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What should a corporation or organization stand for?

John's reflections, leadership Leave a comment

Rereading David Packard’s radical views from the 1940s about what a corporation should be caused me to reflect on how much all this has changed in our time, and how far the business world has come.  By way of reminder, we wrote on June 11 about Packard’s frustration with the narrow perspective of his fellow business leaders. His was indeed a rare voice in the 1940s and 1950s, perhaps even an early proponent of what we have come to call corporate social responsibility.   Packard argued on various occasions with Stanford professor Paul Holden, one of the most respected management thinkers of the 1940s. Holden espoused the philosophy, prevalent among academics and … Continue reading

Truth versus authenticity in organizational storytelling

authenticity, John's reflections, leadership Leave a comment

Writing about Hewlett-Packard these past weeks, I was reminded of research I did on corporate stories of identity when I was a doctoral student in England. One of my most interesting findings at that time had to do with the role of truth and that of authenticity in organizational storytelling.  Here is the distinction I have come to make: In companies with strong cultures and institutional narratives that support them, authenticity is far more important than truth. For definitional purposes, I call a story “authentic” if it is representative of the organization’s values, and consistent with the behavior of the individuals portrayed. It is true if the facts are correct, if … Continue reading

Radical management in the early days at HP

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Irish playwright and Nobel laureate George Bernard Shaw wrote that “all great truths begin as blasphemies.” Such was certainly the case with the management ideas of Bill Hewlett and David Packard back in the 1930s and 40s. How blasphemous were their ideas at the time? Looking back on the company’s early years, David Packard wrote or spoke about a number of occasions where he was publicly ridiculed for his views on management. To his credit, though, he would never waver from his principles. One example of negative public reaction to Packard came in 1942. That year, at age 29, he attended a conference on wartime production, led by Stanford professor … Continue reading

A radical people policy… from 1937

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Writing these past few weeks about leaders who eventually come to the conclusion that business is mostly a people game has caused me to wonder why more start-up ventures don’t think about this from the outset. After working with a wide variety of entrepreneurs in the past twenty years, I can safely say that many of them would have avoided a variety of unnecessary problems by first getting the right kind of individual on their bus.   It is indeed a rare entrepreneur who thinks early enough about managing the people side of things. Many are so consumed by getting a product to market quickly or implementing a new strategic idea that they tend to put … Continue reading

Powerful stories about ‘putting people first’

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“We put our people first.” These days, such declarations have become somewhat banal, simply because they are so pervasive. Companies and managers talk of their desire to hire the best “talent”, and to develop their human resources. Or, they declare that the employees are the organizations’ most critical resource, that they will always come first, and so on.  Of course, many such statements are sincere; the problem is that they are so common nowadays that they have lost much of their meaning. One has the impression at times that public statements about the importance of people—in interviews, annual reports, or other public documents—may simply be corporations writing what they think their stakeholders … Continue reading

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