Better business

Over recent weeks I have found strength and inspiration in the stories of individual or collective humanity, from individual acts of dedication through to corporate leadership giving and supporting at a time of much uncertainty.

What occurs to me when I look to those I admire most, is that in order to care more about that which we wish to change, or those we want to help, we need to care less.

What do I mean by that? Well, in order to take that first leap into the dark, starting to take real courageous action where we want to see and make a difference, it’s important to actually care less about what might be holding us back. We need to care less about how we may be perceived, care less about the battle that may be required and care less about the uncertainty or the worry of not fully achieving our goal. These niggling doubts need to be cast aside in order for us to take the all-important first step towards “being the change we want to see”…

Not just ticking boxes

I am no fan of much of what is classed as “CSR” – corporate social responsibility – because for lots of organisations this has simply been a tick box exercise.  In many instances I have seen CSR treated as a ‘must have’ to meet client’s procurement requirements, a policy, a case study – much rolled out but rarely reviewed or renewed.  This has caused frustration for me as I choose to work with companies that have a genuine and strategic commitment to ‘better business’, but demonstrating this commitment can be challenging if clients simply accept a tick in a box as a sign of commitment without scratching below the surface. What are they scared of finding out about their supply chain – why ask the question if you are not validating the answer?

I studied Milton Freidman’s 1970 paper, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” back in the 1990s at university, in my “history of economic thought” lectures – yet this piece of theory has cast a shadow over current business purpose for far too many years. Responsible businesses are thriving, and – I believe – will continue to flourish and grow profitably; the concepts are not mutually exclusive.  There is a growing shift towards delivering business in a responsible way – as a strategy for business resilience, not merely as an afterthought or an adjunct.  This is being reflected in the investment and wider financial markets – the ‘build back better’ campaign appears to be gathering momentum.

I am hopeful now that more significant and mainstream change is occurring, but like any change process this will need the right communication, support, acceptance and leadership to fully transform. We need:

  • Courageous leaders to prioritise doing the right thing (even when no-one is looking!)
  • Compassionate warriors to fight for change and alternative ways of working across an organisation, even when businesses are facing tough and challenging conditions.
  • Conscious consumption: there is no point liking a brand message on social media, or expounding your own organisation’s values, when you’re not reinforcing that with your procurement choices.


Seizing the moment

Some business owners or leaders may have recently been reflecting on what their business is now, and what it could (and should) become.  Awareness of societal mood change towards more responsible business practices and/or personal evaluation about what motivates you, your team and your organisation could be leading to reflections on ‘what business am I in, and why?’

This is a positive step. So what next? Now you need to care less about the ‘what ifs’ that start to occur in your mind when doubt creeps in, put that fear on hold and start to look at capturing the wonderful ‘what could be’s and how you can make the change happen.  Now is the time for action.

Finding the path to change

Once you start looking there are many, many resources to help owners and leaders map and navigate the transition to being a more responsible business, from funding sources to accreditation options. I am always happy to chat to business owners or leaders who want to explore what could be possible and share my experience of how to start on the path to positive change, point them in the direction of the resources and organisations that could help the process.

If you suddenly feel your business model and approach no longer represents your or your customers’ future needs and values it may feel scary – but like any path to long-term sustainable change, recognising the need for change is the first positive step to take. You are now ready to build a better business!

Change can bring fear – but the biggest risk is to take no step forward at all.