So goes the system, so goes the business culture

By: Kamil Toume

If you do not keep up with the pace of technological change in your business, your business will be rendered obsolete. It will become outdated and irrelevant in the fast-technological change which is sweeping the business world. Adopting the fast sweeping change will let your company stand out and outpace most competitors. This is the most prevalent view in the business community when it comes to technologies and IT systems. Every business needs an EPR, an enterprise resource planning system that offers efficiency, streamlined processes and cost effectiveness. Surely it is easier to integrate all the functions into one and monitor the workflow running across them seamlessly, but there are serious side effects.

Most ERPs and software solutions eat the business culture

Installing an ERP means installing a completely new culture. Having an ERP system has many advantages, but It does override the business culture and its identity if it is not a deliberate one. What I mean by a deliberate culture is a culture that is intentionally created by the business leaders. I have known many companies’ cultures which were replaced with the culture of the company implementing the system. For example, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft do not install software solutions, they install and enforce their cultures. If SAP HR solutions demand this way of recruiting, training or firing, the company implementing the system will be bound by the new rules. Not only will the system be implemented but it would impose new rules that their implementations form the new culture and its requirements.

Some businesses think that the software or the ERP purchase, cost and implementation are the problem, but they are not. The problem is the side effects on the culture of the business. Most companies that implemented huge ERP implementations, the EPR or the IT system became the center of attention. In such companies, what matters is the streamlining of the processes, monitoring and upkeeping the system. The system functionality and maintainability are a top priority. They sustain the competitive advantage for the business.

The most recent example is Whole Food Market, an American supermarket chain that specializes in selling organic products. The chain was acquired by Amazon in 2017. Whole Food Market was a shinning leadership example of the Conscious capitalism movement that aims to elevate humanity through business. Higher Purpose, stakeholder orientation, conscious leadership and conscious culture are the four key principles as co-founded by John Mackey, CEO of WFM. Prior to the acquisition, people and their health were the purpose and the real competitive advantage for Whole Food Market. Success came from integrating the principles of conscious capitalism into everyday life.

kamil toume

They want us to be robots’: Whole Foods workers fear Amazon’s changes is an article published in the Guardian, a British newspaper. Whole Foods staff are worried that Amazon, the grocery chain’s new owner, is trying to turn them into “robots” and are seeking to set up a union to protect their jobs. Workers at “America’s healthiest grocery store” say management is trying to cut jobs and reduce wages as they reshape the 38-year-old grocery chain in Amazon’s image. A Whole Foods employee in Southern California said the culture at Whole Foods had changed as upper management has focused on maximizing profit and homogenizing stores.

When conscious leadership became consciously unconscious.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Food Market has failed to influence and encourage Jeff Bezos, Chief Executive Officer of Amazon to adopt the Conscious Capitalism practices. Jeff Bezos does not believe in elevating humanity through business. He does not believe also in the Conscious Capitalist Credo which states the following: “We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. It appears that Jeff Bezos does not think that purpose maximization leads to profit maximization. He favors the second one only. Amazon has been accused of treating staff like robots as it emerged that ambulances had been called out 600 times to the online retailer’s UK warehouses in the past three years.

Under his leadership at Whole Food Market, John Mackey was the hero for conscious capitalism, conscious leadership and conscious purpose. I do not know much about the motives that were behind the deal between WFM and Amazon, but it is obvious that Mr. Mackey was consciously aware that Amazon’s culture will supersede Whole Food Market. To his credit, John Mackey started conscious capitalism movement and upheld the principles of conscious leadership. To his discredit, he consciously let Amazon systems override his company culture.

kamil toume

If business leaders view the cutting-edge technologies as their competitive advantage, then technology will surely eat the business culture and make people subordinate to it. If leaders view people as their real advantage, technology will support the people and sustain the culture. In this case, the success of the business culture is measured by the way leaders view the grand purpose of the business which should be people not the number of the newly purchased and implemented systems.

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