Adam Legge is director of Global Business Futures Initiative|Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary.
Calgary’s Business: What is the Global Business Futures Initiative|Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership? Its purpose and mission?
Legge: The purpose of the Global Business Futures Initiative is to enable firms to focus on performance over the long term while navigating change and disruption in the here and now, so that they can generate better results and improve their impact upon society.
There is much conversation happening right now in business circles about whether business these days is too short term in thinking and approach. Evidence shows that firms with a short-term approach underperform those with a long-term view.
Additionally, firms that focus solely on profit as the performance measure have been shown to suffer from a host of other implications, including lower trust, lower employee satisfaction and engagement, and are highly at risk of contributing to bigger impacts like income inequality and environmental degradation. The common rationale for a short-termist approach is that change and disruption are happening too fast and in such significant ways that leaders don’t have the ability to focus on the long-term. The Global Business Futures Initiative aims to provide leaders with tools, frameworks and approaches to be able to handle disruption and change while still orienting the DNA of the firm towards the long term.
CB: What are the specific things it’s doing?
Legge: Over time, it will be a program with both an inward (student body and curriculum) and external facing program (business leaders and executives). To start, it will be a roundtable style business event with global and local business leaders, academics, researchers and thought leaders to create a plan of action and consensus as to the best means of shifting minds and activities of the firm to the long term. Over the coming years, it will grow to include research activities, global-scale business surveys, curriculum, executive education and events.
CB: What’s the role of business in society in general, particularly when the level of trust in business has lessened?
Legge: There’s a healthy amount of debate on this topic happening in business circles right now. The role of business is different depending on your viewpoint – those who favour the shareholder model of business view the role of business to maximize profits for the purposes of the shareholder. This seems to be the dominant viewpoint over the past 40 years or so.
The different viewpoint is that of the stakeholder model of business, which says that the role of business is to solve the needs and challenges of people and planet in a way that generates profit but also contributes towards the greater good – either in communities, cities, for people or the planet.
While the shareholder model has been the dominant one over the past 40 years, the stakeholder model is growing in its support – initiatives like Richard Branson’s B-Team, the growth of B-Corps, and people like Larry Fink of BlackRock suggesting that companies that want his investments need to have a higher purpose for society.
The predominant view of the role of business has been a pendulum throughout history, swinging between shareholder and stakeholder views over time. I believe we’re at a moment in time when the pendulum is swinging back to a greater stakeholder role. There is good evidence to suggest that the current dominance of the shareholder model is a strong contributor to very low levels of public trust in business and business leaders.
CB: Why did you leave your role as head of the Calgary Chamber to take on this position at the beginning of the year?
Legge: I felt that I had brought the Calgary Chamber to a position of strength and health over my tenure and that it was time to pass the torch. I’m a strong believer in organizational renewal and so I didn’t want either me or the organization to become stale. At the same time, I was becoming more interested in some of the bigger questions facing business into the future like its role, purpose, approach and how we regain that level of public trust.
Participating in the Canadian pipeline situation gave me a perspective of the challenges we face in getting support for major business investments and activities, and I wanted to be part of finding a successful way forward to rebuilding trust in business.
I was asked to lead the newly-funded program at the Haskayne School of Business, which was in line with this growing interest of mine. I love building and shaping – and so all the factors aligned to make the move. Plus it gave me the ability to finish my book and advising a select group of organizations to help them become the very best they can be.
CB: Tell us a bit about your new book, what it’s about and why you chose to write it?
Legge: When I started at the Calgary Chamber as CEO in 2010, I looked for something that would define what the best modern, dynamic organization looked like and how you got there.
It didn’t exist. There were bits and pieces but nothing comprehensive.
So, I decided to write it. Making Remarkable is the book I couldn’t find back in 2010. It’s the blueprint for the modern, high-performing organization. I lay out the ideal state of the three fundamental pillars of every organization – purpose, people and platform – and how to get there.
I firmly believe we’re in a time when we need our organizations – for-profit and non-profit – to be remarkable, yet many struggle with doing their finest work. Whether it’s lack of a clear purpose, a lack of strategic long-term focus, undefined targets, or just not being able to get the right people aligned and engaged on the task; we need them doing their finest work delivering solutions to the grand challenges of our time. Whether it’s climate change, cancer, dementia, AI, energy, inclusion, food or poverty.
The book helps define the foundations that every organization needs to have in place in order to become remarkable.
It’s also about leadership. Leadership has changed a lot – it’s far more open, transparent and requires the highest level of ethics in its execution. Assuming a leadership role for the first time is daunting and uncertain, and leadership for those who’ve been in the role for a while is also coming with new pressures and realities that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago.
Leadership is also now more complex in terms of the pace and scale of change. Most leaders struggle with how to adapt to disruption to ensure not only their finest work, but how to ensure longevity of the organization.
I wrote the book ultimately for two reasons: to provide insight into leadership in times of change and disruption that you won’t find in a lot of other leadership books; and to provide the DNA and road map to becoming a remarkable organization.
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