As a leadership and organization development practitioner, I could tell you one hundred different stories of people increasing productivity, getting their teams working better together, enhancing product or service quality, or increasing their revenue. Unfortunately, that’s not the end to doing good business, it’s only the beginning.
When we increase our capacity or productivity it should be in service of something greater than growing the bottom line. It should be in service of a better world.
Good Business means a positive impact on people and planet, as well as profit. Most corporations in 2011 have an annual CSR report and measure their social and environmental impact in some way, but are their leaders truly focused on shifting organizational structures and measures of success? Are leaders taking the opportunity of this particular time on our earth to engage their organizations in work that has meaning and purpose? It is my belief that the worlds best leaders are completely engaged in the question “What is Good Business, and how can I contribute to it?”
How Transformational Business Links to World Transformation
Corporations hold enormous power, more than at any other time in history. Some corporations are larger than whole nations. As of 2005, Fortune Magazine and the World Bank identified that of the world’s largest 150 economic entities, 95 are corporations (63.3%) [July 25, 2005 Issue of Fortune Magazine] When corporations make significant changes, they change the whole world. A small decision on the part of Walmart to use their “Sustainability 360” approach means supplies worldwide are shifting their production practices. In 2008, Walmart Canada surpassed its goal to reduce waste produced by its stores across the country by 65 percent. That is only one of 15 countries! Sims Metal Management is the world’s largest recycling company. Their impact in fiscal year 2010 alone reduced global carbon emissions by over 13.2 million tons - more than is emitted by many small countries! Small companies can make a profound difference as well. My small consulting company is committed to a net positive impact on people, planet, and profit - and through our small efforts and commitment in this last year we have planted over 1300 trees, we are carbon neutral, and by donating a portion of our profits we have been able to feed, house, clothe, and educate deserving but impoverished children who would otherwise have no opportunities. It may seem like a drop in the bucket when we look at the fact that 50% of all humans on this planet live on less than $2.50 USD per day, but it’s not trivial to those kids. And when we all jump on the bandwagon that every business has a RESPONSIBILITY to contribute positively to the world on multiple dimensions, that drop in the bucket can become an ocean.
The Forerunners versus the Dinosaurs
The forerunners are already there. Companies like Seventh Generation, Gensler, Green Soul Shoes, or Sims Metal Management are leading the way. They are beyond talking about sustainability and values based business, and they are on to generativity - how will they give back to our ecosystem? How will their impact be net positive? We are all catching up to the forerunners, and the forerunners are running into their own issues around maintaining and managing growth.
The forerunners understand that profit must be part of the equation, even a private, social venture company that shies away from a growth model must stoke it’s economic engine. Money is fuel - the fuel that makes things possible. They also embrace the tough questions. They aren’t afraid to ask “What do we do uniquely well that the world needs? How can we make a positive impact and a profit at the same time? What are we doing that is hurting or depleting our sacred earth and how can we shift that practice? How do we treat each other? What are we willing to fight for?”
The Strengths Revolution and the Perspective of Possibility
In order for us to truly commit to Good Business, we need our strength. We need to capture stories of what’s working, what’s exciting, what’s good and what’s possible. It is through those stories that we are able to stay motivated and focused. We also need to develop our capabilities and learn to lead our organizations with dignity, stability, and vision. Never have we needed enlightened, thoughtful leadership more than this moment.
Enlightened leaders take strengths seriously. They know that the best performance comes from maximizing what’s working well, and minimizing what’s wrong. They know that performance goes up when employees are engaged, excited, and have a sense of contribution to something greater than themselves. Enlightened leaders invest in their people, and know that retaining top talent means retaining an organization’s precious memories and lessons learned, that developing talent means leading for the long-haul, that nurturing future leaders means paving a path to positive and sustainable outcomes. Enlightened leaders know that we must not be guided only by what has been accomplished in the past, that we must open our eyes to possibilities we may never have dreamed of.
When we remember that SMALL IS BIG, that when we focus on the smallest of human interactions, we make a powerful statement. When we acknowledge performance, share meaningful work, collaborate as a team, when we give feedback that encourages someone to go beyond what they thought they could, we are having a social impact that goes beyond the workplace. We are providing environments of possibility, performance, and purpose.
There is No More Time.
There is no more time. We’re beyond emissions reduction and setting small goals to achieve over time to combat climate change. We are beyond doing small philanthropic projects and ignoring the fact that our global communities are desperate, poverty-stricken, and in crisis. We need to change how our largest corporations operate, and how our small businesses contribute. It’s time for big steps, not just small gestures. It’s time to make a big wave of change for the better for people and for our precious mother earth.
Invest in small, entrepreneurial ventures. Create cultures of positivity, perspective, transformation and caring. Ask the question - what change do we want to see in the world, and how can we bring about that change?
That question starts with US, ourselves, as individuals. And it is no small gesture, it is a BIG step to confront who we are, and how we are complicit in creating what we DO NOT want.
The Microcosm is the Macrocosm: Small is the New Big.
If each one of us there is a great opportunity for impacting the world in a positive way. From practicing the smallest action of kindness, a smile or a thank you, we can change a workplace culture. From the smallest economic actions we can change how our organizations prioritize, whether it is a consumer decision (What product do I buy? What companies do I want to support?), or a leadership decision (What behavior or performance will I reward? What results do we want to measure? What do we expect from our vendors or partners? How do we treat our employees? Our customers? The communities we work within?) It’s time for us to shift our questions and to confront our beliefs about work. We need to ask “What am I contributing to? What impact am I having and is it the impact I want to have?”
You are a microcosm. Your behavior radiates outward. Every action you take is like throwing a stone in a pond and watching the ripples spread out in the water. Those actions can be positive or negative, but the impact goes on, rippling out and fading away. When we become more aware of our unique, personal actions and their impact, we create larger ripples. We can focus our efforts on the ripples we want to create, the size stones we want to throw. We can join others for even larger impact, until we are satisfied with the power of our waves to generate the changes we want to see.