There are companies all over the world doing good yet there are thousands more working hard only to benefit the top brass and/or the investors.
Now, while I do not think businesses should renege on their promise to repay investors with their principle and some profit as well, this should not be their only driver. Businesses should do more. And why you may ask? Well, it has to do with the fundamental reason for business in the first place. Let’s go back in time, way back in time and examine that.
Scientists tell us that about two and a half million years ago, early humans began to expand social networks from immediate families to larger groups that incorporated more than just blood relatives. This social growth allowed for bringing together more resources and sharing them. Doing this created greater social bonds and better chances of overall survival. You see, if you brought value to the group, I wanted you to stay and I would be more willing to fight against danger for you. If a large group felt this way, they would band together against the evils that lurked everywhere.
Then, much later, about 150,000 years ago, all of this sharing got more systematic and people began trading for things. If you give me that, I will give you this. It was quid pro quo but the essence of the system was a basic philosophy of helping one another. You need this and I need that, you help me and I will help you. It was a system built on helping each other survive by providing strengths where you had weaknesses and vice versa.
Here’s the key thing, profit was not the motive, helping each was and that is where we have lost the plot. Instead of helping one another being our motivation, we have made profit our key driver.
Now I know profit is necessary because we need to keep our enterprises running, we need seed capital to innovate, we need money to train people and stay up to date, and we need to be able to survive tough times, but it needs to be reasonable, equitable, and of benefit to all stakeholders including employees, customers, and the community.
Ultimately, no matter how you slice it, there are customers out there who need our organizations to help them, and, regardless of what those whose sole motivation is profit would have us believe, that is the real foundation of why business exists. Much like those early traders hundreds of thousands of years ago, we each need to help each other survive by providing what each other needs. Thus, rule number one for business should be “helping others succeed must come first if we want to help ourselves succeed for the long term” not the other way around.
Whenever this help-others-first thinking comes up though, there are those rough-and-tumble, gnarly old business folks who grumble that this view is just too touchy feely and business is not touchy feely. Well I beg to differ. Why shouldn’t business be touchy feely? It’s fundamentally about people, and people are touchy feely, emotional creatures. Why shouldn’t business have compassion? People want and need compassion. Why shouldn’t business be as giving as it is taking? Because it can’t be? Not true. There are many businesses who are doing it right now.
Take Tom’s Shoes for example, they give a pair of shoes to the needy whenever any customer buys one for themselves. Warby Parker does the same with glasses. Then there’s Jaipur Rugs. This is a company that creates rugs through a network of artisans located in remote parts of India. They have created a system where more people, mostly women, can work from home and become financially independent as well as work around their family’s schedules to take care of children and other loved ones. Jaipur Rugs is reducing poverty while increasing the dignity of their workers and raising the status of women in areas where women are largely given no voice or rights.
Another great example is Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, NY. This company practices what they call Open Hiring. There are many people who find barriers in finding work, think former felons for instance. Greyston seeks to heal this by simply hiring people without needing resumes, background checks, or extensive interviews. As they say, “we replace scrutiny with trust.” And they’ve been very successful, each year they produce over 10 million pounds of baked goods and change the lives of 3500 workers. They also contribute significantly to providing employee development, food security, health, and housing. At Greyston, they’re doing so much more than making a profit, they’re making people and our world better.
With all of these examples, and there are many more, it is apparent that the motives here are centered on helping others first, and all of that helping comes back to make the organization better. You see, it can work, it just takes a mind shift from me to we, from get to give.
What can you do? Start influencing the conversation in your workplace by asking questions like, “How does this policy, pricing, system, etc. impact our customers and/or employees?” Begin bringing the people who are being touched into the dialogue in every meeting. Make it clear that people are why we all trudge off to work every day. People are the ones that make our organizations valuable and pay for everything including all of those paychecks.
Business is about helping, it always has been. We must not forget that. What are your business’s motives? Are they turned outward or inward? Are those motives ones that you are proud to share with your kids? Take a hard look, our governments aren’t going to change the woes of the world but business can, and it can start with a small mind shift. Think about it and do something.