Fast Company: Does Your Business Have a Conscience?
TODAY’S CONSUMERS WANT TO MAKE A POSITIVE IMPACT WITH THEIR TIME AND MONEY. HERE’S HOW TO GAUGE YOUR OWN BUSINESS’S SOCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY.
Adapted excerpt from THE CONSCIENCE ECONOMY: How a Mass Movement for Good Is Great for Business (Bibliomotion, 2014) by Steven Overman.
Global connectedness. Increasing awareness of our interdependence. Personal empowerment. A nagging sense that we have urgent problems to solve in order for humanity to thrive. A forty-year gestation period from the progressive early ’70s to today. These are the dimensions of increasing consciousness that have converged to create the conditions for a mass shift in mainstream mind-set and values. And this shift is impacting your customers, your electorate, your family, your community, and even your own personal choices.
Imagine the possibilities not only for your enterprise, but for your own satisfaction and personal well-being, not to mention that of your employees, partners, and customers, once you harness the power of the Conscience Economy. Humans are essentially social. We need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves in order to truly self-actualize. Now more than ever, no matter your livelihood or lifestyle, you can do well and do good. The new chapter has only just begun.
The world is moving rapidly from being conscious to acting with conscience. What about your business?
To thrive in the Conscience Economy, every business will need to adapt and transform what it offers, how it produces, how it operates, how it sells, and how it engages others. Transformation is a muscle. It strengthens with use, it atrophies with neglect. Businesses that not only survive but thrive in the Conscience Economy will consider transformation—at both the corporate and individual level—a core competency.
The first step: ensuring that you and your business culture are ready to change. It all starts with a company-wide mind-set of openness. Is your business—as a business—broadly conscious of the social, technological, cultural, and environmental shifts that will impact future success? Does your business currently embody a shared conscience, a collective and intuitive sense of what constitutes doing the right thing, not only for the bottom line but for the wider world? You need to assess where your business stands.
The process of transforming—whether self, or group, or business, or nation—is a process of conversation. A frank, look-in-the-mirror, permission-to-speak-the-truth multidirectional conversation. I’m not suggesting all talk and no action. But there will be no action without talk. Dialogue creates an environment of openness, which leads to experimentation and learning, which informs further dialogue, which leads to further experimentation and learning and application, and faster than we think, we’ve achieved progress. That sounds like therapy, you’re thinking. Yup. It’s also like Olympic team coaching, feature film directing, and raising a family.
Start the conversation that will prepare your business for success in the Conscience Economy. It’s not hard. You just do it. Start asking questions, ideally from the top, because that’s where the tone is set.
Some questions to consider, as part of formal or informal conscience conversations:
Is your organizational culture more internally or externally focused?
Does your organization have a track record of successfully adapting to external forces of change?
Do you look outside your industry for clues, ideas, and inspiration? Or do you only see relevance in your direct competitive set?
Is there a sense of urgency to try doing things differently? How does your organization treat risk taking and failure?
Is your organization aggressively forward looking, firmly rooted in the urgencies of the present, or riding high on its past successes?
Is the increasing importance of balancing positive environmental and social impact with profit on the company’s radar screen? Do you consign it to a CSR department or embed it in everyone’s daily awareness?
By just asking the questions—with your board, with your colleagues, with your team, with your boss, and even with your partners and customers—you automatically introduce the possibility for transformation and invite participation in the collective process of advancing your business. There are no right answers to the questions above. They are catalysts. They shift your business’s mind-set. By doing so, you begin to nurture your organization’s own nascent conscience.
Once people recognize the possibilities for doing well by doing good, emotional motivations—the personal satisfaction of having meaningful work, the thrill of becoming part of a new and better world—take over, driving passion and momentum throughout the enterprise. And you can channel that momentum into a series of company-wide initiatives that simultaneously engage employees emotionally and optimize business operations to adapt to the emerging business environment. Continual transformation that’s fueled by a sense of higher purpose is more likely to take hold.
Ultimately, the unstoppable rise of the Conscience Economy is a phenomenon of mass enlightened self-interest. More than ever, more of us want to do more good, because it’s good for us. Consciousness has led to conscientiousness. Awareness is morphing into action, because now we are living with the urgency of a set of converging circumstances we can no longer ignore. Everything is on the line. We’ve gotten a big wake-up call.