New Years Day. Always a time of deep introspection, reflection and reiteration of what I want my life to be all about. I like to think about my life in relation to the whole; in other words, what do I want my relationships, family, business, etc. to be like, and what actions must I take to make that happen?
Along these lines, I couldn't help but think about some of the major trends in business today. There's been so much written about the failure of corporate America to satisfy the needs of customers, and in an attempt to fix the symptoms we've created new mantras (create customer evangelists!), new technologies (CRM), special programs (frequent flier miles), and the list goes on.
But who, exactly, is "corporate America"?
The corporate transformational change that we consumers have been crying for will happen when we -- the consumers, the customers, the employees -- begin living the changes we want to see. Instead of fixing the symptoms, let's address the root cause. Putting the blame on faceless corporations is the same error as putting the blame on our spouses, our co-workers, our families. Not only are we all connected, but we ourselves are individual components of multiple intersecting wholes.
We, the individuals who make up today's society, have created the world we see today. We've made -- and are continuing to make -- different choices than our parents and grandparents did at our age. These choices have created consequences that we often don't want to recognize or own, so we point outside ourselves and declare the culprits to be the big bad corporations (for whom we work) and government officials (whom we elect) and 'the system' (which we accept).
So what are these choices? Here are a few factoids from Bowling Alone that indicate that our social and family ties are loosening, and we're increasingly withdrawing into ourselves:
- In the past 3 decades, participation in government, local clubs and organizations dropped by up to 50%.
- Job instability, churn and the increasing numbers of independent contractors have resulted in a measurable decline of social connectedness in the workplace.
- Americans are entertaining friends at home 45% less frequently now than in the mid-70s; the number of picnics declined by 60% in the same time period.
- The fraction of married Americans who say that their family 'usually dines together' has dropped from 50% to 34%
- The number of families who vacation together dropped from 53% to 38%; watch TV together from 54% to 41%; sitting and talking, from 53% to 43%
- Reported charitable giving dropped by almost 20% from 1980 to 1995.
- The percentage of those who feel that "people in general today lead as good lives -- honest and moral -- as they used to" dropped from 50% in 1952 to 27% in 1998.
It's interesting to note that these percentages have remained more stable in small towns versus large cities. It's tough to be impersonal in a small town, but quite easy in a city. It's harder to be impersonal when you run a small business than when sheltered in the walls of a large corporation.
These statistics don't just show trends; they reveal our choices. We have chosen -- under the veil of 'too busy, not enough time, not enough money' -- to distance ourselves from our families, our co-workers and our communities. As isolated individuals, it's much easier to forget that we're part of a whole; that we're interconnected with everyone else and that our choices impact others as well as ourselves. We have made these choices individually but the combined effects are now reaching critical mass. How can we connect with a customer when we're not making meaningful connections with our own loved ones?
The lack of corporate/customer relationships is just the tip of the iceberg; it is symptomatic of a much more far-reaching issue. We've somehow adopted an us versus them mentality: not only between companies and customers, but between departments within the same company, between neighborhoods, races and religions. For real change to happen on the corporate and societal level, each one of us must first decide to build richer relationships within our own sphere of influence.... the forged bonds will move upward and outward, but we must start at the core, where we live. We must start by breaking down silos and walls within our own communities and companies and neighborhoods; by reaching out to others with compassion instead of holding back in distrust.
In a similar vein, we're calling on corporations to be more authentic, transparent and honest. Yet how will that happen if we're not transparent and honest ourselves? We so often are fearful of what others will think that we lose sight of our own authenticity. Political correctness has its limits. It's time for both individuals and businesses to stop trying to be all things to all people, and give ourselves permission to live honestly, and -- most importantly -- allow others to live their own truths without trying to change them. Each employee, each member of the whole, must be encouraged to live their own personal brand honestly and openly. When that happens, authentic and transparent corporate brands will naturally fall into place.
So perhaps our 2004 resolutions need not be so mundane. If each of us chooses to take ownership of our small section of the vast social fabric that ties us all together -- to tighten it up and halt the unravelling, not just with technology but with our own authentic goodness -- our society can be irrevocably changed for the better. Speaking for myself, I plan to seek out ways to be more authentic and transparent, more compassionate, and more willing to make time to deepen my connections with others. These are a few of my New Years resolutions; I hope you'll join me.