Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sustainable, sociable (Social) Business – What’s Not to Like?


Sustainable, sociable (Social) Business – What’s Not to Like?

By Connie Comber, Managing Director, Re-Imagine Business.


Does it matter whether we like ourselves when we go about doing business? [Not ‘Like’ in the Facebook sense, I hasten to add; like, in the appreciate and respect ourselves, sense.] 

It used not to matter whether we like ourselves in business. In fact – whimsically - the more ‘unlikeable’ we were, the more likely we were to get ‘promoted’. Being ‘tough guys’ and ruthless was ‘sharp business’. Turns out – that’s proven to be pretty unsustainable business. 

But adopting sustainable practices in business [broadly defined from ethical to ecological considerations] is often questioned - and criticised - as an impost on businesses.

We hear: Is it a cost – or a value-add? Does it make money, or take money? If it takes money – does it return it, if so, when and to what degree, etc?

This is the classic picture of a business-culture in transition. These are the same anxieties that came up when businesses were required to act on their responsibilities in OH&S, or developers were ‘imposted’ with contributions to community services. In the end, have these proven to be imposts or business improvements?

Those answers lie in the perceptions and values of the businesses (owners/managers) themselves. They lie in the value system of our surrounding society. On reflection, do we really want to go back to hazardous work practices that lack care? Would we go back to the days when developers were not expected to take some responsibility for the impact of their projects on the surrounding community?

Many developers, nowadays, pride themselves on their engagement with the surrounding community and their literal, and visionary, contributions. Most businesses would keep their OH&S standards in place if you took away the legislative requirements – now. They like themselves as a safe and caring employer.
So how do we value the qualities involved in becoming sustainable businesses? Because, ‘liking ourselves’ has a value; both intrinsically, and as a culture-base to the operations of a business.

It's well documented, businesses that have positive, proactive cultures have better customer service responses and are likely to be more innovative and responsive in a changing environment. They are more likely to thrive.

A dog-eat-dog, competitive-at-every-turn business is looking to win ‘against’ others and is eroding the suppliers’ and customers’ value-relationship to their company. That used to be common.

Things are changing. Customers, (the community) now, want to see businesses ‘caring’. They don’t have a clearly articulated definition of that caring – but, businesses having a conscience, and a socially responsible basis to their decisions in business - ‘matters’, now. Increasingly, this is a fundamental component of any definition of sustainable business.

New methods of doing business sustainably are being posed by luminaries such as Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter and Mark Kramer. They espouse creating shared value as a next-step in sound, enduring commercial practice. In their article in HBR [http://ow.ly/fmy64] ‘Creating Shared Value’, they point out that “no company is self contained” ... so, they affirm that the ties between societal and economic needs are inherently interconnected. Shared value, they believe, is about breaking through “a narrow conception of capitalism [which] has prevented business from harnessing its full potential to meet society’s broader challenges.

“The opportunities have been there all along”, Porter says “but have been overlooked ... society’s needs are large and growing, while customers, employees, and a new generation of young people are asking business to step up.”

Porter and Kramer see the new business methods stemming from, for example, “reconceiving products and markets, redefining productivity in the value chain, and enabling local cluster development”. These methods require behaviour qualities like collaboration, cooperation and mutuality.

These reframed behaviours create a very different kind of ‘competitive advantage’ from past teachings. As they, also, point out “there is nothing soft about the concept of shared value”, it does not depart from economic value creation.

So, while we’re formulating new ways of doing business – let’s not forget the value of ‘liking ourselves’ and liking the way we do business.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen some people – otherwise perfectly reasonable, decent people [mostly], do some terrible things in business: ‘rip others off’; even determinedly ‘push another business over’ out of an aggressive need to ‘win’, (or a desperate need to stay in business); treat suppliers [or lessees] poorly to ‘get the best out of them’. It’s pretty ugly stuff.

We used to call it ‘clever business’ - until we called it the GFC.

Now we know there are downsides to ‘clever business’, and, now, we’re waking up to how we felt doing business that way. Fairly ugly.

Here’s the upside we usually forget to talk about when it comes to implementing sustainability in business; we like ourselves better – naturally.

That is, it’s ‘built into our DNA’ to feel better when we do good.

Scientific studies [examples below] have shown the link between acting with generosity - and achieving greater feelings of well-being, better physical health, and an increased tendency for further generosity. Similar results have been found for kindness, happiness and social connectedness. Some studies showed remarkably improved life expectancies as a result of increased socially-positive behaviours.

There are measurable hormone changes in response to acting generously, or kindly, which enhance well-being. These changes are self-fulfilling; they induce further actions of generosity, kindness and connectedness. This author believes that is a fundamental anchor in the success of shared value methods in business; why they are proving highly effective commercial strategies. We like to like ourselves and we like to like the way we do business.

So the notion that the business world is a ‘natural jungle’ and aggressive, dominating behaviour is our ‘natural instincts’ - is rapidly being debunked. The appearance of winning against others – may have shown immediate rewards but we know, now, those gains had long-term erosive qualities that have caused huge destabilisations across most economies. We thought it was ‘OK’ to ‘not care’ – that it ‘wasn’t our problem’ – until it is.

As Porter and Kramer demonstrate so capably, the time to say ‘it is our problem’ has come – and, more to the point - we can respond to it positively and in mutually-connected ways that “has the power to unleash the next wave of global growth”. 

While we’re doing that – we get to swap feeling stressed, dog-eat-dogged, one-upped/one-downed, and kind of ‘going through the motions while you leave your heart and soul at home’-ed - for feeling generous, kind, socially connected, and healthy!  

There’s value in that, I would argue – what’s not to like?

27 comments:

  1. What's not to like indeed Connie
    Compliance with the status quo when it no longer serves humanity is what we are fighting against

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