Admittedly, I am a bit behind in my reading of HBR, this is why I address November issue only now. I have read in it a series of articles about the Good Company, started by an article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter “How Great Companies Think Differently”, followed by an interview with CEO (now emeritus) of Infosys, Mr. N. R. Narayana Murthy and finished by few examples of today’s good companies (although in those examples each company was good in a different area). For clarity’s sake “Good” for ideas and companies described in those articles means one or all of the following: social responsibility, sustainability, protection of values, community engagement etc.
As much as I am all for this kind of organisation, I hate to say it, but it doesn’t exist. It is not organisation, after all, which is Good. It is (or those are) always people. In all cases those are the people who are strong, committed, consistent and persistent enough (accidentally, all of those are true leadership qualities) who managed to turn companies they have been running into good citizens, making money in the process. The best proof of this can be found in the interview: CEO Murthy had a vision of running India’s most respected company and he managed to do so for a long time. But one day some people in the Infosys behaved against CEO’s values, getting themselves fired for sexual harassment or being subject of various investigations. I have to admit that reading that interview I had a feeling that Mr. Murthy stepped down because he realized that he cannot control all the people (apparently over 130000 employees) he was responsible for. Maybe he couldn’t convince everybody that his good values are also theirs. Each person has its own code – and it is people who make or break the vision. Each example presented in those articles has a person, an individual, behind it. Rules and laws don’t make a good company, as we all know. If that would be so, most of the companies in existence today would deserve to be called “good”.
A strong CEO with strong values can mold his company into socially responsible organisation, serving to all as a beacon in the darkness, giving guidance to all in doubt. His positive values and culture can permeate through all levels of the company, so that they will last very long. But it takes one wrong decision betraying those values to start the erosion process. Especially if that decision is made up top. As Mr. Murthy said: “…Setting an example at the top is the best way to instill confidence throughout the company”. Unfortunately, that example can go both ways. New CEO can destroy (or start destruction process) af all that has been painstakingly built.