A higher purpose business
“we are hardly ever
as that which we
Charles Bukowski, The Curse, Slouching toward Nirvana
In the business world, everyone is scrambling for the higher ground, curated around the idea of building a values-based enterprise. Try as I might to co-opt my open-minded self, I’ve great difficulty in believing that any business can be redesigned this way.
Even assuming that everyone could agree a shortlist of values, what would it mean for the business?
- Would you continue to take on every client or serve every customer?
- Would you distribute profit the same way?
- Who would police said values?
- Would you be prepared to let go of your (supposed) best people if they refused to sign an Oath of Office dedicated to your values?
- Would the company structure remain the same?
- Would you carry on using the same suppliers, particularly if their values were off-kilter with yours?
The truth of the matter is that all this talk about values is simply that…talk.
Even if you weren’t prepared or couldn’t muster enough support to play the values card, would you be prepared to put some muscle behind your strapline or mission statement?
Do you remember those dreadful three word straplines that seemed all the rage about 10 years ago–‘Passionate, Determined, Professional‘ (these are entirely random of course)? They haven’t completely disappeared, but I don’t recall any of the law firms I worked at, who opted for these slogans, to meaningfully rely on the words let alone measure their KPIs by what it meant to be (e.g.) Passionate (the truth of the matter is that the regnant slogan was never more than a copycat exercise designed to keep up with the competition).
As a segue, I now appreciate just how hard Tom Peters, corporate gadfly, has worked in raising the topic of Excellence. I don’t think I could have kept up the outpouring of life and business-change material in the face of such overwhelming stagnation in the markets which he’s spoken and published works (which is practically everywhere). I know I’m not alone in having devoured his works but I have to admit in getting little if any buy in to his way of seeing the world. Businesses might ‘like’ the word excellence (note the use of lower case ‘e’ and not the upper case version above–you work it out) but the corporate world wouldn’t know an excellent version of itself if it slapped it round the face with a wet fish–or something like that.
When I started this post, I hoped to point you in the direction of a few exemplars to make my point about values, i.e. they’re a worthwhile business to investigate, but, if I’m honest, I can’t find any that float my boat. Oh, sure, there are a few businesses that look wonderful on the surface–a super-slick website and the like–but I’ve no idea what they’re like to work for. I suspect they’re no different to everywhere else, i.e. ho hum. Also, I don’t think that values are ipso facto the making of a business–if your product or service isn’t marketable then your audience is the sum total of one, i.e. you.
Leaving then the question of values to one side, and assuming you’ve something that people want to buy, my view (and it is just that) is that the future doesn’t belong to the enterprise of old where fear and desire are the push buttons to make a healthy profit and some more. No, the enterprise of now and for the foreseeable future is one that chimes with our desire for equality, a greener world, kindness and one where we’re appreciated for who we are and not who we’re expected to be (no faux masks please!).
Do you agree?
The new business model that is…
Perhaps I’m living in a fantasy world where I expect too much–it’s only business after all–but my view remains that when you ask people to commit the better part of their lives to work, it sure as hell be more rewarding than the offer of a pay cheque and a pension. Let’s be honest, we hear constant talk about differentiation in the market, but just imagine a business that as well as offering a brilliant product or service was also deemed a life success company (this is a nod to Tom Peters–who else) where every employee was challenged to become the most that they could be (oh, and they had gobs and gobs of fun along the way). Show me a business like that and I’ll bet a pretty penny that its purpose is defined less by economics and more by the values that live and breathe in its people.
Only time will tell if values will become another talking shop or something more substantive, but, in the meantime, don’t miss the opportunity to show appreciation to your people for all that they do every single day.
Come on, how hard can that be?