Dutch Executives Seeing Green – How Millennials Are Reshaping the World

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Davos, Switzerland — If you can’t beat them, bribe them. Are the days of environmentalists versus capitalists coming to an end?  DSM, a global firm based in The Netherlands, is tying forty-percent of its executives’ short-term incentive pay to whether or not the company meets its environmental and sustainability goals. 

What is driving capitalism’s sudden interest in saving the environment? My guess is that it’s the Millennials, the twenty-somethings who make up the most rapidly growing demographic in our current workforce.  When  Millennials go looking for jobs, they seek out employers who are a cultural fit. That is, they want to work for companies which care about the same things they care about and which demonstrate that care both by the way they do business and by the non-business causes they support.  Outside of Silicon  Valley and the High-Tech world, Millennials have not yet made it to the C-Suite. However they are the force which is motivating a growing number of companies to select and act on a cause. Actions companies take may include realigning their business practices to support the cause they’ve adopted, allowing employees to perform volunteer work on company time,  educating their employees and their clients about the cause, or making outright donations to non-profit organizations.

Because they are tuned into and care deeply about such things as culture and branding, Millennials are making an impression on corporations not only as prospective employees but as prospective consumers of their products and services.  The radio station I listen to each morning (The Rod Ryan Show  on Houston’s 94.5 The Buzz) appeals  to a Millennial audience. In their sometimes R-rated, may-not-be-suitable-for-more-sensitive-listeners morning banter, the Buzz’s DJs make more references to “giving back” and talk more about what celebrity or what local business is doing what good deeds than any station I have ever listened to before. Not only that, the show itself supports its favorite causes. Its Drumsticks for Drumsticks campaign auctions off drumsticks signed by famous drummers to raise money for the Houston Food Bank.  In the fall, it raises funds to provide backpacks to underprivileged Houston school children. This spirit of giving back is being repeated by other companies throughout the United States whose clientele is primarily Millennials.

Because the Millennials’ manner of speaking (concise, direct, straight-from-the-hip) often comes across as curt, Baby Boomers tend to write them off as rude. But these young people have heart. They not only care about the world, they pay attention to how individual companies treat the environment,  animals, third world countries, and other underdogs, and they demonstrate their concern by choosing which companies they will or will not work for and whose products or services they will or will not buy.

The BBC reports that  “At the Davos 2014 World Economic Forum, a gathering of more than 1600 global business leaders in Switzerland this week, one of the hot topics is ‘doing business the right way’.”  In fact, the summit’s theme is Reshaping the World.

When I was growing up, Bob Dylan sang, in his awful twang, about “The Times, They Are A-Changing.”  Well, guess what. Nothing is static. The times are changing again, maybe, (sorry, all you doomsayers) for the better. Under pressure from our young people, corporations are recognizing that the bottom line and making the world a better place are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, they may be more closely linked than we ever imagined before.

The Biggest Mistake American Business People Make in China

Today, in my Business Communications Class, one of my Chinese students filled me in on the biggest mistake American business people make when they travel to China. “They think business deals are made in the office, but they aren’t. All important deals are made off site, after hours.  The Chinese have you spend a day at their worksite, but that’s just a formality. Then they invite you to have dinner with them after work. A lot of Americans turn down the invitation, saying they have other plans, and they lose the deal.”

Entrepreneurs travel all the way to China, meet up with business people, and then fly back to the United States having accomplished nothing, and never know why. Shore up on the business culture of the country you’re traveling to.  In many Asian and Latin American countries, business people will spend  days getting to know you, wining and dining you, even inviting you home to meet their families, as an American might bring home a potential spouse. Turn down these invitations and it’s quite likely you will not be invited back to their homes or to their offices. Goodbye, international contract.

business cardMy Chinese students have also informed me that when you give your business card to a Chinese national,  it is important to hold the card between both your hands and extend it towards them (with a slight bow, if you like) as a gesture of respect.  Handing someone your card with one hand or, worse still, dropping it on the table in front of them, is a sign of disrespect and disregard. You’re signaling that  you could really care less about doing business with them.

Hǎo yùn  (Good Luck!)

Recipe for Success – Melt or Stir Gently? Homogenization vs. Diversification

A growing number of Americans now drive out to the countryside to buy non-homogenized milk directly from small, family-owned farms. Why? Because it has more flavor than the sanitized, grocery store variety. It’s also more satisfying.

Diversity in the workplace isn’t about eradicating the attitudes, styles, characteristics, and cultural traits which make people different, but about respecting and celebrating those differences. Studies show that diverse workforces have an edge over their more homogenous competitors when it comes to innovation. A team made up of people of different genders, races, nationalities, sexual orientations, and religions will, by its varied nature, be more dynamic in its approach to creating new products and services and improving old ones. Such teams also put a more diverse spin on the advertising of these products and services. Bland down your employees’ differences by, overtly or subtly, encouraging them all to think and act the same and you will end up with the human resources equivalent of homogenized grocery-store milk.

When I was in school, teachers taught us that America was one big melting pot into which generation after generation of immigrants was assimilated. Today the trend in American schools, as well as in American society, is to move away from assimilation and towards multiculturalism. Drawing on the art and music and cuisine and traditions of  immigrants makes our country more colorful and more interesting than any melting pot ever could. To derive the greatest benefits from your employees’ backgrounds, do not push a culture of assimilation but one of mutual respect. This, in turn, will attract a more diverse customer base.  As whites slowly lose their foothold as the majority race in our country, appealing to more diverse clientele simply makes good business sense.

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In her recent commentary “2013: The Year Men Became Obsolete?” for Time Magazine (December 30, 2013) Camille Paglia addressed the error Americans have made in expecting successful, high-achieving women to act like men.  “In France, Italy, Spain and Latin America, by contrast, many ambitious women seem to have found a formula for asserting power and authority in the workplace while still projecting sexual allure and even glamor. This is the true feminine mystique, which cannot be taught but flows from an instinctive recognition of sexual differences.”

The purpose of diversity training should not be to create a gender-blind, race-blind, homogenous workforce, but a workforce which values and capitalizes on the diverse merits and strengths of its employees.