Saturday, 19 March 2011

Selfishness - a Recipe for Failure

For many years "The Apprentice" has offered UK viewers the unedifying sight of desperate contestants fighting it out to become Lord Sugar’s next business protege. However, the show’s celebration of selfishness and ruthlessness as the keys to success in the world of commerce has been debunked by one of the country’s leading businessmen.

Newly-departed Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy said getting on with others and a work ethic of giving ‘more than you take’ were far more valuable assets – and ones that schools should be instilling in children.

Sir Terry, 55, who left Tesco earlier this month after 14 years at the helm during which he took the supermarket’s annual pre-tax profits from £750million to more than £3billion, said that the show was ‘not a very accurate reflection of business - The Apprentice is good entertainment but it’s got nothing to do with business or how to be successful in business'. 

‘If you’re ruthless and selfish, you won’t do well in business’, and went on to say, ‘Everyone wants a successful society, but to have a successful society you need a successful economy and to have a successful economy you want the best and the brightest wanting to go into business, into enterprise, and seeing it as worthwhile and noble work, which it is.' 

Sir Terry believes that schools should undertake ‘social skills training’ to equip pupils for the workplace as they must be able to work with other people. He said: ‘I think that employers need to be clearer with schools and universities that they also want teaching of values, of citizenship, of how as an individual it’s important to give more than you take. That’s what makes you effective in the workplace – that people like working with you and you’re a useful member of a team and you’re keen and happy to give service.’

Sir Terry left his chief executive role at Tesco three weeks ago, having built the supermarket into the UK market leader. It now has 30 per cent of the market, nearly double that of closest rival Asda.

Sir Terry Leahy speaks a lot of common sense (see my Book, Chapter 6), but unfortunately 'common sense' is not all that 'common', particularly in larger organisations ... where most 'leaders' fail to listen to anyone and enjoy telling people what to do. Flawed HR reward systems also drive people's selfishness and short-term self-interest (partly due to outdated/flawed practices still being taught in business schools), rather than promoting teamwork, listening to customers, and ensuring that everyone's intrinsically motivated and committed to continuously improving the value provided (i.e. through its products, services and solutions) to their customers (which engenders loyalty and creates long-term, sustainable success). 

Sir Terry is also right about the importance of getting things right with regard to creating a successful economy and a successful society ... however, unfortunately for Sir Terry, and the nation, selfishness and self-interest still rule, which is why we are where we are today. Put bluntly, if the UK were already doing what Sir Terry suggests, the UK would not be in the state it's in! 

... and things will have to change rapidly (and fundamentally) if the UK's going to not only survive but prosper. The real challenge faced is all the self-interest shown by current 'leaders', including politicians, the bankers, the landowners, the media and the judiciary, as well as the vast majority of 'leaders' of public bodies and large corporations, who profit heavily from how things currently are and who'll resist any change that's not in their own self-interest.

Indeed, if we look at major changes currently occurring, things are changing ... but change is going in totally the wrong direction! For instance the Government, rather than improving 'leadership practice'*, is currently trying to bribe GP's, using lucrative personal bonuses/deals, to ration healthcare and destroy the NHS, whilst creating fundamental conflicts of interest and destroying the trust between doctor and patient ... contrary to society's best interests ... which is now dividing the GP community ... between the 'good' and the 'greedy'.

Selfishness, self-interest and greed are all around us ... and are destroying this once great nation ... a nation previous generations died in order to protect! Will we see the people of this once great nation once again stand up and be counted ... we shall see! The 'good' GP's/doctors are trying to ... and thousands more besides (sign the petition and join the protests by clicking HERE).

* NB changing 'leadership practice' is currently transforming 'leading' hospitals out of all recognition (e.g. 50%+ improvement in performance, customer satisfaction and staff morale, all in less than a year - referred to in my book too), but this is being completely ignored (because Cameron/Lansley want to ration healthcare and privatise the NHS, not improve it, and prefer to use NHS money to bribe GP's to back their reforms, instead of using it to improve the health of the nation)!