Leaving Home and Coming Home

Well the vacation is over. We are in the sky somewhere between Dallas, Texas and Portland, Oregon. When we landed in Dallas arriving from Cancun, Mexico it felt good to be home. As much as I enjoyed the sunny 80 degree weather it was nice to be back in the good old USA. There is just something about a group of very different people who come together and form a country that has done well. I know our country is not a theocracy, and I know our country is not perfect, far from it. But it was nice to be greeted by so many different types of people, long ones, tall ones, fat ones, short ones, to quote one of my favorite songs from the 60’s.

Leaving home is always exciting too. Whenever I use the phrase leaving home I think of the book Habits of the Heart. The writers do a wonderful job of describing individualism within the United States. The one section I am in particular thinking about deals with young people as they leave the nest. These young people have been taught certain values by they parents, and they leave home to have those values tested. Some of the values stay and some go. Some of the values become owned by the young person and others are discarded. That is the way of life.

What does this have to do with organizations? Leaving home and coming home illustrate important characteristics of healthy organizations. Obviously employees have a private life, and in that private life there are things that are important. Faith, family, and friends among other things. The employee leaves home with those values and must connect them with their work life. Organizational theorists call this work life balance. Those organizations that do a good job of balancing the dissonance of work life will typically produce better products and services. Why? Because the employee is happy. Leaving home in this case is not discarding values, but supporting those values that are important to employees. Coming home is just as important.

When we were going through customs we felt secure, a part of something bigger than ourselves, and face it important, a citizen of the United States of America. This is not to say we felt better than a citizen of Mexico, but we felt pretty darn special. Those organizations that make their employees feel secure are creating an environment that lends itself to what Chris Argyris calls psychological success. Employees that feel secure can be creative and take risk. Organizational theorists discuss the importance of organization identity. In other words, feeling good about your career and the company you work for. I have been very fortunate to work for some very good companies in my lifetime. Thirty years at the Boeing Company gave my a great sense of a positive self-image. I was a part of making the best airplanes in the world. Pretty cool!

And now as a college professor at a small college, Warner Pacific, in Portland, Oregon, I feel pretty important. I am, hopefully, making a difference in my student’s lives. I hope I am giving them excellent opportunities to develop an expand their skills to have a great career when they graduate. So there it is, leaving home and coming home does have a place in the organization. I hope all organizations figure it out, because if they don’t, they won’t be around much longer.

And that is my thought for the day!

A Lapse of Judgment

Why did Bernie Madoff do what he did? What about Kenneth Lay or the other protagonists in the Enron fiasco? One could even look at some of the more interesting events that have occurred lately. Alec Baldwin yelling at his daughter over the phone, Mel Gibson and his various tirades, and what about Mike Sears and Darlene Duryan? So many lapses of judgment in just a short period of time.

The reason I am writing about this today is an event that just happened to me. My wife and I spent all day at a park called Xplorer. It is a new park in Playa Del Carmen where one can experience Zip Lines, a raft trip in Cenotes, and driving a jeep around the park and through caves. It really was a great day. That brings me to my lapse of judgment.

We got back to our hotel and Pauline decided to take a nap. I went down to the beach and laid in the sun for a while. I decided to go into the water and rather than leave my glassed on my chair I decided to wear them in the ocean. Well you can guess what happened. A large wave came and knocked my glasses off my face and I never found them. The lapse of judgment cost me a pair of glasses. They were old and needed to be replaced, but still I could have waited a bit longer, but I am happy that I had an extra pair with me and I can still see.

My lapse of judgment was instantaneous and other than costing me a few hundred dollars no one else was hurt. However, Bernie, Mel, and Ken are a different story. In all of these cases the lapse of judgment was not instantaneous. The moment happened over time resulting in events that hurt other people. In the case of Mel it is one other person and a child. But with Bernie and Ken we are talking about thousands of people who lost millions of dollars.

I am not saying that the event of losing my glasses has been the only lapse of judgment in my life, I would not want to bore you with all of the details. But I will tell you this, I pray every day that I don’t make decisions that move me away from the path God has placed me on!

And that is my thought for the day!

The Downfall of Civilizations and Organizations

While on vacation we visited an archeological site in the state of Yucatan in Mexico. Chichen-itsa is the home of a very large Myan pyramid. There were also other ruins the guide took us too as we walked around and told us the history associated with this old culture.

Because of the time of year we were able to experience something that only happens twice a year at the equinox. Because of the position of the sun at 4:30 pm the shadow cast on the pyramid helps to form the body of a snake, and the Myans built the head of a snake at the bottom of the pyramid, which along with the shadow give the appearance of the snake. It really was quite impressive.

The Mayans were known as astronomers. They studied the stars and built their edifices positioned appropriately with the stars. The ruins give an impression of a mighty people. I asked our tour guide about the Mel Gibson movie Apocalypto. Delio said it was a good movie, and from what our guide was saying it was pretty accurate. Human sacrifices were performed at the top of the pyramid and the heads of the victims were then rolled down the stairs of the pyramid. The heads were then placed on poles at the entrance of the city to warn visitors to watch out.

There were 70,000 people that lived in Chichen-itsa. The Myan culture was huge, as well as the Aztecs and Incas. But what caused these cultures to fail? And can organizations learn from the failures of these civilizations to ensure their own longevity?

I remember a few years ago watching a movie that described how the Mayan, Roman, and Grecian empires ended up falling. Much of it was internal to their cultures. The moral failures of these cultures ended up destroying these civilizations. Whether it is eating the hearts of human sacrifices, sexual immorality, or just plain greed, these deadly sins ended up bringing down hugely successful movements in history.

Organizations today are brought down by similar events. It may not be sexual immorality that brings down an Enron or a Bernie Madoff, but the immoral actions of leadership and greed definitely did cause a tipping point. Even the concept of human sacrifices is still relevant. We sacrifice employees on the altar of globalization, while seeking to reduce costs, and immorally seek to work around US EPA regulations. We race to the bottom so we can worship at the altar of Molech. We have technically advanced as a civilization, but as human beings we are still the same. God help us, because we certainly can’t help ourselves.

And that is my thought for the day!


We Could Learn A Thing Or Two From the Japanese

The Sunday New York Times had a very interesting article by Nicholas Kristof. The article starts with discussing our current economic debacle. In the first paragraph he states, “When America is under stress, as is happening right now with debates about where to pare the budget, we sometimes trample the least powerful and most vulnerable.” Contrast that with Japan where loyalty, perseverance, and duty illustrates the collective nature of the Japanese. Don’t get me wrong Japanese society is not perfect, illustrated by the discrimination of its collective but homogenous nature. But there are some things that can be learned from them.

In 1995 just after the devastating Kobe earthquake, that killed 6000 people, there were no examples of looting or other uncivil acts. Whereas here in the US, if something like that would happen you better believe everyone would be out for themselves. In my opinion this relates to the erosion of Social Capital. Social Capital is the collective bank that is a depository of public goodwill.

So many things in our society is eroding the deposits of this bank. How managers treat employees. How husbands treat wives. How parents treat children. How we treat one another. All of these negative actions undermine our societal foundations. Rodney King’s famous line is “Can’t we all just get along?” My line is “can we all just take care of one another?” We are our brother’s keeper. Let’s not forget that!

And that is my thought for the day!

Why Do We Work?

As I am sitting in my hotel room looking at the ocean, I am thinking about why I work? My wife and I are at a beach called Playa Del Carmen in Mexico. It is 82 degrees, and we have a nice breeze. I am writing this while sitting on my balcony looking at the beach and ocean.

As a professor I work hard. I remember when I retired from Boeing and starting teaching full time at Warner Pacific College. I told Dr. Cole Dawson that I could hardly wait to start my career as a professor and take it easy. He looked at me with this devious grin, which seemed to say, just you wait. I now know what he was thinking, teaching is hard work. I am working harder than I ever did at Boeing. However, I am enjoying it much more.

So why do I work? Why do I grade papers until 2am? Why do I volunteer to advise students that are interested in Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE)? Why do I teach additional classes at the Adult Degree Program, is it the additional money or something else?

As I sit here I realize if it were just about the money I would not enjoy it as much as I do. It must be something else. As I sit here I think I’ve realized what is it. It is the opportunity to serve. I love my students, everyone of them, except maybe one or two, just kidding. To interact with them, to watch them grow, and to prepare them for productive futures. It is worth it.

I remember when I first became a manager. I struggled the first year. I did not like the constant conflict. I discussed this with another manager and he said I needed to make a choice, either stick with it or give it up, there were no other choices. I made my choice to stick with it, but with a caveat. I would stick with it with the mental model of service. I would try to serve my employees as much as I could. This is not to say I was perfect. But it did help me stay in management. I tried to care, which is why I work!

And that is my thought for the day.

Stinky Good or Sticky Bad?

Luis Palau uses a great metaphor to describe the Church. The Church, he said, is like manure, pile it it up and it stinks, spread it around and it produces growth. I really like that picture. The Church as an organization has had a checkered history, and my experience with Church supports what Palau illustrates with his metaphor.

I have been in Churches that were focused on their own needs first and then the needs of the community. These Churches viewed size as a blessing of God, and believed that if a Church didn’t grow then sin was in the camp. I have also been in Churches where raising $10,000 to meet human need was the norm. This $10,000 was above the normal tithe.

This is what I mean by stinky good or stinky bad. When the Church is focused on itself, it is stinky bad. The old saying that the Church is the only organization that will shoot its wounded is true. I have seen hurting people called coyotes, and have even been a part of the laughter that followed.

But when the Church is reaching out to a hurting world, then the fragrance is sweet. The Church is called to go into the world and preach the gospel. They say that the majority of the message we are trying to communicate is nonverbal. If we are trying to reach a world that is dying, then we must do it with our actions first not just with words. When the Church is performing its responsibility to serve in word and deed, then that is stinky good.

Some would argue that the Church is to focus only on preaching the word, not on social need. Others would argue that the Churches’ responsibility is first social. These Churches are typically viewed as liberal and as moved away from the authority of the Bible. The fact is, the Church needs to focus on both. How will people hear the good news if the Church does not tell them? And how will the world be helped if the Church does not serve them?

Francis Schaeffer once said that the world had a right to see a correct representation of the Church. I take that to mean that if the Church is not accurately representing God, then the world has the right criticize the Church. Is the Church too much like the world to be an accurate representative of God in the world today? Has it become too much like a business? If so then some of the ridicule it receives may be warranted.

Maybe we need to rethink our position as the Church? Maybe we are focused to much on size and business to remember that the Church is personal? Yes there is a business side to Church, but the Church is the body of Christ. It is the people of God who have been called out of the world to make a difference. This is highly personal. The Church is there to meet human need: the need of salvation and the need of a community!

And that is my thought for the day!

How Much is Too Much?

I just read an article in my Smart Money magazine that got me thinking. Michael Hasenstab is a mutual fund manager. It appears he is very good at managing funds that are associated with currency markets. They call him the $100 billion man. I can only imagine how much  money and stock options this man earns for being good at what he does.

This led me to think about pay scales in various industries and sports venues. When Tiger Woods was winning his compensation was in the realm of $116 Million. Lebron James made $14.5 Million to sign with the Miami Heat. We could also talk about baseball players and basketball players who make millions. The argument usually put forth is comparable worth. How much revenue is generated by these individuals due to the skills they have.

In the paper this morning there was a short article about the compensation package of Jim McNerney, the CEO of the Boeing Company. The article stated that his compensation was basically flat at $13.8 million. He received an incentive payout of $4.4 million. He also received his base pay of $1.9 million.Other compensation included $6.6 million in stock options, $798,392 in perks, such as life insurance, and lastly $303,962 for the personal use of a Boeing jet for security reasons. All of this to the man who leads a company that is almost three years behind in delivering a critical product to the market. Another CEO that is well compensated in Alan Mulally of Ford.

Mulally made approximately $17 Million in 2009. His base salary was $1.4 Million with a $16 Million stock option package. He also received $127,000 for a personal jet. I remember during the downturn how he and the other two CEO’s of GM and Chrysler were criticized for flying on their private jets to DC to testify before a committee on the cause of the recession.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a very high level of respect for both of these men. As a Boeing retiree I have fond memories of Mulally and McNerney. However, along with the many other CEO’s who make millions, I have to ask if they are really worth that high level of pay? What is the ratio of CEO pay to the average pay of their workforce? 500:1, 700:1? When the ratio in Japan is 11:1 and the US is 700:1 one must ask if these CEO’s are overpaid?

Capitalism is not known for its fairness in the distribution of wealth, it is known for its distribution of goods. But 700:1? Don’t you think that is a bit much?

And that is my thought for the day!

The Roller Coaster

There is a scene in the movie Parenthood that still has an impact on me today. Its the scene where Steve Martin and his wife are talking about the ups and downs of life. At that time, and even now, I can relate to that scene. What made me think of this is a section in the book Church: Why Bother by Philip Yancey. It is actually in the forward written by Eugene Peterson.

The story is told about a man named John Muir. He was an explorer of North America in the last half of the 19th century. He explored from the California Sierras to Alaska. One day a storm moved in to the area he was staying at. The wind was strong and there was a lot of rain. He was sitting in his cabin, quite safe, when he decided he needed to experience the storm. He found a Douglas fir that looked strong that had a nice perch for him to sit in, and climbed to the top to experience the storm in all its glory.

“[He] scrambled to the top and rode out the storm, lashed by the wind, holding on for dear life, relishing weather: taking it all in – its rich sensuality, its primal energy.” The moral of this story is explicit. Life is meant to be experienced. To often we operate on automatic pilot, just going through life. We don’t take risks because it may detract from our creature comforts. We are meant to engage in life, to experience and feel, not just go through the motions.

How does this relate to the topic of this blog? Often managers are afraid of existence or the human side of business. They are afraid to feel, because it must stay business. The tough decisions will be there, but how we handle the tough decisions is critical. I hope managers are willing to climb to the top of the Douglas fir and experience every moment of the tough decisions. They may just find that some of those tough decisions weren’t so tough at all.

And that is my thought for the day!

What is Corporate Responsibility?

When money gets tight you will see what a company truly believes. Chris Argyris, an Organizational Theorist, discusses the difference between espoused belief versus what he calls theories-in-use. The espoused beliefs are those that corporations say they hold, while theories-in-use are the actions a corporation will take in times of duress that reflect what is actual belief.

Let’s say a company states that people are its most important asset. That is an espoused value. However, lets say this company begins a campaign to eliminate all of its workers that are 50 and older, which is illegal, but will lower wage cost. The company’s theory-in-use is quite a bit different then what its says it holds dear. The goal of most companies would be, hopefully, to hold these two sets of belief in congruency.

What got me thinking about this was an article in Business Week called: Amazon Crusader. Corporate Pest. Fraud? It is an article that describes an attorney names Steven Donzinger who won an $18 billion pollution verdict against Chevron in Ecuador. Chevron stated they would fight this verdict until hell freezes over. Then fight it on the ice.

One of the tactics Chevron has chosen to use in this fight is to question the motives of Steven Donzinger. Chevron’s defensive actions are called the Donzinger Defense. Chevron lawyers are using a negative smear campaign attacking the character of Donzinger. Although some lawyers may believe facts do not exist, there are facts that should be discussed in this case.
Where does Chevron’s responsibility end? Chevron’s contention is that another company, Texaco, had already cleaned up any pollution in Ecuador, and the government of Ecuador and Petroecuador is now responsible for the current situation. Thus the battle.

When I first read this I was appalled at the tactic the Chevron lawyers were using. Forget the facts lets just crucify the messenger. However, I have thought long and hard about this. This lawsuit represents globalization. It reflects the reality of doing business internationally. There are responsibilities and risks. Thinking that you can expand overseas while racing to the bottom is not an option anymore. Corporations need a business model that is sustainable. Those corporations that navigate successfully through the morass of international politics will need solid values, absolutes if you will, to maintain their direction. These absolutes will keep them moving in a true north direction.

And that is my thought for the day!

Changing the World

I have to admit, yesterday was a special day. I traveled with ten students from the college I teach at to compete in San Francisco at the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) regional competitions. We are the champions of our league and now have the opportunity to attend the National competition in Minneapolis. The SIFE motto is A Head for Business, A Heart for the World. Our SIFE team has completed some great projects in South Dakota, Tanzania, and Honduras. However, the one I am most passionate about is the work our team is doing at Shepherd’s Door in Portland, OR.

Shepherd’s Door is a ministry that provides help for women who have had a rough time in life. Our students are visiting the facility on Friday’s to help prepare these women for transition from residency to the real world. The students are working with the women on how to interview for a job, how to write a resume, and other skills that will help these women have a better life.

In USA Today on March 14th there was an article named “America’s churches can help change the world: With humanity’s future at risk, religious leaders need to step up to the pulpit.” This article points out that humanity’s major problems are being neglected by world leaders. Global terrorism, climate change, overpopulation and political and social unrest transcend national boundaries. My generation has not been able to deal with the problems.

What I see in the Warner Pacific SIFE team gives me hope. These are students that truly want to make a difference. They are studying business for all the right reasons. Economically they want to be successful, but they also want to make a social difference. They also are environmentally savvy.

You know what, they just may be able to make a difference.

And that is my thought for the day.