Douglas Henck has forty five years of experience working with multinational corporations. His field was Insurance. His first position was as an Actuary then as a Financial Officer. From here he moved into Strategic Management and worked in over ten countries in Asia and holding responsibility for tens of thousands of people.
His fascination in the world of work was – and remains even six years into his retirement – the question of motivation.
Questions such as: “Where does it come from?” and “Why do people go to work and work hard?”. were met by the repetition of philosophy, all of which pointed Douglas Henck in the direction of social good.
Again and again, he saw that people really do “want to feel that they are part of making a difference”. He decided that becoming the facilitator of ‘making a difference’ would be the focus of his leadership.
Douglas therefore set about the task and identified that if the corporation were to offer fair compensation and a win-win for stakeholders then a stakeholder management concept needed developing first. To do this, he drew inspiration from the Baha’i concept of Unity as modelling a way to balance the needs of all the stakeholders. His approach involved three modes of consideration: firstly to think of all the stakeholders; secondly to hold them within the effort to create a unity; thirdly to balance all the needs of stakeholders. Certainly, at the time, this was considered quite an unusual approach.
Nevertheless, it was so effective that it became for Douglas Henck also a working definition of ethics in business. His leadership revolved around ensuring “fair and well designed” insurance products were maintained to the highest standards. He also introduced compliance auditing to avert imbalances when one or more stakeholder “want to take more than their share”.
A fascinating observation taken directly out of experience, is that where justice became part of the operational standards he also saw people were clearly more motivated by ‘benefit in value’ and ‘fair pay’ than just ‘money’. His conclusion is that “when we do things well – society benefits”.
A memorable turning point in Douglas Henck’s own career came in 1997 during the ‘hand over’ year between the UK to China when he also found himself the new Chair of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. This role now thrust him prominently into the media light. Through this exposure he begin to see how far reaching the potential for business benefiting the whole of society could be.
He was now very keen to find the most up-to-date thinking available on Business and Ethics and became deeply impressed by the writings of George Starcher (In Search of A New Work Ethic; Toward a Partnership of Women and Men in Business) and Peter Mühlschlegel (Voluntary Sharing). Eager to meet like-minded people, Douglas attended the 1997 ebbf Business Ethics Conference and, as it is, to this day, Douglas continues to serve the ebbf as one of its Board Members.
ebbf is a community of people who create spaces for meaningful conversations that explore and contemplate the implications of workplaces that contribute to the betterment of society. I asked Douglas Henck to share his insights and experience with ebbf members that could serve building up their own endeavours. Here are six prudent questions (and some anectodal explainers to enlighten) that can unlock your own mission and legacy:
Are you being dispassionate?
The example that good leadership sets is ultimately for something better. It calls upon wisdom, dispassion and patience. And, patience is the epitome of dispassion.
Is it really going to take this long to organise the changes?
Or might it in fact take longer? Consider Douglas own experience: an organisation with great values had become disorganised and came to him in 2011 asking him to come in for two to three years to restructure and organise things. It took six years. The practice is to recognise how easy to underestimate the time things take. So remember: “Patience is the epitome of dispassion”.
Are you fostering communication?
“It is okay to disagree just don’t make it personal.”
Communication works best when it involves sitting round the table knowing we can criticise even our own views, that we contribute ideas knowing they belong to the group, and we search out solutions together: “Most disputes can be sorted out this way.”
As Douglas Henck says, “We have people and we have the human ego.” He adds, “Gender issues, race issues in the work place are, of course by definition, political and we should not avoid them. But we do want to avoid partisan win/lose thinking in the work place by fostering communication.” For Douglas, the necessity is to maintain awareness that issues can be politicised too easily. He gives the example of sustainability to make his point: “What is Sustainable we have to be slightly cautious of because unlike, What is Ethical, it has its roots in the political Green Movement of the 1980’s.”
Douglas also noted that it is very good to move in the way of Performance Reviews, even in Volunteering or short term Service-orientated positions, so that there is always a clear alignment of purpose is being served by long term vision, generosity and patience by the leadership.
Is it really the right culture for you?
For the Young Executives, don’t start at the point of trying to persuade an employer to employ you.
Rather before and at interview: “Keep asking – Is it the right culture for me?” The contrary is that you may be left with negative and lasting effects from a culture which is not good. So “Check it out” and ask, at the outset, “Is it right?”
Is it eminently practical?
From the first meeting you ever attend you must be down-to-earth and practical. Seek what works and what does not work – in the real world. Two books that show the Baha’i spirit of high endeavour carried out with ’eminent practicality’, as Dr Peter Khan put it, are The Priceless Pearl and Nine Years in Akka.
What is your mindset toward the customer?
“Great customer service is enough because it is going to collapse if you haven’t got it right.”
Your legacy will be fostered in you attitude to products. For example, if you notice that the percentage of premiums paid out are too small because loss ratios for personal accident are 20-25% and tell yourself ‘That’s fine, because, after all, the market determines the price, right?’ Then, are you ripping off the public because you are in fact selling it at a price that deserves greater public scrutiny? At what point are you going to go about making a better offer to the customer because that might be the right thing to do?
There should be a mindset. The mindset of the Executive can be that “We have an important role to play”. For that sense of legacy to emerge you need to think about balancing all those stakeholders.
What do you do if ethically you cannot be part of it?
Douglas Henck observes that “When the question of whether or not to pay a bribe, arises, this is a very difficult thing to walk back from should it ever appear in the room or event. And worse, it may be so tempting, but it is essential to know the short term benefit is not worth the long term impact.
On the other hand, he confirms:
“Confidence, certainty, moral and ethical values are reaffirming and what is more, they reaffirm over and over again. So make a stand and say:“I am making an ethical choice”.
How do you walk the straight and far reaching path?
“There is a bigger Plan, the Sun will rise.”
Douglas adds, “If its really bad then lean into the dynamics of Crisis and Victory. Read Century of Light. This wonderful book, which I love so much, shows how it took not one but two ruinous wars to create the United Nations. It encourages us to survey from 1900 to today and marvel at what progress there has been and will be made in the future.”
George Starcher’s books In Search of A New Work Ethic; Toward a Partnership of Women and Men in Business; The History of EBBF and Peter Mühlschlegel’s book Voluntary Sharing are all available in kindle format and paperback through the dev.ebbf.world bookstore .
Arlette George for dev.ebbf.world