Organizational Stewardship

stewardshipIn 2006 I attended a reunion of  the Global Stewards of the World Cafe. I had the opportunity to meet amazing people, one of them the caretaker of the land at the Marconi Center where the event was held. Meeting him during the first session helped me to reflect on the differences among Stewardship, Leadership, Ownership, and other concepts that come into play when we think of responsibility. We tend to think that leadership implies stewardship, and ownership implies the others, too, but it’s not quite so. I believe that the three roles are different and absolutely needed to thrive.

Stewardship is to hold something in trust for another. Stewardship requires understanding the big picture, knowing that we are serving a cause larger than our own interest.  With so many scandals that we see daily when companies and cities are looking into their own values, at least to pretend that they care for citizens and communities, we need to really understand Stewardship and promote it within our organizations.

Peter Block says that “Stewardship encompasses concerns of the spirit, but it also must pass the test of the marketplace. It must be practical and economical. It must be low cost and good for customers and communities as well as employees. Our organizations constantly stand on this intersection of spirit, community, and the marketplace.”  We tend to think that Stewardship is for hippies or religious people and it isn’t. It’s part of our daily job if we’re to help organizations to thrive.

The awareness and the need for transparency is increasing, and it is changing the way we distribute the power in organizations. It also implies that the responsibilities we take are not so clearly defined and if they are, that there is nothing wrong with taking a look and lending a hand into another area.

I recall the confusion generated a couple of years ago, when the receptionist in our company quit. She was doing some tasks to support the Accounts Payable/Receivable coordinator who was absent, such as receiving invoices and checks and sending them to the head office to be payed or cashed. The receptionist quit in less than a week, and her manager wasn’t at the office.  I received all her things (keys, cards, taxi slips and other stuff) as I was the only manager present that day (and there is no HR people in Montreal in this company). Then, I started taking care of these tasks that I’m sure people considered menial, but that were really important if we wanted to continue drinking coffee and purified water, and keep our clients happy. To me those reasons were enough. I did it for almost six months.  People were confused and some questioned me why I would do that, and at some point my answer was: Why wouldn’t I do that? If the organization needs your help and you say you’re committed, why not?

Our role in HR is to help people understand that the organizational borders are disappearing, we need to be a reminder that accountability and service is part of any role in the organization. If I want to be part of the success of  an organization, I can no longer say “It’s not my job”, if a certain task needs to be done.

Also, it’s our role to facilitate perspective, transparency and responsibility in all the tasks.  The number of companies that are sharing compensation information, financial reports and all kind of indicators with the employees. Employees are no longer a pair of hands, we/they come with a brain, too, as Nordstrom and Ridderstrale reminded us.

So, how do we enhance the Organizational Stewardship culture?  There is no one-fits-all recipe, as each organization is in a different stage but the key of Stewardship is creating the conditions that allow transparency and involvement within the organization.