by Kamran Rizvi

Kamran Rizvi came to Pakistan and pioneered the self-improvement and organisation development movement under the banner of KZR

Leaders like you need to ask yourselves whether you enjoy high levels of trust and confidence of your team. If you do, how do you know? You may be in for a rude awakening; a pleasant surprise; or a comforting reassurance, when you discover the truth.

How can you make people feel that they were part of something they could be proud of? What will get them to wholeheartedly commit the best days of their lives to the enterprise they work in? Meaning and purpose of the organisation they can relate to emotionally. In this context, corporate social responsibility (CSR) points the way. It gives birth to a ‘larger than life’ vision that employees and other key stakeholders are inspired by.

A sense of contribution, and that of making a positive difference in the lives of people, is what engages people the most. CSR has been defined in many ways, but at its core is a simple idea: ‘How can our organisations positively impact societies and communities in which they operate?’ I believe the answer to such a question is: what factors can give an organisation its power to engage human souls profoundly.

A case in point is Mobilink, the largest cellular company in Pakistan. The company’s website states: “Mobilink believes in playing an active role in supporting the community and social development of Pakistan. Each year, Mobilink and its staff contribute significantly to charities and community projects to help bring about a better quality of life to the less privileged in the community and enrich the lives of Pakistanis through support in local arts, education and sports.” But such laudable sentiments in themselves are never enough.

Ideas need to be articulated in a compelling fashion by leaders who enjoy credibility. This gift of believability is hard earned and can take years to build.

Leaders like you need to ask yourselves whether you enjoy high levels of trust and confidence of your team. If you do, how do you know? You may be in for a rude awakening; a pleasant surprise; or a comforting reassurance, when you discover the truth.

Some of you may already be thinking of commissioning a 360 degree feedback exercise for yourselves. Others might consider going for a climate survey to get a sense of how people are thinking and feeling about you, your leadership style, your company, its policies and practices. The good news is that you need not go through such elaborate exercises to determine ground reality.

It’s important for you to first get a feel of where you stand. It’s in your gut. Somewhere, deep in your heart you will know. It is this inner voice we ignore at our own peril. Observe how people behave in your presence. It is not unusual for some leaders to live in denial or in a world of make believe; thinking that all is well, when it is not.

How candid people are with you becomes very evident when you talk with them, open up to them and discuss the real issues and challenges facing your organisation. Their level of participation, the thoughts they share with you in confidence and their body language will convey much of what you need to know.

Stanley Fischer, the former deputy managing director of the IMF, once remarked, “One good example is worth a thousand theories.” In this context, Starbucks’ story is also beautifully illuminating. This company was founded by Howard Schultz in 1987. The Starbucks Corporation sells coffee drinks from almost 5,000 stores in 44 countries around the world. The company has agreements with bookstores, airlines and hotels. It also markets its coffee through an online catalogue. Starbucks is serving millions of customers every week. The average coffee-loving customer visits a Starbucks outlet 18 times a month. Rapid expansion has marked Starbuck’s history, but it has remained committed to the value of individuality. Each store has a different lay out with a decor that matches the personality of the neighborhood.

Starbucks today employs more than 40,000 people. Having visited their stores for a tall Americano in Vancouver BC, LA and London, I saw a gleam in the eyes of the people who serve you there. A sense of pride in what they do is very evident from the demeanor. This comes from good management practices at Starbucks.

The Starbucks Corporation’s policy of opening restaurants in office buildings, hotels and outdoor kiosks has invigorated other businesses in surrounding areas. Howard Schultz has insisted that Starbucks adopt an environmental mission statement, which appeals to the soul and addresses the need for each individual to contribute to the greater good of society as a whole. 

This pledge commits Starbucks to only buying coffee that has been grown organically. The company also takes an interest in the farming communities that harvest the coffee beans. Starbucks has built schools, health clinics, and safe coffee processing facilities. Locally, Starbucks has worked with stars like Magic Johnson to bring Starbucks stores to poor African American neighborhoods across the United States.

The Starbucks Foundation sponsors literacy programs, Earth Day clean-ups, and regional AIDS walks.

It is becoming increasingly evident that people want to be part of something noble, and this is the trend that you need to tap. This virtuous facet of human nature is what Starbucks and many leading organizations have leveraged successfully. People love to find meaning in what they do. They want to be part of something more than just earning a living. An attractive vision, touched by nobility turns them on! People’s readiness to make sacrifices comes from credibility of leadership at the top. Character and steadfastness, in essence, your integrity, underpinned with a deep respect for people, is what ultimately counts.

Regrettably, what we witness today in many organisations is the spread of cynicism. This has come about through countless instances of naked greed and devious conduct exhibited by some senior managers, who have added fuel to fire. A contributory factor to this toxicity in corporate cultures is the slavish adherence by many managers to the classic definition of motivation, which holds: Getting people - to want to do - what you want them to do. Thoughts like these have been doing the rounds for decades. 

They smack of manipulation and assume that getting work out of people by using the classic ‘carrot and stick’ approach is ultimately all that matters. Far from it!

Human beings are not just ‘things’ to be used or abused through chicanery. Manipulation has eroded trust in institutions and corporations over the years, and it’s high time we desist from such demeaning practices. Instead, we need to look at ways of engaging people at all levels of the hierarchy and across functional divides, in the mission of our respective enterprises, whilst being respectful and sincere to them. 

The main cause of wasteful inefficiencies and lack of effectiveness across the board, in the private and public sector, is down to the creeping mistrust caused by double standards and unfair treatment, that we are aware of, but continue to neglect willfully.

Howard Schultz said: “People want to be part of something they’re really proud of, that they’ll fight for, sacrifice for, that they trust.” I sent this quote to a few of my manager friends on Facebook and posed the question: “What could leaders in their organisations do to make this aforesaid sentiment real? I received instructive responses from places like Canada, UK, Saudi Arabia, and of course, Pakistan. 

This is what they shared: 

Rafey Zuberi: “‘Unleash the human potential’ is what Gottfried Thomas used to call it. It they ask for 100 rupees to do 100 units worth of work, give them Rs 200 to do 300 units in half the time! And they will do it... because they want to do more ... and do not entangle them in useless rules, regulations, procedures and policies ... let them be responsible on their own... because they want to be accountable for more!” 

Wajiha Shah: “Leaders must tap into the communication channels where larger than life ideas are discussed. The reluctance to move out of the comfort zone has to be overcome by engaging in activities where no financial goals are discussed, but just ideas about life (meaning, purpose, contribution). This will encourage people to break out of their shell... I see groups of people chatting every day in coffee breaks but not one company organised effort to tap into the “panchayat” wisdom.” 

Farhan Naeem: “Corporate leaders need to show their people the big picture (strategic goal); ask them to work on it, take their feedback, appreciate their ideas, and analyse them critically before them. It’ll develop their interest and participation in the [goals and] objective and accordingly they’ll feel motivated and proud upon achieving it. It is very important to highlight their contributions and achievements but before that, a leader has to be a role model, or in other words a ‘dealer of hope’ for the people for their good future.

Ron Grender: “A leader could and should gently but persistently question the status quo. Gently but consistently ask: are individual and collective organisational efforts being optimally directed toward the right outcomes (i.e., those of the client, student, patient, customer)? Thinking aloud so to speak. Quietly but reliably celebrate individual initiative and 'above the waterline' risk-taking. 

Loudly, publicly and frequently acknowledge the successes of the organisation and the collective efforts of all employees. Privately and sincerely express appreciation to the real leaders: the few real risk takers and innovators who are closest to the "something" and who are determined to elevate performance/service to the highest level.”

Zahra Majid: “People would want to relate to achieving self actualisation needs by prioritising what is most important to homo-sapiens basic needs on the hierarchy by using emotions of attachment, pride, ownership, association and love to exhibit behaviors most natural. This is when individual pride and spirit of sacrifice become much greater than individual agendas.” 

Qaiser Mansoor Malik: “I think we need to look at management models where the leaders are hands on and work with the floor workers. Participation in improving productivity comes from the shop floor rather than from the top. Sincerity of corporate leaders can only be seen if they come out of their glass houses and lead by example.”

Studies have shown beyond doubt that CSR and financial performance of an enterprise can be closely related, but only if visionary management practices are in place. According to David Vogel, there is a market for virtue!

What my friends have put forward above is largely commonsense, but essential if we are to break new grounds in performance through a deeper level of human engagement. Embrace such simple ideas. Make a difference.