It would be disingenuous not to recognize how difficult 2020 has been for so many people, but I would be remiss if I did not take the time to step back and reflect on my blessings this Thanksgiving. Before I do so, I am sending my deepest sympathy to those who have lost friends and family to Covid-19. While my immediate family has been spared, several of their friends are currently struggling with the disease.

Additionally, racial tension is at an all time high in the world triggered by the deaths of several African Americans here in the US and other issues throughout the world. While the inclination for many is to focus on the negatives of urban events in many of our major cities this summer, I remain hopeful that these events fuel a renewed awareness and conviction to do better moving forward. 

Progress toward any goal is NEVER a straight line.

So I don’t create a misperception, violence of any form should not be tolerated.  Conversely, lawful protests are a critical part of our country’s history and success, as they often generate awareness and dialogue carrying the potential to provide beneficial self-reflection and improved discourse for all. I am hopeful that my generation will not take a back seat to this needed conversation. We have an obligation to share our experiences and wisdom with other generations. We need to demonstrate how honest and respectful debate produces lasting change that most will embrace. The rise of “cancel culture” and “muted voices” will eventually take a permanent toll and push us further away from an even better society. 

Please allow me the latitude of a comparison with my former employer, McDonald’s Corporation, and on the state of our country. McDonald’s has been very successful over the years because it has always had the ability to look inward and right the ship. Like our country, it unfortunately takes longer than it should. Let me share an example. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, there was growing pressure, internally and externally, on the company to improve opportunities for women and people of color. Despite the company’s past success, these concerns were valid. It would have been easy for them to ignore the concerns. Instead, leadership grabbed the reigns and took decisive action that laid a foundation for real progress.

Now, I am not suggesting that it was a perfect path forward. It was not, but significant progress was made. It is important to recognize progress toward any goal is NEVER a straight line.  In fact, regression at times is a given. This perspective manifested itself, recently, during the CEO Easterbrook era. While he pushed the company forward in areas of needed change, he did so at the expense of one of McDonald’s clear competitive advantages, the depth of its diverse employee and franchisee base that found its roots 25 years prior. 

Is there a silver lining in this story? I hope so. I have been impressed with the current leadership and their approach to recapture the values that helped make the company so successful. They have been honest and transparent about their failings over the past several years. They have handled the pandemic reasonably well, and they appear to be taking significant steps in the D & I arena. With that said, it was extremely difficult to watch the back slide over the past few years. And, they still have significant issues with their Black franchisees and employees, as demonstrated by recent lawsuits from both groups.

So Dave, you ask, how does this example parallel with the path of our country?  Until two years ago, I was pretty isolated from big business for about a decade. When I jumped back into the fray two years ago, I fully expected to benefit from the continued progress in the D & I area, right?  Boy, was I wrong. The “Me Too” movement exploded onto the scene and police brutality resurfaced as a grave concern. Surely, big business was still on a positive trend, correct? Well, in most cases, it had not.

So, what happened?  I am a real fan of TQM which teaches you to peel away the onion through continuously asking probing questions to obtain the root cause of the problem.  As I apply this technique to the issue I have raised, the root issue revolves around the BOD’s of these institutions, even as they have become more diverse. The pressure placed on CEO’s today to deliver short term financial results is immense and is the worst in my lifetime. Coupled with the fact that most CEO’s today are “Specialists” with very little exposure to other disciplines other than their area of expertise, most of this generation of CEO’s have adopted the approach of hiring the best and getting out their way. 

Makes sense, right? Surround yourself with talent and let them do their thing and great results will follow! Today, there is very little effort expended on blending the talent into a high performing team. How many times have you witnessed sports teams that spend wildly on talent with the purpose of dominating their league only to experience disappointing results every year? Can you say the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys? 

Today, our country is a microcosm of these dynamics. The structure of checks and balances along with mechanisms to provide the flexibility for change put in place as an emerging country are as sound as the day they were adopted in 1776. So, why does this structure seem so dysfunctional, today? The “root” of the problem is “us,” not the structure. Our growing inability to talk and disagree, civilly, while searching for a common ground is rapidly dying. Our ability to “self” correct, as in my McDonald’s example, is quickly fading away. 

Perhaps a D & I example can be found in the BLM movement. Is it possible to understand that the statement, BLM, is a powerful message of reawakening for white America who hoped and thought issues of inequality had been largely resolved?  Further, is it possible to understand and agree with this dynamic while not supporting other aspects of the BLM platform? For me, it is rare that I agree with 100% of any topic or platform. Does it preclude the need for on-going, honest, and productive conversation without fear of reprisal, name calling, or the worst, canceling someone?  I hope not. It is incumbent on my generation to provide some perspective, not because we have all the answers, but we do have valuable experience to share, not only on this topic, but many others. But, I digress.

Today I am thankful for our imperfect union which continues to evolve and self-correct, while remaining hopeful for a recalibration of our ability to collaborate more effectively. I am hopeful that the new definition of the role of the CEO generated in August’2019 by the Business Roundtable will be adopted by BOD’s across the country while trickling down to small business, as well.  I am bullish on our ability to move forward with improved “Civil Discourse” in 2021 and beyond. I promise to try and do better. 

Will you join me?