Back in 2015, the story broke. For the last six years, the engineers at Volkswagen had manipulated the system, deliberately fudging the numbers on their diesel engines during emissions testing to comply with US standards. In reality, they were emitting up to 40x more air pollution when on the roads. The scandal ended up costing VW billions of dollar in fines, an immediate 10% drop in share prices, a knock on global sales, and almost irreparable damage to its reputation and credibility.
Over the last week or so I’ve been reading ‘Story Driven‘ by Bernadette Jiwa. She explains her ideas on what drove the engineers at VW to deception:
“The company’s goal was to beat the competition and be number one. […] Innovation, increased sales, increased pre-tax return on sales, and being a ‘top employer’ were listed as the means by which they would achieve this goal.”
According to Jiwa, VW was a prime example of a ‘competition-driven company’ – since 2011 their entire focus was on being a ‘market leader’ and everything they did was geared towards this. As a consequence, the company culture forced honest, smart, and dedicated people to hit their metrics. Meet your targets and you’ll be alright.
The problem with playing to win
When you’re sole aim is to win – to make money, or increase turnover – you’re shaping the culture of your organisation. If you’re not careful, you can create an environment where people start to believe the wrong thing is the right thing to do. The effects may not be immediately apparent, but over time these ‘wrong things’ stack up and the cracks in your identity and reputation begin to appear. And when you’re exposed, like VW, it will all be too late.
Don’t try to matter by winning. Win by mattering.
In the 50’s and 60’s, people created value by working with their hands – an Industrial Economy. We then moved into an era where our ‘heads’ or ideas produced value – an Information Economy. Then came the computer and all of a sudden we were designing, coding and connecting through technology. But today, we’re in the age of the Meaning Economy, where the brands that thrive allow their people to work with their hearts as well as their heads and hands.
The Meaning Economy has also produced a new kind of consumer – one who is drawn to the brand who shares their values and vision for the world. We are more likely to part with our money if we feel an emotional connection with the company we’re giving it to.
Pursue meaning, not ‘more’
More often than not business owners eyes light up at the numbers. The balance sheet rules all. Sales figures are King. And thou shalt all be judged by P&Ls.
That world has changed.
If you can take the time to sit down and figure out your company’s authentic vision for the future. A change you want to make in the world, underpinned by a clear set of values you’re willing to champion, that has the power to engage and motivate staff internally and connect emotionally with your customers, you will win. Your ‘why’ and reason for existing *is* your competitive advantage, not the unnecessary meddling of ‘marketing types’.
Don’t make a VW-sized mistake. Pursue meaning, not ‘more’.
You can a previous post I’ve done on ‘more more more’ culture here.