“Theory is good; but it doesn’t prevent things from existing.”
“We must live in the best way this existence that has been given to us, embracing the flow of events. It is up to us to try in every moment of our life to do our best.”
The Branches of Time
So. A better business world. I imagine everyone feels this is an important objective, but:
- Not everyone would define better the same
- Not all better is created equal
- Not all businesses believe a better world is the way to become better
In fact. On the third point I would suggest this is where ‘business improvers’ (consultants, gurus, futurists, etc) step in and play a role. The majority of business fixers fall into one of 2 camps:
- The “let’s make your business run more efficiently” people. They’ll discuss process, simplification and digital transformation. Yes. They’ll couch efficiency in some nice fluffy narratives, but in the end they are simply suggesting the machine isn’t running as well as it could and needs to be finetuned or rebuilt. They see behavior as the be all end all.
- The “people potential” people. They’ll discuss, well, people. How to get people to work better together, how to build an environment in which they are engaged (with caring AND process/tools/digital) and how to foster a healthy culture. They see attitudes as important as behaviors.
Ask any business leader and they will:
(a) always believe something in the business could be better &
(b) always be seeking to make things better.
I do not know one leader who is completely satisfied or, on the flip side of the coin, believe a business is maximizing its potential & opportunities.
Here is where different ‘betters’ start coming into play.
Most leaders address a desire to be better transactionally (albeit they may, on occasion, frame it as a ‘structural organizational betterment’). Yet, “better”, when one views it from a ‘world’ perspective, demands addressing structural elements. This includes engagement (which far too often business people think of transactionally).
Everyone knows the key to maximum productivity and maximizing business potential is engagement. Always has been and always will be. I would note that ‘engagement’ fans always focus on ‘people’ (working together, understanding vision, embracing meaningful work). but engagement, in a business eyes, often expands out to engagement with process, engagement with technology, engagement with machines/production lines, engagement with ‘system tools’ of which people are often the most critical aspect, yet, business will measure engagement “with” something, not “by” someone. That phrase distinction may be one of the most important thoughts I will share today. Ponder it.
But let’s go back to the people/human component … and transactionally. Despite all the discussion around culture (which is when people decide how they want to behave on a coherent fashion) the truth is most businesses try to ‘create engagement’ (which is a problem in & of itself) through transactional methods (which is a problem). Carrots & sticks. Incentives. “Bribes” (free lunches, ping pong tables, flex times, laptops, etc.). Not only is this not effective (at least in terms of creating long term systemic behavior), but it also shows a lack of understanding in what people truly care about.
All that said.
The business world knows it needs to change. I would suggest younger people feel more strongly about structurally addressing this then older business people who have learned to suffer/live in the business environment & therefore feel more like transactional things are the most pragmatic ways to ‘change it.’
The issue is that the gap between ‘knowing’ and actually ‘doing’ is a real sonuvabitch to cross.
I would suggest the key to crossing this gap is not in the ‘specialists’ or the experts in how things are already being done, the key exists in people who know enough about some specific skill to lay a pragmatic foundation and have the ability to see a new way to build to possibilities. I would suggest there are a number of these people out there who embrace that idea – Daniel Mezick, Perry Timms, Gustavo Razzetti, Neils Pflaeging, Edwin Van der Geest, the Corporate Rebels folks. While each of them may approach it a little differently, the business world needs more of these type of ideas/people if it truly wants to get better. We need more connectors, aligners, maybe call them the chiropractors of a better way of doing business and a better world.
Better business needs a structural change. Period.
Better business needs a vision, not transactional changes. Period.
Better business needs an attitudinal adjustment (toward organizational structure, toward how people skills can be maximized, toward how productivity is viewed, toward what businesses role in community/society is). Period.
I have hesitated to use Purpose because I believe (a) it is used improperly 90% of the time and (b) it is actually better to focus on engagement & contribution and Purpose/results will be an outcome. Purpose is the reason for which something is done or created, the reason for its existence, its use, and its usefulness. Usefulness to others is the mechanism of purpose’s well-documented positive individual and organizational effects. When individuals and organizations think and act with their use to others at the forefront, they’re being purposeful and making their unique contribution (source: Zach Mercurio).
I often translate for all my business leader friends who see “purpose” and panic that it is some nebulous ‘save the world’ bullshit:
“if the people are engaged and focused on contribution they will be more productive, generate more high quality output, be brand ambassadors, be innovative (yes, they will want to contribute ideas to the business itself), be more effective in their behavior (service, customer interactions, vendor relationships, communications) and, you know what? … you’ll be more profitable too.”
Or. As Zach shared with me:
It’s actually a basic business principle that’s been dressed up by “thought leaders:” Purpose is contribution, or if you like, “value creation.” Purposeful organizations and their people focus first on contributing and on creating value. They trust that the effects (results) will follow. As Drucker once said, “Profit is not the purpose of a company. It’s the test of its validity.” The more valid your contribution, the more results you’ll see. Every “financial result” is mediated through a human being. Human beings who experience meaningfulness and purpose are far better mediators than those who just “need to get the numbers up!” Frantic leaders (i.e. traditionally-minded business leaders) focus first on producing results, but the problem is you can’t have get an effect without a cause. You can’t have a result without a contribution.
I will say this entire ‘better business for a better world’ topic is fascinating.
While we credit Millennials for the refinding of our business soul (its partially whatever we call Purpose, but its mostly a simple recognition that something is wrong in the way business is being conducted and there has to be a better way) the truth is that this has nothing to do with age or some generational labels. Mary Parker Follet in early 1900’s. Drucker in the 70’s. Toffler in 1985.
They told us this is the way to do business, but when we chose Friedman (with a good dose of Gordon Gecko) business started down the slippery slope of dollars over contribution & responsibility (not Purpose).
The issue now is, as we all know, getting off a slippery slope is hard (you cannot climb back up off it, you need to jump off and restart or get pulled off by a helping hand) so those on it are, well, on it. i find while we suggest it’s a love of the status quo more often than not most business leaders know they are on a slippery slope and can’t get off it.
I am not a Millennial and i have ached for changes like this for, well, forever. Drucker outlined all of this in New Realities 1990, Ewen in Captains of Consciousness 1976, & the Geckos ignored it and the non Geckos (like me) were not strong enough to fight it.
I will say that now we fight.
In the end.
A better way of doing business for a better world.
This is an incredibly difficult topic to navigate. A business first & foremost needs to be successful to survive and its objective is to do things to survive/thrive. And, yet, the path to do so is actually to NOT think about business, but rather think about people, attitudes & maximizing their potential. There is a delicate balance of two truths – a business needs to be in the business of doing business and people are at their highest engagement when they are doing things not because it is business but meaningful. therein lies the paradox. and within that paradox resides the potential.
But. There has to be a better way and we know there is.
Drucker clearly knew this.
Simplistically, while engagement is the key to productivity, contribution is the key to the future of business – a better way of doing business for a better world.
If people contribute, feel like they are contributing and the business, itself, contributes to the greater world the highest level of value (contribution) has been achieved.
I would argue in doing so the business itself will also attain its highest level of effective productivity, solid efficient productivity and consistent profitability. I am not sure what more a business could desire. I am also not sure how that isn’t better business for a better world.