With more employees than ever looking to work for companies whose values align with their own, it’s never been more important for business to consider what their impact and purpose is outside of making a profit.
The Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand and Griffith University Business School recently partnered on a roundtable session with leaders across Queensland where they discussed this very topic. They explored the ever-important question: does your business’ vision perpetuate a world you want to live in? Led by Professor Nick Barter (Professor of Strategy and Sustainability) and Professor Chris Flemming (Dean Research, Griffith Business School), our guests engaged in an optimistic discussion about how businesses contribute to building healthy societies and environments.
Put simply, this important topic is about the need for businesses to act meaningfully for the benefit of not only itself, but the society in which it operates. Nick and Chris remind us that “businesses are tools we use to shape our world” and when used correctly business can “deliver long-term value for society for generations”.
Businesses that will thrive in the future will be those that prioritise social impact and purpose. If businesses do not embrace this approach, Nick and Chris propose that they are eroding their long-term value. Nick and Chris explain: “more personally, businesses that do not embrace our approach are likely led by leaders who do not consider or want a strong legacy”.
Here are some of the key things we learnt during the roundtable discussion:
1. Embrace radical thinking!
Paid sick leave was once a radical idea. Now, at least in this country, paid sick leave is the expected norm. This demonstrates that something might seem extraordinary and radical now, but it has the potential to become normal in the future.
The distance and time between a radical idea and the future norm is shortening and it is happening quickly. This alone should catapult us all into a space of ambitious thinking. Let’s start embracing those radical ideas.
2. Questioning is crucial
Ask questions about the important matters – the hard stuff. For example, does this business have a purpose that my children would be proud? Is this business building a better world? What legacy is this business leaving?
Start meaningful conversations. These hold greater significance than a report or a spreadsheet about something that has already happened.
The act of asking questions can be a catalyst for commencing valuable dialogues.
3. Don’t be afraid of change
Embracing change fosters growth more than avoiding it. Talk about change so that it is no longer scary or something to be afraid of. If we want to embrace new ideas, we need to do things differently and that means change!
4. Build the right language
Language choice significantly impacts a business’ success. Think about how you’re communicating your vision and purpose. Is that style of communication likely to attract the talent you want and need to put those radical ideas into action? Are you attracting the types of clients and customers that will enable you to leave the legacy you want to leave?
5. We’re in it together
Building a better society is everyone’s business. Moving from competitive to codependent and coworking models might be one of the ways we get there.
When we lead to enable others, we all win. Lead the way with your ideas for making our society and environment a better place, and other businesses will follow you. Our roundtable discussion hosts, Nick Barter and Chris Fleming, emphasise that you’ll also acquire loyal customers and employees along the way.
Businesses do not sit separately from society; they are part of it. What businesses do will fundamentally impact the society and the environment around us. As Nick and Chris explain: “what happens in the economy impacts what happens in society and our surroundings and vice versa – everything is connected.”
Not sure where to start when introducing this type of thinking into your business. Try what Nick and Chris call The Greta Thundberg test. They explain:
“Imagine as a CEO/leader you are sitting across the table from your teenage son or daughter, and they are asking questions about what the business is doing to enable great outcomes for them and the world they will inherit. How is the business reducing problems rather than perpetuating problems?
We always recommend leaders have a chat with the younger generation about what they would like to see as a guide. So, the quick easy way in is the Greta Thunberg test, as we call it.”