phenomenon called karoshi, or “work-death”. As much as 21% of the workforce puts in more than 49 hours a week, while compensation claims from families whose loved ones have literally worked themselves to death peaked at over 2300 cases last year.

You won’t find 12-hour work-days on any contract of employment or job description, yet the culture of unpaid overtime (or “service” overtime) is so firmly entrenched in Japan that it may as well be a part of scheduled working hours. Overtime is unforced, yet workers feel it’s compulsory due to managerial and peer pressure. The results are devastating, and it’s not just elderly members of the workforce who are dying. Alarmingly, employees in their 20s suffering from heart attacks, strokes, and suicide triggered by karoshi.

Overwork culture exists in every profession, from manual labour to office work. Joey Tocnang, a 27-year old trainee from the Philippines employed as a steel-cutter in a Japanese factory, was working between 78 and 122 hours of overtime a month before he died of heart failure at his firm’s dormitory in 2014. Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old employee of the advertising giant Dentsu, was driven to commit suicide in 2015 due to stress brought on by long working hours. She regularly worked over 100 hours of overtime per month in the firm’s internet advertising division, and had even posted calls for help such as ‘I want to die” on social media.

According to a government whitepaper, 22.7% of Japanese companies polled between December 2015 and January 2016 said some of their employees logged more than 80 hours of overtime each month – the official threshold at which the prospect of death from work becomes serious. Karoshi has its roots in Japan’s massive rebuilding efforts after the devastation of WWII, and gained traction in the economic booms of the 1970s and 80s.

There is hope of change, though. Posters are going up on the walls of workplaces all over Japan as part of the government’s efforts to reign in the culture of self-sacrifice. A new generation of professionals called “Freeters” are breaking the cycle by demanding to be paid casual rates (by the hour only) rather than salaries. But the real solution may lie in France. 

The right to disconnect

From January this year, French companies with over 50 workers are required to guarantee the right of their employees to ignore their smartphones after hours. The laws were passed after increasing pressure from France’s trade unions compelled the Labour Ministry to defend the country’s highly protected workplace laws and 35-hour working week.

The law applies to the company, not the individual, which means that compulsive email-checkers can work all hours if they’d like to, but cannot be pressured by their organisations into doing so. Businesses now need to enter into negotiations with their employees to define their rights around switching off, and must publish a charter that explicitly sets out the demands on employees out-of-hours.

Some French companies, including French insurer Axa, have taken proactive measures to limit out-of-hours communication and reduce burnout among works, including cutting email messaging in the evening and weekends, and even destroying emails that are sent to employees while they are on holiday.

The comparison between Paris and Tokyo is not strictly equal, as you cannot fairly compare someone checking emails in their pyjamas with a steel-worker putting in dangerous amounts of overtime in a factory, but it is useful to highlight extreme examples, such as Japan, to help combat the creeping culture of unpaid overtime.

Smartphones are, of course, a double-edged sword in that they can potentially offer enormous work-life balance benefits. A working parent, for example, could leave the office two hours early to pick their kids up, making up the time later that evening. But flexibility arrangements usually still come within the paid work-day and do not pressure employees to “gift” unpaid overtime to their businesses.

What can I do?

  • Recognise that “just checking one more email” on your smartphone is working overtime.
  • Talk to your manager about the right to disconnect, and make sure you bring up any instances when you feel you’re being pressured to work unpaid overtime.
  • Speak up whenever you see “overwork culture” advocated in your workplace or on social media.

In other news this week in procurement:

Procter & Gamble calls for an improved media supply chain

  • P&G, a global advertiser with a marketing and advertising spend of $2.8 billion per annum, has called for a “transparent, clean and productive media supply chain” at a digital advertising leadership conference in Florida this weekend.
  • Chief Marketing Officer Marc Pritchard called media supply chains “murky at best, and fraudulent at worst”, advocating viewability standards including improved compliance and measurement.
  • Common frauds include “bot views”, where advertisers report millions of digital hits that are actually views by bots, rather than humans.

Read more on CNBC.

British Standards Institution releases Slavery Index

  • BSI has published its annual Human Trafficking and Supply Chain Slavery Index, revealing an increased risk of modern-day slavery entering European countries.
  • Russia, Slovakia, India and Pakistan are identified in the Index as “severe risk source countries” that may export modern-day slaves to the UK.
  • Italy is also identified as a high risk nation – partly due to the conflict in Syria, while Greece and Turkey are additionally categorised as high risk countries.

Read more on the BSI website.

Measuring Value – All That Glitters Isn’t Necessarily Gold

The Five Gold Rings might be the most expensive of the gifts listed in the carol, but does that mean they’re the most valuable? Not necessarily. It depends on how you measure value.

five gold rings

The traditional 12 days of Christmas might not start until the 26th of December. But this festive season, we’ll be bringing you the 12 days of procurement Christmas in the run up to the big day. Catch up with the story so far on the Procurious Blog.

“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…five golden rings.”

In 1982, the late, great Irish actor and singer Frank Kelly released a hit single called “Christmas Countdown”. The song is a parody of the 12 Days of Christmas, where the hapless narrator writes a series of thank-you letters to his over-indulgent true love, getting increasingly frantic as each day passes.

As his small home fills up with various aggressive birds (doves and geese in the living room, swans in the bathtub), he and his elderly mother become overwhelmed with the noise, the smell, and the veterinary bills.

By the time the maids-a-milking, drummers drumming and lords-a-leaping add to the pandemonium, the singer’s letters have turned from thanks to abuse, and his mother has been taken to a home for the bewildered.

But, amongst all the inappropriate gifts of birds and musicians, there’s one gift that makes him pause.

“Your generosity knows no bounds! Five gold rings! When the parcel arrived I was scared stiff that it might be more birds, because the smell in the living-room is atrocious. However, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the beautiful rings.” 

Finding Gold Among Feathers

As procurement professionals, we often need to take a step back and look at the true value of the product or services we’re procuring. Below we’ll take three different approaches to the measurement of value – according to price, utility, and cultural value. 

Value Based on Price

To be clear, judging the value of an item based on price alone is not good procurement practice. It’s a gross oversimplification of the concept of value. But sadly, it’s still an ingrained way of thinking for many practitioners.

If you want a chuckle in the lead-up to Christmas, check out PNC Wealth Management’s “Christmas Price Index. The Index totals up the cost of the 364 gifts (including all the repetitions) listed in the carol. The total cost is a staggering $156,506.88 for 2016, which is a rise of 0.7 per cent over last year.

The tongue-in-cheek economic indicator pulls its prices from a range of local sources, including a Philadelphia nursery for the pear tree, a local jeweller for the golden rings, and the Pennsylvania musicians’ union for the drummers’ wages.

Value Based on Utility

The 18th-century mathematician and physicist Daniel Bernoulli hit the nail on the head with this memorable quote: “The value of an item must not be based on its price, but rather on the utility it yields.”

Apart from the potential egg yield of the three French hens and six geese a-laying, the only other material return to be had from this gift bonanza would be quite a lot of milk from the eight maids a-milking and, possibly, a few pears. All the other gifts have little to zero utility, but do have significant cultural value. 

Cultural Value

This carol is packed with cultural value. There’s atheistic value in the ornamental birds, sentimental value in the golden rings, and artistic value in the performing musicians.

Think about some of the goods and services you’ve procured for your organisation. Which ones have had cultural value? Cultural value tends to attract a price premium, but often pays off in raising customer perception of your brand. 

From the Value Experts

According to the experts, organisations are also increasingly using the concept of value to define their strategies. Alex Kleiner, General Manager, EMEA at Coupa, explained more at Big Ideas Summit 2016:

Different companies will view value in different ways. This concept of Value-as-a-Service takes in everything from usability, to lives saved, and everything in between. It’s down to each individual organisation to decide how to measure this.

From a procurement point of view, it’s also good to remember that we shouldn’t be constrained by one particular definition. All that glitters isn’t necessarily gold. The profession just needs to define the stakeholder needs, and go from there.

While value might be difficult to define as one concept, we like to think procurement is worth its weight in gold. But can the profession survive in its current form? Or will the golden goose meet its end? Find out tomorrow.

Navigating Rule Based Cultures

When dealing with different or rule based cultures, it’s important to remain mindful of differences, so as to avoid misunderstandings.

Rule Based Cultures

Last month I had an assignment in Japan.  On our first night in town, five colleagues and myself met in the bar of a major hotel where we had planned to have a pre-dinner drink and decide on a dinner location.

Upon arrival, we ordered our drinks and were each served a very small bowl of nuts. After a brief discussion, and review of the hotel menu, it was decided that we would eat at the hotel restaurant.  Given that we didn’t have to travel anywhere for dinner, we decided to spend a bit more time relaxing and catching up before heading to the restaurant.

One of my colleagues politely asked the barman for a second bowl of nuts, to which the barman replied, “No, it is only one bowl per drink.” After some discussion it was clear that the barman was not going to bend the rules, there wasn’t going to be a second bowl of nuts unless a second drink was ordered.

In response to this inflexibility, we decided against having another drink and eating dinner at the hotel restaurant.  Following our earlier conversation with the restaurant manager regarding the menu, on our departure he questioned why we were leaving.

We told him of our reason for leaving, to which he was very apologetic, thanked us for the feedback and then proceeded to escort us to the concierge, while also suggesting other local restaurants.

His friendly manner persuaded us to dine at one of the other restaurants within the hotel. We appreciated his demeanour and kind generosity – providing our table with a surprise complimentary bottle of wine.

Appreciate the Differences

The point of this story is to emphasise the differences of rule based cultures, that some cultures are bound by rules, formalities and regulations more than others. This doesn’t make one better than the other, more rude or generous than another, it just makes them different.

We need to understand and appreciate these differences. In the moment they may seem significant or even pedantic but their effects can be long reaching and detrimental toward future relationships, behaviours, attitudes and biases.

Strong rule based cultures tend to encourage conformity, embracing the status quo, while other cultures tolerate greater degrees of flexibility and adaptability.

The key to successfully navigating, working and interacting within and across cultures is to understand that these traits are often hidden, unspoken, understated characteristics that are bound up in the unspoken cultural rules, expectations, systems and processes.

Reflection and Mindfulness

They can appear when you are engaging in cross-cultural social and professional interactions i.e. different expectations and formalities of hierarchical and equality based structures, during negotiations, navigating through ambiguous, tense situations or when establishing and maintaining trusted working relationships with internal and external stakeholders.

The barman serving us was not rude, rather he was efficiently performing his job, behaving in a manner that was appropriate for a barman in his role, respecting the rules and processes of his job. Our observations and expectations of the barman’s behaviour and attitude were considered through our own cultural lenses.

This example highlights how interpretations of social rules and behaviours can quickly become construed as impolite, disrespectful and inappropriate. Reflection and mindfulness are valuable skills, especially when interacting with differences of any kind!

Dr. Tom Verghese is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Cultural Synergies, a leading global intercultural and diversity consultancy that specialises in developing and sustaining cultural intelligence.

Samurai & Cowboys – Cultural Perspective on Management Styles

Whether you support or detest change, it is happening. But how much impact do management styles in different cultures have on change?

East vs. West Management Styles

Do you have a Smartphone? Do you use Google? Do you use global internet sites to get information on clothes, food, travel, music, research, work opportunities? These sites influence people and bring countries closer together, especially countries that share a lot of trade and commercial contact.

These factors influence what you and your colleagues may see as the norm. You are open to influence whether you know it or not, to leading thoughts, persuasions, technologies, arguments, speeches, TV adverts, products. Nothing stands still.

Management Styles – East and West

Could all of this affect management styles? If you compare Japan and the USA there are, of course, differences. However, countries will find it difficult to maintain existing management cultures in the face of fast-paced change, and as technology makes the world smaller.

There is a belief that you can group countries with similar management styles – the USA, UK and Australasia in one group, and Japan and other East-Asian countries in another. Traditions, national roots and leadership are different, and this difference should be cherished. But could this have a negative effect on business?

When a multi-national company starts operating in Japan, Directors “back home” will see differences in culture. A Japanese firm, starting operations in the USA, is going to experience a culture shock when they hire local staff. Because of this, management styles cannot stay the same.

So which culture is better and will things change?

Values, Norms and Variances

There is a widely held belief that traditions and leadership styles in each country lead to the development of styles. National values, norms and education are instilled from an early age. These can lead to national variances such as:

  • Power of leaders to influence citizens
  • Pressure on a corporate employee if an error is made, and the outcome
  • Time scale to make decisions in a company, and by whom, a person or a group

Most will agree that management styles in some counties have changed over the years. People believe if you treat your staff well, they will perform better and go the extra mile. This is seen by customers, who tell others, and the company prospers. The ability to complete work to ‘best endeavours’ is initiated or halted by management – despite their wish to ensure good company performance.

But what or who influences the Directors and the Managers?

In a ‘Top Down’ style, the manner of the CEO is reflected across the organisation. But the leadership of a country can be influential too. Comparing Japan and the USA again, both have similar approaches and beliefs when it comes to market share, commerce and winning business. But there are variances that have evolved, which are more effective in their own regions.

Japan and the USA have traditionally strong trading links. Is there an argument for finding a cultural ‘middle ground’, where the best of both cultures are adopted by both parties in order to prosper? Is it a case of change and adapt, or fail commercially?

Power Distance

Current legal systems and education in each country lead to different responses by managers. Let’s take the concept of leadership and ‘power distance’ – the level of acceptance by society to the distribution of power. In some countries, an order might be met with “You must be joking!”, whereas in others the response will be “Yes, sir”.

It is said that ‘power distance’ and the process of decision making are inversely proportional. So, the more a person is deferential, the more that person looks for consensus before any decision is made.

If the citizen feels less influenced by their country or company leader, or traditions, they can make decisions faster, are able and prepared to take risk, and feel empowered to innovate and adapt rapidly to market forces.

In these countries when the economy thrives, the countries’ leaders tend to take the credit themselves, while, where there is a consensus or group response, leaders congratulate the group and see this as a mutual success.

Risk Avoidance

There are further differences when looking at risk taking or uncertainty avoidance in the USA and Japan. In Japan, the concept of a ‘job for life’ means there is traditionally high uncertainty avoidance.

In the USA, people will generally take these decisions, so when the company thrives, the employee receives the praise. Even if it turns out to be a bad decision, and the employee loses their job, a new employer may look favourably on the courage and innovation in the decision.

People don’t get it right every time – Thomas Watson, former Head of IBM, said in 1943 that there was a “world market for maybe five computers”. But if we don’t try, we will never succeed. The key is balancing the risk.

Long-term vs. Short-term

Gadget makers take ideas and concepts from multiple sources in order to make a better product, so too can management style benefit from taking the best from other models.

In any industry, there are people who are in for the long-term, and others who are in only for the short-term. In Japan, companies look at the long-term picture, and employees at the long-term ‘loyalty’ to a company, while in the USA, there is more focus on the short-term and individual careers.

However, this is changing in Japan, with candidates publishing Portfolio Career CVs showing skill sets, and not necessarily their list of corporate positions.

To take a simplistic view, we have one culture where short-term planning, individual confidence and easier movement between jobs, while the other focuses on long-term planning and thinking, collective confidence and the job for life.

But in 2016, the tide is changing, and a global perspective is required. Where the prevailing culture will end up is open to discussion but change is constant and more important, the pace of change is exponential – the rate of change is getting faster.