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.
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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