In a time where the national political rhetoric is dividing and dehumanizing, it’s more important than ever that we look to ways to prioritize people along with profit.
One of the important principles for conscious leaders building successful and sustainable businesses is what I have come to call “The Greater Good.” As we move from a culture based on scarcity and competition into a culture of abundance and collaboration, our leaders need to develop the language, actions and beliefs that support this shift. This includes the belief that doing well in service of our own interests must also include working toward the Greater Good in our communities.
For me, this change in mindset needs to begin by understanding the concept that life is sacred. For decades, America’s version of capitalism did not account for the many lives impacted by business. As Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman stated, “There is one and only one social responsibility (of a business) – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say it engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” What Friedman and generations of business leaders overlooked was the collateral damage of ignoring the needs of other stakeholders in the ecosystem of business. When employees, customers, and communities are treated as non-entities, it sets society on a dangerous course of competition between key segments of society. Corporations are perceived to be succeeding at the expense of society.
However, this philosophy of profit over people has started to change. Michael Porter, Harvard professor, best-selling author and arguably the most important thought leader on business strategy, began to shift his view of the place of business in society over the past decade. In 2011 he published a groundbreaking article in the Harvard Business Review with Mark Kramer, called Creating Shared Value: How to reinvent Capitalism and unleash a wave of innovation and growth. In it, they argue that for businesses to be successful and sustainable they need to shift its beliefs about how they create value and their responsibility for society at large. There is a need to stop measuring success through the narrow lens of short-term profit and expand it to the broader influences on long-term success.
So, what does this mean for us? If we want to help lead this shift in how we view business we need to begin with ourselves. Each one of us can actively struggle with the questions: What is the Greater Good for our team? For our company? For our industry? We must internalize the idea that work for the good of the group benefits us to see the benefit of working for both. As in the well-worn phrase, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” you will make your boat the most seaworthy it can be while simultaneously helping the tide to rise.
If you would like to begin exploring the idea of the Greater Good and begin implementing it in your business, here are a few simple steps:
1) Reflection: Set aside a specific time for the next month to explore this critical principle for yourself and with your team and colleagues. “What is the Greater Good for our team? For our company? For our industry? For our clients, customers, partners?” Then ask “What could we change in how we work that would support Doing Well by Doing the Greater Good?” Then look for opportunities to put these new ideas into practice.
2 Assessment: For a more in-depth exploration in the Greater Good, you can learn a tremendous amount from the work Michael Porter, Mark Kramer and their colleagues have done at FSG Consulting, a firm whose mission is to re-imagine social change. Their Shared Value Readiness Assessment is a powerful tool to see where you and your group are in your beliefs and practices around Creating Shared Value, which is a specific methodology for enacting the Greater Good.
3) Action Plan: If you find the Assessment tool as useful as we did, then considering bringing your team together to develop an Action Plan based on the results of your reflections and the assessment. Take some time with the Action Steps which can be guided by the questions and links to additional resources in the assessment.