Business As a Force For Good… or is it?

Harbor Island | California

Sure, it’s all the rage now, social movements, companies with a bigger mission, the warm fuzzy feeling you get while practicing consumerism and helping someone else. The question is: is it becoming a fad and what does it truly mean to practice business as a force for good.

The term first coined from my research by Richard Branson can be used to identify businesses and entrepreneurs who indeed want to make a difference in the world and use business world as the medium to achieve that change. I want to address two topics in this short essay to mainly get the wheels turning a bit as a consumer and also as a potential businessman/woman.

First, lets talk about “business as a force for good” as a marketing tactic. It’s true companies are now using social movements, and helping people as a ploy to get people to buy more things they don’t need. How do I know? Because I recently sat in the planning phase of an upcoming project and literally planned out the social part of the marketing plan solely to relate to more people. Not because I really cared, not because I felt connected to the charity, but solely because I thought it would get more people to buy and share my product. It felt strange at the time and made me sit down and contemplate this topic for a week or so and eventually led to what you’re reading now, my thoughts and ideas on the topic.

So what’s the big deal? Someone is going to sell the product either way right?  There is going to be a consumer to buy it, so why not help someone in the process, even if it’s just posturing for the sale. On many levels, I agree with that. I think to some extent yes, its a good thing that our marketing tactics have shifted this way. No longer is at ALL about sex and a better life for yourself, now it’s potentially about a better life for someone else. I think it shows an evolution of consciousness on both the marketing and consumer side of things, even if it’s just surface level.

What I would caution against however is to the business or to the entrepreneur, that all too often in life we see people once again“gain the world & lose their soul.” In my time in the business world it has become keenly obvious to me that one’s priorities, goals, convictions and promises to themselves all become greyed over time, no matter how black or white and resolute they may begin.

To put it another way I will steal some words from a favorite “business as a force for good” mentor and inspiration, Yvon Chouinard (Founder of Patagonia). He states is “If you set out to climb Everest, but you have someone set ropes for you the whole way, carry your gear and follow you around with an oxygen tank, you may reach the top; but your an asshole when you left and your an asshole when you get to the top. You have bastardized the process and thus lost the benefit of the adventure, of the journey.” Those words may be a little off, its been awhile since I heard them, but you get the idea. I encourage you to take a few minutes and look at your life, business and personal path to reflect on where in the process of becoming the ultimate and best form of you (which I believe we all inherently know in our gut) we may have bastardized the process? Where have you cut corners on ethics or responsibility or quality to get something done and you knew it was wrong at the time for you, for your soul, for the world, but it was “right for the business.”

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The purpose of this exercise is not to make you feel bad about anything, simply to make you aware of your actions so you can operate from a place of awareness and make business and even life decisions that lead you to the highest, best form of you.

Now tying all this back to “business as a force for good” it’s time to really ask yourself the tough questions, if you are using a social mission or charity as a plank in your marketing campaign, what is the goal? Is it to truly sell more or to truly help more?

I personally think it can be both and not bastardize the process as long as the intention behind both of the actions is pure and true. The bottom line is if your business succeeds more than a company that does not have a social benefit then that’s a win even if you’re not passionately connected to it. The real question here is deeper than that though, it’s will YOU win?  Will YOU be connected to the goal? &  Will it provide YOU the business owner or the business employee with the sense of satisfaction that only comes from doing good things for those who cannot repay you with zero expectation of receiving anything in return.

So how do you get there?  How can you take your company to that next level of commitment to your goal or ideal?  How can you get everyone in your company on board and as passionate about the social mission as you are?  All great questions and ones that I have personally been thinking a lot about lately and here is what I came up with:

1. Seek First To Understand- Whatever you are trying to support you need to truly understand who these people are, where they come from and most importantly, how it feels to be them. This technique creates empathy in any number of situations in life, but in our case now, you will get a look through the eyes of who you are actually trying to help to know what they go through on a daily basis and how they would want to be treated or how maybe how to best help this specific group of people or this specific problem that you are tackling with your social mission.  This empathy sets the groundwork for connection.

2. Get Your Hands Dirty- There is no substitution for getting your hands dirty. If you want to learn a language, you can read all the books in the world, listen to the podcast, download the apps all you want, but the quickest and most effective way to learn will be to really get dirty and immerse yourself in a country that speaks that language and force yourself to learn and at the same time you will be gaining understanding and context. This is a prerequisite in my book.  You won’t be connected to your mission sitting in your office cutting checks to the united way once a year.

3. Get Everyone Involved- If this is a pillar that the company stands upon then get everyone involved. Don’t use it as just a feather in the cap of the executives and don’t let the “employees” do all of the dirty work. This is a great opportunity to lead by example and show your employees that you are just like them, you value the same things they value and you all work together as a unit, side by side, in the trenches. Talk about connecting with your people, go dig well for a tribe in Kenya together and see where you relationship goes.

4. Embed it Into Your Culture- Tony Heish once said something along these lines. “If you are going to build a company around culture, then you need to be prepared to hire and fire based upon a good fit into that culture.” I think this is a very true statement. No paper tigers, if you have someone who is great at accounting, but does not want to engage in any part of the corporate culture, then it’s not a good long term fit. Sure the short run wins might be great, but the damage 1 person can cause to a culture can be immeasurable, so choose your people wisely.

5. Create New Enemies and Allies- Finally I make a rallying cry to entrepreneurs and companies across the world to declare war on a different type of enemy. Instead of your competitor in the market, lets say for instance you sell insulin. Instead of your biggest insulin sales competitor being your enemy, make diabetes your enemy. Stop focusing on your competition for a moment and focus on the bigger picture here on how you can help the consumer beat diabetes and its your company vs that disease. Or your company vs the issue of slow and inefficient cloud computing software or whatever it may be.

Now take this same ideal and use it to drive your mission, attach your company to that higher ideal, not to passing out meals on the weekend but stamping out hunger in the great San Antonio area. Human beings need to feel that their work and their existence is meaningful, by attaching your company to those higher ideals, you can give everyone at your company something to strive for and in the process realign you company to a customer centric model with a triple bottom line that puts the goals of the customer or client first which creates new “allies” in the form of raving fans and long term customers.

At the end of the day “You’re here and they are going to play a football game. We might as well win.” Meaning You’re already here, you’re already in business and you’re going to continue to be, so it’s really a question of what do you want to get out of if it?   How do you want to spend your time?  With whom do you want to spend your time and what type of legacy do you want to leave?

It is sometimes helpful to imagine the day of your funeral and as they are discussing your life and legacy, what are they saying?  What impact do you want to leave on others and the world?  OR if you are not comfortable with your funeral, try your retirement dinner.  Envision that and what the stories are about, what people are remembering you for, what they are saying about your company and who would be there and why.

Trust your gut here to set the intentions and then use your head to make it all happen.

-mat

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