Monday, August 27, 2012

AoM-Meeting 2012; People for People

The annual meeting of the Academy of Management  (AoM), at which 12,000 participants from all over the world discussed the latest research results and trends, was held in Boston August 3-7. One presentation type is the “Professional Development Workshops” (PDW), which are about the further education of university teachers. Professors Joe Mahoney (University of Illinois) and Sybille Sachs (University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich, HWZ) organized and moderated a panel discussion on “Value creation with People for People”. It was the continuation of an initiative that the two had started the previous year at the AoM-Conference with the goal that after years of excessive emphasis on shareholder-value thinking the importance of people should again be regarded as the central focus of interest (see the report of last year). Some impressions of the well attended and comprehensive presentation are noted in the following:

Professor Joe Mahoney (University of Illinois), a leading academic in the field of the Theory of the Firm, demonstrated among other things that managing decisions narrowly oriented to shareholder value often lead to breaks in the social contract that exists between the firm and its stakeholders (e.g. customers, employees etc.). This again leads to the underinvestment of these stakeholders in their firm specific engagement and generally to a lack of commitment of these stakeholders. The firm can thereby suffer a weakening of its resources and a decrease in productivity. In contrast, when stakeholders are involved as people in management decisions, not only can negative effects be avoided but also commonly found innovative solutions can be encouraged (see our book, Chapt.7, p. 114 ff). 

Ed Freeman (Darden Business School), theoretician and founder of Stakeholder-Management, regards the increasing inclusion of People for People thinking as the most central question of business education in our time. He reminded us that in the course of history great thinkers (e.g. Freud, Kant etc.) have acquired fundamental knowledge about human beings that has not been sufficiently regarded and applied in the education of true leaders.

Jim Post (Boston University), professor for Business and Society, who together with other authors has recently published a book on The Historical Development of Social-Responsibility – Idea in Theory and Practice, demonstrated with the example of his own university, how regard of human aspects have changed in teaching. Whereas a few years ago the vision of the Dean in charge was completely oriented to human aspects and required a humanistic mindset from the faculty, this orientation is missing today.

Sybille Sachs (HWZ), professor for Strategy and Stakeholder Theory, demonstrated in her contribution that the aspiration of a more human perspective, and in particular an increased propagation of positive narratives, is not only to be seen in management. In various academic disciplines analogous thoughts are being acquired, which means that there is potential for interdisciplinary cooperation. She illustrated this with quotations from very different scientists, who are advocating a positive humanistic view in their fields. One such quotation is given here: “In particular, we encourage researchers to examine the origins and implications of positive framing. We further advocate for positive leadership (e.g., Cameron 2008) in response to crisis and the outcomes to be gained from crisis events when positive frames and positive leadership are enacted” (James, Wooten and Dushek, 2012, p. 483).

The participants of the workshop agreed at the end of the extremely stimulating discussion that the idea of People for People needs to be continued and deepened in a presentation at the AoM-Meeting 2013. In the meantime information on examples of positive narratives in leadership education or in firms should be exchanged among the participants. Should you also know of examples, we would be happy to publish them in our blog.

Edwin Rühli

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What about Fair Play of International Sporting Events?

Sport games are a wonderful celebration of excellence in sports, excitement and pride. The expectation of sporting events is always high and the questions being raised even higher: Will the event help develop the infrastructure and the society of the host country in a sustainable way? Will all the money be well spent? Huge sport games like the Olympics and the European Cup might be vulnerable to corruption in several ways: match-fixing, corporate hospitality, ticket allocations, sale of television rights, corporate sponsoring (for further information please visit ). Above all they represent a big exercise in construction and procurement. Both stand for classic areas that are prone to corruption. In this article I will focus on these two challenges.

The development of infrastructure for international sporting events involves the mobilization of vast resources, complex logistical arrangements and pretty tight timeframes. These challenges probably became a sincere problem for one of the latest European sporting event. In regard of the Euro 2012 allegations of corruption have been made. Ukraine embarked on a program of modernization for Euro 2012. Stadiums were built or renovated, the airports were upgraded and the roads repaired. All this happened without competitive tenders, since in 2010 Ukraine cancelled the tenders for all Euro 2012 projects. Uefa, the governing body of football in Europe, is now under pressure to investigate claims of massive corruption. Opposition politicians claim that $ 4 billion from the state funds were stolen by officials ( ). But also in Brazil the preparation for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 face some corruption challenges. In June the government coalition deputies approved a bill that would keep the massive infrastructure budgets secret ( ). Because of critics the text got changed and the budget will be public but just after the public tender process.

In international sporting events many stakeholders are involved: the organizing international organization, the host country, different governments and last but not least the public - just to mention the very important ones. To enhance transparency, the involvement of all these stakeholders is central. A good way to do this is a multisectoral initiative.
In regard of the construction sector the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) could be of help ( CoST is a country centered multistakeholder initiative designed to promote transparency and accountability in publicly financed construction. CoST’s core is the belief that the processes involved in the construction of public infrastructure must be more transparent.

As all the mentioned critical aspects are important issues for various stakeholders, pressure will increase to make international sport mass gathering events that cost billions of dollars more transparent for them. Then availability of information to the public is of great importance to hold decision makers to account and to ensure better value for money. In this regard issue based multistakeholder initiative represent a promising solution.

Sabrina Stucki

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Switching perspectives

If we talk about stakeholder relationships, the most common reaction of people is to think about a firm and the different groups which are affected by the corresponding business activities. These stakeholders are usually named as financiers, customers, suppliers, employees, the communities and so on. By this means we talk about stakeholders defined by their functional relationships with a firm, which is situated in the center of its stakeholder relationships. Further, the usual way of thinking about stakeholder management is on how to elaborate positive relationships with stakeholders to create as much economic value as possible.

In this blog post I would like to address two rather unusual ways of thinking about stakeholder management by making use of the example of employees’ work-life balance as an independent issue. In the context of this issue, the traditional defined stakeholder categories of a firm are no longer of much use to capture the essential features of the employees’ work-life balance. To assess what is of real importance for people, a firm’s decision makers have to switch perspectives to find out which groups have a real stake in the issue of the work-life balance. The traditional stakeholder category of employees then becomes more fine-grained, for example as mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, part-time workers and so on. By switching the perspective from a functional firm-centered to an issue-based view, decision makers are able to identify a much broader, and arguably more useful, set of stakeholders related to the firms’ activities.

But how are those newly recognized stakeholders related to a firm’s value creation? I think part of the answer arises from a too narrow understanding of value in an economic sense. It is easy for decision makers to conceptualize economic value creation in traditional firm-stakeholder relationships, as those ties are, as described above, functionally defined. But from a stakeholder’s perspective, there are other ways of understanding what “value” actually consists of. Indeed, regarding the issue of the work-life balance, stakeholder groups like mothers or fathers acknowledge the results related to their relationship with a firm, for example the accessibility to corporate childcare services, but also the possibility to work part-time in a managerial function. However, besides those extrinsic values related to economic or non-economic goods or services in a stakeholder relationship, employees are also seeking for more intrinsically motivated results. For example, employees also appreciate the psychological result of job satisfaction, as they are recognized and esteemed by the firm’s decision makers regarding their stake in the issue of work-life balance, thus for example as mothers and fathers.

In my opinion, managerial decision-makers can realize a much broader potential for value creation if they not only rely on a firm-centered approach to create economic value together with their functional stakeholders. Switching perspectives to identify the stake different groups have in a focal issue and recognizing both the corresponding extrinsic and intrinsic results of stakeholder relationships will then lead to an enhanced mutual value creation of a firm with its stakeholders.

Thomas Schneider

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Market-advocates demand state interventions: An ideological absurdity that is reality

End of July Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank (ECB) indicated quite vaguely the intervention that ECB will buy state bonds from crisis countries of the Eurozone. The stock market reacted promptly by increasing quotations. This is interesting because interventions from institutions close to the state normally are not what market-advocates (to which stock exchanges overall can be counted) put into a good mood.

But, since the sub-prime crises from 2008/09 and the following bail-out of many financial institutes by states all over the world, things have fundamentally have changed, one could mean. The state since was not only decent again, it was indispensable. The neo-liberal ideology of a pure self-regulating market solving (nearly) all economic problems and beyond as well as the ideology’s inherent state-critic was out of fashion suddenly. Draghi’s indication of a possible intervention by ECB shows that state related interventions today not only are accepted but even are demanded by market participants. If this is right or wrong or just a logical mechanism, is irrelevant. It is reality and that’s what’s relevant.

But how this new reality gets along with an ideology that sees things quite different? Already after the first shock of the sub-prime crisis the old apologists of the market ideology came back on stage. In their contributions in diverse newspapers, magazines and journals it was to read again what blessings a pure market-driven system would be able to perform, as long as there is no distortion through state interventions. In many contributions the new facts haven’t found any access to the thoughts of the authors. It seems that many want to preserve their ideology and its theoretical backgrounds as it is and defend it against the new realities. One of the latest of such market-purists seems to be the US presidential candidate of the Republicans Mitt Romney. Overall, he seems to believe that the less state intervention exist in the market-economy (taxes, regulations etc.) the better it performs. The state primarily handicaps economic freedom and is a threat in general. If things would be so easy we never had the sub-prime or other economic crises.

To stay ideologically fair, we can take a look to the ideologists on the other side of the continuum, the state-centrists. Indeed most of them learned at latest after the fall of the Berlin wall that a pure centrally planned economy does not lead to salvation and comprehensive well-being. But, there are still contemporaries who try to save as much as possible from this state-centric ideology by ignoring facts and reality. The latest example is the President of France, François Hollande, a Socialist. As soon as he was in power he reduces the retirement age back to 60 years although the public purse is nearly empty and the people’s life expectancy rises and rises.

Either market-purist or state-centrist both are ideologically conservative and therefore also structurally conservative: old and outdated structures (e.g. pension age 60 in France, the intention to prolong temporary tax reliefs for very wealthy citizens by Romney in the USA although also here the public purse is scarce) will be preserved with such bodies of thought. Ignored thereby is the reality. A reality in which capital investors demand state interventions. It is obvious: such realities need new and a more progressive and pragmatic political thinking and measures. It is very important to adapt the institutional structures to the new needs which are already here and recognizable in the daily life. Ideologies are principally ok as guidelines but they have to develop themselves by incorporating actual reality. The other way is fatal: to simply serve the ideological clients by trying to impose ideological purism in reality.

Claude Meier