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7 The Good Employer

Bassi, Laurie Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Paul Levy walked the halls of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

But he may as well have been walking a tightrope.

The Great Recession had hit, and Levy, CEO of the Boston hospital, had to cut labor costs while somehow preserving a high level of patient care. As he considered his options, Levy watched as a janitor emptied the wastebasket, a food service worker delivered meals, and other low-wage employees pushed patients through the halls on gurneys. He listened as they spoke kind words to patients and their families, he witnessed their cheerful presence and gentle care, and he realized that these “low-skill” workers were delivering health care.

As layoffs loomed large, this was not an idle insight. Levy knew that these workers are normally the first to go. But he also knew that patients would suffer in small but real ways as a result. Levy was not content with “normal,” and so he called a meeting of all employees who were able to attend in the hospital’s auditorium.

He struggled to find the right words that would explain to all present what he had seen and heard: that each of them, down to the lowest-paid employee, was critical to delivering quality health care, and that perhaps there was some way that high-wage employees could find to save the jobs of their colleagues who earned less. He didn’t have to struggle for long. Before he was able to finish his thought, the auditorium erupted in applause. He had spoken a truth that touched the hearts of those present. Money-saving ideas poured in, and the hospital managed to save almost all of the positions targeted for layoffs.

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11 A Hopefully Idealistic Vision

Bassi, Laurie Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

We hope we’ve made our case that the Worthiness Era is at hand. That companies, more and more, will have to prove to be good employers, sellers, and stewards to succeed. And that companies that don’t do this risk being left behind, out in the cold by a public that is increasingly ethical in its economic choices.

But we realize you may remain skeptical. You may be saying: “This sunny vision is too good to be true. Companies may be talking up sustainability, being an employer of choice, and taking care of customers, but they haven’t truly changed their stripes. They’re still profit-maximizing organizations obsessed with shareholders’ short-term gains. This Worthiness Era business is hopelessly idealistic.”

Conversely, the more conservative of you may be saying, “This vision is unrealistic. Companies may try to tap green consumer trends and fire up workers. But they can’t put excess attention on employees, communities, and the environment. Profitability will suffer, and their ultimate stakeholders—shareholders—may lose everything. This Worthiness Era business is hopelessly idealistic.”

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Contents

Bassi, Laurie Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9781609940614

10 The Worthiness Era

Bassi, Laurie Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The forces we’ve sketched out in this book dovetail with other key, emerging business trends—all of which are converging to create a future in which companies increasingly must prove they are worthy of consumers’ business, employees’ best efforts, and investors’ dollars. The growing importance of organizational agility and the rise of Asia as an economic power have worked against the arrival of the Worthiness Era. But in both cases, factors in play are now propelling company goodness to the fore.

The stakes are high that companies take goodness to heart in the coming years. Without better stewardship of communities and the environment, humanity will continue on the path toward climatic disaster. Without better employer practices, millions of people will suffer unnecessarily in dissatisfying, anxiety-producing jobs. And without increased worthiness as sellers, companies will continue to sell products and services that too often harm customers physically and financially. The degree to which the Worthiness Era takes hold also has implications for the future of capitalism and America’s prosperity in the years ahead.

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4 The Political Imperative

Bassi, Laurie Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Computer chip maker Intel, famous for its “Intel inside” motto, got dinged from the outside in 2009.

Outside the marketplace, that is. European regulators slapped Intel with a record-large fine of $1.45 billion for abusing its dominant position in the market for a class of computer chips.1 After a lengthy probe of the market for chips known as x86 central processing units, the European Commission concluded that Intel engaged in illegal anticompetitive practices such as making direct payments to a major retailer on condition it stock only computers with Intel x86 chips.

“Intel has harmed millions of European consumers by deliberately acting to keep competitors out of the market for computer chips for many years,” said European Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes. “Such a serious and sustained violation of the EU’s antitrust rules cannot be tolerated.”2

Kroes’s indignant tone is telling. The antitrust penalty her organization levied on Intel is part of a pendulum swing back toward greater regulation of businesses by governments around the world. That regulatory push is among several political factors forcing companies in the direction of greater goodness. We define political here broadly to refer to the way people and organizations make decisions. In that light, this chapter looks at two other political trends besides the growth in government intervention. They are the increase in shareholder activism and the emergence of workplace democracy.

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