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Are corporations under too much pressure to perform?

Saturday, 13 July 2002 - Saturday, 13 July 2002 - Recent events highlight the following strategic/policy question: Are companies, especially public ones (i.e. listed in the stock exchange) under too much pressure to perform? If so, what collective/cumulative effect and what externalities does this have on individual or organisational behaviour, cultures, the economy and society?

When people and organisations are expected to yield smooth results, when consistency is often over-emphasised by those who observe or evaluate (directly or indirectly), when mistakes or occasional poor performance are not tolerated or over-emphasised (e.g. this applies to students in school, corporations in the financial markets, teams or athletes in sports), taking short cuts, as a consequence, cannot be ruled out as a behavioural outcome. These "short cuts" can take many shapes of forms, depending on many factors, one of which is ethics.

"Greed is good" was a popular motto in the eighties. Is greed inherent to the capitalist system? Is greed brought about by mass behaviour, peer or organisational or "social" pressure, maximisation of profits or return on investment. Is winning worth at all costs? Do the notions of "too much" or "enough" profit have any meaning (given that there are always inherent trade-offs to profiteering (e.g. business risks)?

Is failure unacceptable? "Celebrate failure" argue many management gurus. Not only can failure be a very educational experience, it can also become the seed for future success. Many junior champions lost their nerve under the pressure to win every game, many young film stars (wonder kids) could not handle the pressure, etc..

Do we need to re-think our definition of "success"? Of "business"?

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Category: Policy

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