We Are They
They’ve made a mess of it, haven’t they? Those corporations, those politicians, and all those people taking advantage of all of us. We could spend days recounting the people and things that need fixing; couldn’t you? So where do we start, you know, start fixing all those corporations, those politicians, and those people making a mess of everything?
We start by defining the current problem, mostly because we were schooled that a problem well defined is half solved. Also, we remember Einstein is quoted as saying, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Pulling those two tools from our toolbox we present the starting point, problem, and solution for the needed cultural shift as simply: “We are they!”
Image Credit and (c): Stu Rees
All shareholders own the corporation, do we not? Are we responsible shareholders, aware of what we own and engaged in the oversight of where we put our money? Yes, it’s impossible for boards and executives of S&P 500 companies to hear the small voice of a single investor over the booming and bellowing voices of institutional or hedge fund managers. But corporations are not entirely deaf, and we’re not at all powerless.
Indeed, it’s impossible for corporations to be deaf to public criticism or scrutiny. Especially to the public outcry of thousands of those previously small voices rising up and speaking as one, and any other concerted and sustained action that might cause investors to pull away and stock value to decline. Declining stock value negatively impacts executive and board compensation, so a declining stock value quickly gets attention. If we attend to our roles of being diligent shareholders then we, the accumulated small voices, will be in a position to flex our power. Our power to break the systemically harmful practice of us serving corporations and replace it with the transformatively beneficial practice of corporations partnering with us—their owners.
Pity the politicians? Not at all. They too are us! Done properly, politicians are authentic and intelligent people with our collective interests at heart and hand, whom we entrust with the responsibility of making good decisions for the benefit of our common good. We voted for them, put them into office, our tax dollars pay their salaries, and we should be pleased to pay them well for work well done. By way of reasonable comparison, we own our politicians as we own the corporations in which we have stock. Not unlike corporate executives, few if any politicians are willing to hear that message and will likely try to dismiss it as quaint idealism, but it’s a truth fundamental to both capitalism and democracy. If we would simply attend to our responsibilities of being diligent voters and citizens, voting into public office those who are trustworthy and voting or storming out of public office those who are not, then we properly do our part to clean up the mess.
We look forward to Partnership Economics being sufficiently realized that our story of two farmer-brothers who caught each other sneaking bags of grain into each other’s barns will not be aspirational, but a standard operating procedure. Meanwhile, here and now, how do we all start the cultural transformation toward becoming those brothers and sisters for each other throughout the economic landscape?
First, we have to recognize that in today’s business world and in most exchanges we do not get what we deserve but what we negotiate. Many, if not most of us, are significantly under-compensated for our labor. So many, if not most of us, need to become more effective negotiators and self-promoters (not fakers) of real skills.
Second, we must recognize that every party in every exchange has important basic and psychological needs (e.g., at least the first four sets of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from food to self-esteem) and those needs should never be sacrificed for another party’s mere wants or goals (e.g., an executive denying sustainable wages to the rank and file in order to support their own lavish lifestyle).
Third, each of us must be a trustworthy person. Remember our litmus test for trustworthiness: 1) being transparent; 2) typically making good decisions; and, 3) being empathic, if not compassionate, toward the other and their needs. No, we may not be able to satisfy the other, but at least we're trustworthy about the exchange.
Now, within your context and your realm of influence, how might you and your company begin to contextualize "we are they" and begin to make the cultural transformative move to better capitalism? We’d love to hear of and share your success making that move.
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