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Fundamentals of Relational Equity

Fundamentals of Relational Equity

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Published by livemoments
Why companies that mimic living systems consistently outperform those that exist as mechanical entities.
Why companies that mimic living systems consistently outperform those that exist as mechanical entities.

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Published by: livemoments on Sep 16, 2009
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08/23/2010

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R
elational equity is the foundation of financial equity. How companiesrelate to employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholdersmatters more than most people think. Corporate leaders who under-stand this build cultures that inspire systems thinking and organiza-tional learning. Those who do it well catalyze a powerful reinforcing cycle of profit, which turns their firms into innovation hothouses.By contrast, the more traditional, bottom line-driven management too oftensacrifices relational equity in single-minded pursuit of profit. Hampered by tunnelvision, they become accident-prone and profits suffer. The shocking rise of bankruptcies, forced take-overs and credit downgrades of once-great companies – among them, General Motors, Merrill Lynch,Citigroup, Kodak and American Airlines – is largely a result of putting profit ahead of relationships.For several decades companies that excel at developing relational equity have generated superiorinvestment returns – regularly outperforming industry peers in both rising and falling markets. Over thepast ten years, a learning lab of such companies, called the Global LAMP Index®, has more than doubledin value while the S&P 500 and leading global indices have lost value. As the operating methods of theseleadership firms become better understood, they are redefining capitalism. The new market leaders model their organizations and management practices on living systemsrather than mechanical ones. This still evolving approach represents a tectonic shift in business thinkingtowards the new sciences of quantum theory, ecology and systems dynamics – which inform us thatrelationships matter – and away from the deterministic laws of the older physical sciences that reveremechanical efficiency. In a larger sense, it represents a reawakening that life is central to everythingwe value.
 The Value of Relational Equity
BY JOSEPH BRAGDON
FEATURE
|
BRAGDON
 
1
FEATURE 10.1
 Joseph BragdonIn this article, Jay Bragdon, author of 
Profit for Life
(SoL 2006), explains why companies that mimic livingsystems consistently outperform those that exist as mechanical entities. The term he uses to describe thisemerging living systems model is relational equity. Over the past ten calendar years he tracked equityreturns on the sixty companies in his learning lab against widely used benchmark indices – ones that broadlyrepresent traditional bottom-line-first management methods. His data revealed that companies driven bya traditional bottom-line approach, on average, either lost value or barely broke even. However, those thatfollowed a relational equity model were able to catalyze a powerful reinforcing cycle of profit. In readingthis article, we learn that a business managed as if it were a living organism creates a radically different andmore beneficial set of relationships than one managed as a static entity. Firms that operate as living systemsinherently place a significantly higher value on people and Nature (living assets) than they do on non-livingcapital assets. They understand, as we as practitioners need to understand that, at a fundamental level,living assets are a prolific source of capital assets.
 
stewardship (LAS). To them, profit is not so mucha goal in itself as the means to a higher end of service. When such ends are condensed into acompelling vision – one that calls forth the lifeaffirming instincts and future hopes of employees– the firm becomes a profoundly inspirationalworkplace. The operating leverage in this is easyto understand. Employees who work with theirhearts as well as their minds are more productivethan those who simply “do a job.”Companies that best exemplify these five attri-butes have come to the practice of LAS mainly bytrial and error, catalyzed by the ethical impulsesof inspirational leaders. A rare few old timers –such as Hewlett Packard, HSBC, Johnson &Johnson, Novo Nordisk, Panasonic and Toyota –inherited a leaning towards these attributesfrom their founders.Although much has been written about thesefive attributes in isolation, they are not widelyseen as part of an integrated whole, much less aunified theory of management that transcendsthe older industrial model of capitalism. Only re-cently have new companies, like Google, embed-ded these attributes into their strategic thinkingand management practices. Yet even in suchinstances, what we call living asset stewardshipis presented as adaptations of an older systemrather than a totally new way of definingcapitalism.
2
 
REFLECTIONS
|
VOLUME 10, NUMBER 1 re
ections.solonline.org TABLE 1
Living Asset Stewardship Attributes
Managing a company as if it were a profit-makingmachine imposes a linear thinking mentality thatblinds it to important relationships. Nowhere isthis more apparent than in generally acceptedaccounting principles (GAAP), which measureonly costs that directly contribute to a transaction.Social and environmental costs that fall outsidethis linear path – such as plant closings, frequentlayoffs, toxic waste accumulations and carbonemissions – are considered external and are largelydisregarded absent government regulation. Thisundermines stakeholder relationships in virtuallyevery realm. Further, when managers becomeslavish to a linearly defined bottom line, theyare apt to cut costs that result in product failuresand shoddy service, which ultimately turns off employees and customers.Managing a company as if it were a living organ-ism – which it is – creates a radically different, andmore beneficial, set of relationships. Firms thatoperate this way place a higher value on peopleand Nature (living assets) than they do on non-living capital assets. They understand at a funda-mental level that living assets are the source of capital assets, and that capital assets can’t func-tion without direction from people or inputsfrom Nature.
Living Asset Stewardship
Companies that model themselves on livingsystems typically practice what I call living asset
Companies that practice LAS share five attributes common to all life. Although varying in style,these are expressed as:AttributeLife Purpose
Highly decentralized/networked organizationsTo serve as a feedback (nerve) systemOpen, sharing, self-organizing culturesTo speed adaptive learningNurturing relationships with stakeholdersTo build network (physical) strengthFrugal instincts re energy and resource useTo ensure staying power, survivalSymbiotic nature, futuristic visionTo provide for future generations
 
 This lack of a universally recognized name doesnot detract from the relevance or effectivenessof LAS. Like democracy, it has millions of authors:people probing for better solutions, experiment-ing and learning from practical experience. Overtime their observations have coalesced into a uni-fied whole – a distillation of essential conceptsthat connect the health of the firm to those of theliving systems in which it operates.
Managing by Means
Living asset stewardship puts a laser focus on rela-tionships as a means of achieving corporate goals.Companies can
own
inert non-living capital assetsand bend them to their purposes. But they must
steward 
living assets, which have a capacity topush back unless treated with respect. When com-panies treat people like property, they get resis-tance, not cooperation. And when they approachNature as they would a machine, with the intentof controlling it, depleting it and disposing it whenused up, they get pushback in the form of unin-habitable toxic waste sites, exhausted soil, rundown aquifers, polluted air and waterways, globalclimate change and public condemnation.
FEATURE
|
BRAGDON
 
3
Managing by means (MBM) is all about relationshipbuilding. Unlike the traditional business practiceof linearly managing by objectives (MBO), it anti-cipates feedback effects. Mentoring employeesand building team competence, for example,yield better results than ordering them to achieveabstract objectives, such as numerical sales orprofit targets. Listening to employees, engagingthem in “group visioning,” and welcoming a diver-sity of viewpoints as Nokia does, buys more com-mitment and loyalty than catching them makingmistakes and criticizing them.
“There is an inherently minimumset of essential concepts andcurrent information, cognizanceof which could lead to operatingour planet Earth to the lastingsatisfaction and health of allhumanity.”
R. Buckminster Fuller,
Synergetics
1

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