What successful can-do capitalism culture could teach Morrison

Scott Morrison is all for can-do capitalism. But it’s a pity he’s not prepared to take on the lessons from some of the world’s most successful companies on how to produce a healthy, productive corporate culture.

Brian Donovan of Donovan Leadership recently did a small scale survey of Australian leaders on the subject and cited as amplification a Harvard Business Review article by Emma Seppälä, of Yale School of Management and Kim Cameron, the William Russell Kelly Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan.

The HBR article argued that too many companies “bet on having a cut-throat, high-pressure, take-no-prisoners culture to drive their financial success.” Sounds a bit like modern Australian politics.

But reviewing the research they conclude that “that not only is a cut-throat environment harmful to productivity over time, but that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.”

This is a confirmation of the 1990s research by Karl Weick and Karlene Roberts which concluded that high performing organisations are characterised by “A well-developed organisation mind capable of reliable performance is thoroughly social. It is built on an ongoing interrelating and dense interrelations….As people move toward individualism and fewer inter-connections, organisation mind is simplified and soon becomes indistinguishable from individual mind. With this change comes heightened vulnerability to accidents.”

A recent book by Bavel and Packer, The Power of Us, also explains that functional and resilient institutions and societies need to draw on ‘the power of collective mind’.

Seppala and Cameron point out that stress and pressure result in hidden costs – a clear analogy with current Australian politics where the losses are not financial (except to taxpayers) but in good governance and policy development and implementation.

Another problem they talk about is the cost of disengagement“While a cut-throat environment and a culture of fear can ensure engagement (and sometimes even excitement) for some time, research suggests that the inevitable stress it creates will likely lead to disengagement over the long term. Engagement in work — which is associated with feeling valued, secure, supported, and respected — is generally negatively associated with a high-stress, cut-throat culture.”

Think for a moment about the drunken, sexist behaviour of MPs and the corollary of public disengagement with politics. Of course, can do capitalist companies need engagement while the Morrisons of the world probably believe the lack of engagement and belief ‘they all do it’ is advantageous.

The authors also argue that lack of loyalty is a major cost as we see from the revolving doors of successive Prime Ministers. Will Dutton add to this as Morrison’s nemesis arguing for a last minute change to help the Government’s fortunes?

Citing a Gallup poll they argue that engagement predicted wellbeing above and beyond anything else. It also indicated that wellbeing is more important than material benefits which contradicts a bedrock Australian political assumption.

They suggest that wellbeing comes from one place, and one place only — a positive culture.

The list of principles they propose to create a positive culture are: caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends; providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling; avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes; inspiring one another at work; and, emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work; treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity.

They then go on to look at ways to foster these principles and suggest that research points to four steps to try:

First, foster social connections as empirical studies confirm that positive social connections at work produce highly desirable results. Positive social connections in Parliament seem to be less prevalent than the connections detailed in the Jenkins review. The research also suggests that excessive drinking is another outcome – witness the wild Wednesdays in Canberra – and poor social relations as women in Canberra can testify.

Second, show empathy. In Canberra the PM and his staff show their version of empathy by suggesting they are offering support while they are actually briefing against them in sexist and demeaning ways as Julia Banks has revealed. The irony is that, as Jane Dutton (no relation) at the CompassionLab at the University of Michigan, demonstrates leaders who show compassion toward employees foster individual and collective resilience in challenging times.

Third, go out of your way to help. Jonathan Haidt at NYUs Stern School of Business shows in his research  that when leaders are not just fair but self-sacrificing, their employees are actually moved and inspired to become more loyal and committed themselves.

Self-sacrifice is something Morrison presumably admires in others but not his Ministers.

Finally, encourage people to talk to you – especially about their problems. Not surprisingly, “trusting that the leader has your best interests at heart improves employee performance.” That’s not exactly the Morrison approach who always has his own best interests at heart.

The authors cite research by Amy Edmondson of Harvard that a culture of safety in which leaders are inclusive, humble, and encourage their staff to speak up or ask for help, leads to better learning and performance outcomes. This could apply within Morrison’s Pentecostalist mates group but there are no signs of it elsewhere.

In contradistinction to our current Government the authors say: “When you know a leader is committed to operating from a set of values based on interpersonal kindness he or she (sets the tone for the entire organization)” and “demonstrates that leader kindness and generosity are strong predictors of team and organizational effectiveness.”

And if Morrison doesn’t want to listen to such ideas he could always call on his go to consultants, McKinsey,  to come up with the answers he wants.

In a Linked-In survey Brian Donovan looked at the problems leaders faced in the current hybrid working model and the major issue was maintaining a positive culture with 43% nominating that.

Supporting the emotional and mental health of team members was nominated by 33% which, of course, is different from Morrison’s ‘support’ of backbench women who cross him.