As a consultancy firm committed to empowering companies to create purpose and values-driven cultures, we are here to support you, as leaders, to inspire the people you work with, particularly during these times of great uncertainty.
The normalised purpose of business, as delivering value for shareholders, has been radically transformed, hopefully for ever, with the profound recognition of our interconnectedness and the corresponding emergence of mutual aid and service as operating principles.
Business was moving in that direction, with the rise of purpose driven business models such as B Corporations, and circular economics, for example.
Consumers, employees, investors, the environment, society, have increasingly been demanding businesses to be deeply concerned with the needs of the age and to respond meaningfully to those needs. Atlassian (2020) in its Return on Action, prepared by PWC Australia, found that:
69% of employees agreed that business should be just as concerned with their social impact as their financial performance.
They include demands to deliver greater social justice, demands to deliver positive environmental impact and demands to deliver regeneration.
For businesses to be fundamentally “good” by their deeds.
Consumers have also been shifting, and changing habits, buying according to more environmentally friendly, socially just values.
The slowly as she goes Model T Ford (aka capitalism), however, has taken on rocket fuel in the form of empathy, kindness, compassion, cooperation, collaboration, and equity considerations, as well as survival.
The Model T was not structurally built for these values to guide product innovation, cross-company-nation partnerships, KPIs, performance assessment, short term decisions, employee experience.
As the author, Sebastian Buck writes, in his article “The impossible for capitalism is suddenly possible” (published in Fast Company, 20 March, 2020):
The idea that companies, markets, the capitalist system could ever stop, change course, and focus on what matters seemed absurd just a few weeks ago.
Like a beer company making sanitiser. Or Zara making scrubs. Or Ford making ventilators. Or Woolworths hiring Qantas Airways employees.
What does this purpose and values reset look like for your business?
Buck asks: How should companies navigate this era [of acknowledged interconnectedness]?
1. Listen and serve
The first step, Buck suggests, is to:
“listen, and help. In this moment of vivid interconnectedness, the first priority has to be the collective physical, emotional, and economic well-being of all the people that companies impact, or could positively impact.”
I have two suggestions for you to consider in your response to this step.
Tip 1: I run an activity for teams called “Try it on for size”, which involves using values and virtues to imagine options and ideas for all the different parts of your business: governance, customer experience, team culture, marketing, communications, team culture, remuneration, community engagement . I pose questions like the following. You can insert your values and principles as well:
- “If we were deeply empathetic of our employees, how might we communicate, guide, mentor, lead, remunerate, set goals, etc”.
- “If we were radically collaborative, how might we work with our suppliers, partners, “competitors”, employees, customers, Local Council?”
- “If we were acutely sensitive to what is fair, how might we…”
Tip 2: To discover insights into what would be beneficial to the wellbeing of your people and stakeholders and how you can support that, harness the collective intelligence and insights of your people. You can use World Cafe approaches, open space technology, or design thinking processes. A wonderful outcome is that you build solidarity and connection, and authentically communicate how valuable everyone is in navigating the way forward.
Tip 3: As you consider this, think about your strengths and capabilities, your resources, skills, talents, networks, and the real needs of your people and stakeholders. Do this collectively with your team and consider what ways you can be of service and generate real value?
2. Pause and define who you will become
As this crisis abates, Buck puts forward that a massive period of reinvention, reconstruction, regeneration, and rewriting will follow. Wrapped up into this is the ever-present need to consider climate change, plastic pollution, Indigenous rights, extremes of poverty and wealth, and so on.
So another parallel step with the first is to define who you want to become, and strive now to align with your blueprint.
The role of business, of each of us really in terms of what we spend our time doing and earning money for, has radically altered. For many it has been financially catastrophic. It has also resulted in deep shifts in identity.
We have realised that we rely on each other, depend on each other, exist in relationship to one another, and in this great un-gluing, we need to get clear on how we want to be glued back together.
Defining who you are and are becoming will provide invaluable compass points to guide your steps: as an individual, as a team member, as a team, as a leader, as a Board, as a community member, a family member, as a citizen of your country and the planet.
Do you want all the relationships that define your business to be more equitable, respectful, dignified, joyful, grateful, kind, just, cooperative, meaningful?
So many businesses, as they have considered the question of “how can we be of service to our customers and the community, and at the same time continue to provide sustainable livelihoods”, have deepened their understanding of why they exist, in a heartfelt way.
They have also learned more about the values, virtues and behaviours that enable and empower them to rise to the challenges, and those that increase the strain and difficulty.
I have two suggestions for you to get to know yourselves as you are and direct your attention to who you want to become:
Tip 1: Take some time for yourself, and in your teams and in your organisations, to notice the good. Honour it, celebrate it, define it. The best of who you are in a crisis. Write down the ways of being, how you treat each other and clients, how you approach things, that you are proud of and that support your purpose.
Tip 2: Also, take time to acknowledge the shadow, those values and vices perhaps that thwart your best efforts, with the view to understanding why, providing support to one another, and identifying how you can improve and align more with who you want to be, tomorrow. This is an individual journey, as well as a collective one.
Tip 3: Check this post out on how to create more meaning and purpose in your team culture for more practices.
3. Stay radically in touch with needs and generate real value
Customers and employees, are exquisitely sensitive to profit-driven capitalism and opportunism. They are attracted to companies that are purpose-driven, values-led, and deliver positive outcomes to society (Atlassian, 2020).
It is critical to connect with and serve real needs of your customers and the community, with an eye on business viability.
Buck shares this warning:
“What’s acceptable in the future will be generating real value for the world, not just for shareholders. Operating without a clear sense of our interconnectedness will seem even more iniquitous than it did before— and is unlikely to be tolerated by customers, employees, or stakeholders…Creating value for shareholders at the expense of everything else will seem radically out of touch.”
Tip 1: Define the social, environmental or economic needs your business wishes to deliver on. You may turn to the Sustainable Development Goals for inspiration. You may convene other businesses and the community together (virtually at present) to map out what those needs are, and how you may combine your efforts. Again, ask your employees what causes they care about, and consider the synergies between your purpose as a business and the impact they are keen to have. Consider how you can authentically integrate achieving your impact goals throughout your business operations, culture and practices.
We are experiencing one of the greatest business purpose resets of all time. Take moments of reflection at the beginning or the end of each day to define and decide who you want to become through this and the real value your business will strive to deliver.
Atlassian (2020) Return on Action: The new social contract for business, Australian Research Report, March 2020, Prepared by PWC Australia
Buck, S. (2020) The impossible for capitalism is suddenly possible, Fast Company, 20 March 2020.
We run a series of programs and workshops to help you build andrun a values-driven, noble enterprise. From identifying and activating your unique values, to articulating your noble purpose, Barasa can help you take your business to the next level of impact in 2020.Get in touch or organise a consultation with Dimity here.