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Cyclist Wouter Weylandt died after a crash on a mountain decent in Stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia. I imagine that many reading this blog will wonder why this is the lead paragraph in an otherwise business blog. What happened next in the Giro should be what we expect from our corporate behaviors. Allow me to set the stage for our collective reflection with a few important facts about the event.
- The Giro d’Italia is one of three Grand Tours of cycling.
- There are 21 stages over 23 days totaling 2189 miles.
- This year is the 94th year of competition and coincides with the 150th anniversary of Italian unification.
- The event is contested by 23 professional teams each consisting of 9 members for a total peloton of 207 riders at the beginning of the race.
Professional cycling is big business and the Giro is a major international event, so lots of revenue and operating expense are at stake. Given that, take a moment and recall how your company responded to the tragic death of one of their key employees. Was it to mention the event at the beginning of a meeting, ask for thoughts for the family, and then move onto to the agenda for the day?
Weylandt’s death was tragic and had a profound impact on all of the cyclists. It’s what happened on the next stage that sets a challenge for all of us in our highly competitive corporate world, where winning is everything, and damn those that would slow our pace towards that victory. Weyland’s parents and finance flew in and met with his Leopard Trek team the evening of the crash. The team then met with each of the 22 competing teams and collectively changed the following stage into a funeral cortege instead of the planned competitive race. In effect, the race was neutralized for this stage with no team or rider gaining or losing any advantage.
The pageantry normally preceding the start of the stage was canceled. Weylandt’s Leopard Trek team bus was brought to the starting line and each of the 9 members of the 22 competitor teams rode by single file to pay respect to Weylandt and his team. His team then lined up side by side at the starting line with black arm bands while taps was played and the procession started. Each team took turns pacing the peloton for 10 kilometers, and then rotated to the back of the peloton to allow the next team it’s turn at the front, for the entire 200 kilometer stage. On a day when competition would have been intense, the peloton stayed together as one single body through the corridor of muted applause that greeted them along the way. 3km from the finish line, race leader David Millar finished his team’s pace-setting, and he waved Weylandt’s Leopard Trek teammates to the front and together they rode 10 meters ahead of the rest of the peloton. In a touching moment, Weylandt’s close friend Tyler Farrar was invited to join the Leopard Trek riders as they crossed the finish line arm in arm with tears in their eyes.
Where else could this happen? I’m trying to think of a different sporting event suspending competition and working together in remembrance of one of their sport. Now try to think about this happening in our corporate landscape. Imagine a bidder’s conference where all the competing firms agreed to suspend their pursuit efforts for one or more days, instead replacing it with a conference that all the firms attend. Possible topics could be employee wellness or engagement. Maybe because I’m writing this on Memorial Day with all the imagery of the day forefront in my mind is this creating such a challenge for me? I know my CSC colleagues would stand arm in arm if such a tragic death happened to one of our corporate teammates, but I sense this behavior is becoming extinct in the recession induced management style that treats employees as transactional and fungible assets of the corporation.
There are many examples where corporations compete in friendly events such as the Wall Street Walk/Run, Susan B Komen Run, and the MS Rides to name a few. These are excellent examples of corporations competing for fun and charity. But can that spirit move back inside the board room and create a compassionate corporate competition? Recall the scene from Miracle of 34thStreet when the Santa Claus at Macy’s sends a customer to Gimbels, their arch rival in NY. As the press picks up on this, two arch rivals compete for which brand cares more about their customers than short-term seasonal profits, with the Macy’s customers telling Macy’s management of their future loyalty for such an unselfish act during the holiday season. Fairy tale Compassionate Competition? Maybe, but who reading this blog doesn’t recall that scene and wonder what if….?
Imagine any new RFP containing a requirement that the bidding company would need to demonstrate and commit to Corporate Social Consciousness as a weighting factor in the selection criteria. Imagine a company that requires Corporate Social Consciousness as a key measurement for their employee’s performance management process and backs this up with time away from normal job responsibilities.
If you could make a difference in your company’s culture and enable your firm to compete on the hypothetical Corporate Social Consciousness requirement of a future RFP, how much more business could be won? How would this create a market pull for the best of the best future employees? What members of your business or social community would benefit? How proud would you be of being a member of a successful and compassionate company? Commit to be a Compassionate Competitor and stand steadfast in that resolve to brand your company with the leadership that comes not only from industry success but also from proactive responses to tragic events and enabling Social Consciousness in the lives of those on your team and those with which you compete.
Universal Sports was thoughtful enough to make a brief 3 minute YouTube available for you to experience this first hand. The power of this video clip comes at the end, please watch all the way through.
Please come back at me with comments on this blog since I fully recognize it suggests corporate behaviors and commitments that vary widely from the norm.