What is Quality of Life really all about?

It’s a hot topic, quality of life. One of my last posts was about the recent Quality of Life conference Sodexo held in London. You can read that blog post here.

But what is Quality of Life? I’m again referring to the website of my current employer, Sodexo:

At Sodexo, we believe that the best way to create real, lasting value is to make people the central focus of organizations and society as a whole. We view Quality of Life as a decisive yet largely unexplored factor governing individual and collective performance.

A trip down memory lane

This takes me back a long, long time. Actually, searching through my email archives, it takes me back to February 18th, 2000. At least, that is the timestamp I found back on a presentation I created which was then titled “Sustainability”, a draft of a new service proposition I had developed for Andersen Belgium, where I was working at the time.

The idea was to combine a number of existing methodologies of the Andersen toolset into a practical set of tools based on which we were aiming to develop a sustainability assessment and improvement solution. Alas, before we knew it, Enron happened, and development within Andersen ended, because Andersen ended.

Value Dynamics

Why the reference, and what is the link with Quality of Life? Well, Andersen had a toolset, which was called the “Value Dynamics Framework”, which aimed at assisting companies at identifying strategic assets. The Andersen tool identified five discrete categories, two of which were quite known in the early 2000’s:

  • Physical assets such as inventory, facilities, equipment, vehicles, etc;
  • Financial assets such as cash flow, revenues, debt, equity, and other financial resources.

Two other categories were only understood at a conceptual level at that time but have entered the mainstream of strategic focus in recent years:

  • Customer assets such as customers, channels and affiliates;
  • Organizational assets such as leadership, strategy, knowledge, values, brands, innovation, systems and processes.

But one category was a category I was very interested in as a young auditor and advisor/consultant:

  • Employee and Supplier assets such as employees, suppliers and partners.

The whole idea was that the organisation and its positioning within the industry would lead to an optimal asset investment mix, i.e. the better aligned the mix with the strategy and the need, the better the performance of the organisation within its industry would be.

For Andersen, Value Dynamics was the key to “cracking the value code,” the apt title for a book they published which is still available on Amazon in hardcover. A quote from the book.

“ . . companies in today’s superheated economies are in a race to discover the underlying code of value creation. That is, they are trying to find out which combination of assets – tangible and intangible – create the greatest economic value and to avoid those combinations that destroy it. How do companies create value today? Our answer: To succeed, they need to see what matters – all of the assets contributing to value creation.” – Cracking the Value Code, Richard E.S. Boulton, Barry D. Libert, and Steve M. Samek

Linking strategy and budgets

At that time, actual linkages between strategy and budgets were not made very often. Organisations had a strategy and pursued it until the money ran out or until the results came in and more money was available for another round of strategy development … but we wanted to move away from this hit and miss attitude.

The people dimension

And that is where this people dimension came in … the more work we did, the more we realised that for knowledge work organisations, the most important asset was and remains its people. That feels like kicking in an open door, but … ask yourself this question:

How many organisations actually truly value their employees and the contributions they make enough to consider investing in them as their prime strategic objective, the objective most budgets go to?

Not too many. Still far too few.

Closing the circle

But that brings me back to that vision on Quality of Life that my employer has. I’m repeating it again here:

At Sodexo, we believe that the best way to create real, lasting value is to make people the central focus of organizations and society as a whole. We view Quality of Life as a decisive yet largely unexplored factor governing individual and collective performance.

17 years before I joined Sodexo, as a young auditor and consultant, I was working on an integrated framework to assist organisations in identifying their key assets and optimise investment in them and measurement of them. I then believed that the employee and supplier assets were likely to be the most critical for any knowledge worker organisation. Now, 17 years later, I am more convinced than ever this is correct.

This vision is not why I joined Sodexo, but it makes me very happy to be here.

But what is Quality of Life really about now?

In my personal opinion, true quality of life is not just about providing entertainment to or just taking care of people. In order to be of true strategic value, Quality of Life should also and mainly be about assisting organisations and even governments in creating the necessary conditions for good work or good living to occur.

It is not just a human, moral or legal obligation. It is sound common business sense, and it makes everything which is Quality of Life of key strategic importance. This is what will build lasting businesses, a concept I truly believe in.

The part about Steve Jobs at the end of the blog post

In his Stanford commencement speech he delivered in June of 2005, merely a few years after I started working on that powerpoint presentation I just found back in my archives, Steve Jobs said the following:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.”

You have no idea how true that statement rings, now, looking back on the past 17 years. I hope you will understand and experience that feeling, for yourself, one day. Because it really makes me feel like I finally may be where I belong to make a true difference.

Now, let’s get to work.