Drawing positive outcomes, with "thick value" | Mike Cook

By Mike Cook
Contributing Writer 

Recently I was flying, and flying, and flying (lots of weather delays) from an engagement on the East Coast, on the way to my home to Anacortes.

As I fly I often read, and I was completing a book I have thoroughly enjoyed reading: ‘The New Capitalist Manifesto, Building a Disruptively Better Business,” written by Umair Haque.

I found this read to be a mind-expanding exercise, one that challenged me to examine some of my own biases in order to appreciate the premise of many points the author made.

As often the case in my reading, I found myself drawing parallels from what the author termed “thick value,” and many of the coaching opportunities
managers face each and every day in the workplace.

Haque presents “thick value” as a conceptualization of economic value that focuses on the full spectrum of the outcomes produced by a commercial enterprise, not merely the simple financial results. (View this video for a fuller explanation of this concept.)

As defined by Haque, “thick value” means the creation of enduring, meaningful, sustainable advantage that deeply benefits the larger society. He proposes five new cornerstones to replace those of 20th Century capitalism.

– Loss advantage: from value chains to value cycles
– Responsiveness: from value propositions to value conversations
– Resilience: from strategy to philosophy
– Creativity: from protecting a marketplace to completing a marketplace
– Difference: from goods to betters

The proposed cornerstone that caught my attention was the last, shifting focus from the production of goods to the production of betters, meaning not simple consumption but the betterment of the life of the consumer.

As I was flying, I began to formulate questions that might be asked in the workplace reflecting a focus on the production of betters, rather than simply goods.

Here are a few that came to mind. I wish I had them available some years back when I was building my own organization.

– Why would I want to work for you (employee interviewing), how will my life be better?
– Why would I want to work with you (coworker), how will my life be better?
– Why would I want to have you working for me (manager interviewing), how will my life be better?
– Why would we want you as part of this team (team interview), how will our lives be better?

And of course each of the questions can be asked of the inquiring party in return. After all, this is a business deal.

I find these questions challenging, intrusive, likely to be very revealing, and possibly leading to extraordinary dialogues if pursued with intention—certainly of much greater value than: “Tell me about your benefits package,” or “What are you most proud of in your career?”

Personally, I think Umair Haque is on to something with his notions of 21st Century capitalism, something that I think has been eluding those of us who have been studying employee engagement for a while.

If we are honest I think many of us, myself too at times, have been trapped in what Haque would term 20th Century capitalism, primarily paying attention to whatever might lead to furthering the extraction of outputs from our employees (operating effectiveness), rather than focusing on insuring that the experience of working in our organizations produces tangible positive outcomes for everyone concerned, not just income or revenue for the business.

More than 20 years ago I founded a management-development consultancy that came to be called Vitalwork. I see now that in many ways our vision for that business anticipated the new conceptualization of capitalism put forth by Umair Haque.

In those 20-plus years I am pretty certain we never employed anyone who did not take some sort of reduction in income when they came to work with us. Essentially our promise to anyone joining us was that working there would provide something that had been missing in their lives—it would be better.

Since I have now moved on from Vitalwork, I can affirm in hindsight that indeed my life was bettered by being there.

We operated from the following vision: It is possible to design working environments where there is respect for each and every individual contributor, regard and reward for original thought, and the expressed recognition that nearly every employee’s first objective is to make a contribution in their place of work every day they are there.

Our intention was to sell what we were as an organization, our own vision of what was possible from the experience of being at work. We didn’t get it right every time but we did take a good run at it.

From the original founding of that business in 1990, four other consultancies spun off, all with our encouragement and partnership. I like to think that we produced “thick value” even before we knew what to call what we were doing.

How does working for you, with you or around you make life better for those you interact with?

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. His columns appear on BBJToday.com every other Tuesday. He also publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.

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