Year after year billions of dollars are poured into companies in order to plan, develop, and build a substantial corporate advantage—a business strategy. Conventional wisdom says success is defined by winning at all costs and making sure your opponents lose. This is how the vast majority of people think the corporate world works. These assumptions ultimately inform the way we lead (and train others to lead) in our organizations.
But what if conventional wisdom is wrong?
Well, there is at least one voice in the wilderness making such a claim—a voice that is challenging the proverbial wisdom of the corporate world. Lynda Gratton, a human resources expert and professor of management practice at London Business School (perhaps LBS is not exactly a wilderness) takes the stance that the world of business is no longer all about competition, winners and losers. Rather, she argues that the success of today’s companies hinges on factors such as collaboration, networks, and altruism.
In a recent Fast Company article How Corporations Can Change the World (for the Better), Gratton states, “There might have been a time when we taught business school students that it was all about competition and it was all about winners and losers. I think everyone realizes now that’s not the case. What you want to do now is really learn how to collaborate with people, how to build networks, and how to share and be generous.” This depicts quite a different world than the classic texts on business strategy portray.
In her new book, The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems (2014), she explains how companies can become stronger by using their considerable resources in three key areas:
Fostering Resilient Employees
- When you use training, technology, and culture to develop your employees and create work environments that “amplify the intelligence and wisdom of people,” your company wins.
- When a company supports and makes positive contributions to its community, suppliers, and others who are directly affected by the company, it is rewarded with good will and support in return.
Solving Global Challenges
- “Companies that use their specific strengths to solve global issues are reaping great rewards,” Gratton explains. She highlights how Google, an undeniable master of harnessing information, uses its Google Ideas platform to work with other organizations to solve complex challenges like human trafficking and gang violence.
Meanwhile, the general population speaks of and thinks about corporate life as one that is overwhelmingly preoccupied with self, greed, and compromised morality and ethics. So it is a bit strange that Gratton casts her vote for corporations to become the ambassadors of societal progress, and I think she may be right.
Maybe corporations won’t save the world…or maybe they will. But their potential and ability to make real and powerful changes for good in the world is undeniable. Great work can be done (and already is being done) by corporate leaders who are shifting to a more “Grattonian” point of view founded upon high-impact collaboration, network building, and altruism. The lone voice in the wilderness may very soon become a resonant chorus.
Perhaps we really should rethink our notion of strategy and corporate advantage such that the game we play is one of building resilient organizations and surrounding communities rather than winners and losers.
So, what do you think? Is success defined by winning at all costs or by the positive impact an organization makes?
Wesley Dorsett is a Consultant at Linkage. He specializes in designing, facilitating, and implementing programs focused on integrated talent management, succession planning, organizational design and analysis, and leadership development. He’s also a die-hard Aggies fan who has a BS in Psychology from Texas A&M University, and MS degrees in Clinical Psychology and Theological Studies from the Fuller Graduate School in Pasadena, CA. Follow Wesley on Twitter @WesleyRD4.