Cross-posted from Harvard Business Online
It wasn't too long ago that corporations were the villains -- polluting the environment, exploiting workers, and consuming energy and other resources without concern for long-term consequences to the planet. However over the past few years many companies have transformed themselves from bad guys into champions of social change and ecological consciousness. For example, GE has gone from despoiling the Hudson River to jumpstarting the electric car industry through its commitment to purchase tens of thousands of zero emission vehicles. Similarly, Nike went from being vilified for its unfair treatment of workers to being applauded for setting industry standards for overseas working conditions.
The transformation that GE, Nike, and other leading companies have made goes beyond repairing tarnished images or reversing past sins. Leaders of these companies now believe that "doing good" can be a powerful strategy for growing markets, stimulating innovation, motivating employees, tapping into new talent pools, and actually reducing costs. As Jason Saul argues in his new book Social Innovation Inc., , "we may now be in an era in which "companies drive profit from social change."
Let's remember however that even the most ethically-advanced companies have a long way to go, despite their deep pockets and years of CSR efforts -- and most other companies haven't even begun to think of recalibrating their business in terms of profitable social change or sustainability. We're years away from the point where doing good will be the accepted norm for successful businesses.
But just because your company is not fully evolved on the social change scale doesn't mean that there's nothing you (as a manager) can do. Here are three ways that you can cultivate a culture of doing good:
Do a sustainability audit of your own unit. How much energy are you consuming? Are you wasting resources such as paper, ink, or other supplies? Are you recycling as much as possible? Can you reduce business and commuter travel, or make it more efficient? Bring your team together to identify ways that you can operate with greater sustainability and then set stretch targets.
Encourage your people to get engaged with what C.K. Prahalad called the bottom of the pyramid. Billions of poor and underprivileged people constitute the largest untapped market in the world. If you have the funds, or your company supports such programs, volunteer (with the help of an NGO) to live in a rural village for a week or allow your people to take mini-sabbaticals or secondments with NGOs to work on development projects. On a more modest scale, encourage your team members to do volunteer work in local communities; or have your team "adopt" specific development projects, such as those with Global Giving. Most importantly, in the context of these actions, talk with your team about what they are learning, how your company could provide products or services to underserved markets, and possible implications for the future.
Educate your team. Finally, make it your business to distribute articles and books, and bring in speakers. Get the dialogue going about how your business can not only contribute to social change and sustainability, but also profit from it.
Evolution in organizations doesn't happen by waving a magic wand or waiting for an enlightened leader. More often it's the result of many individual actions that eventually create the momentum for change. So if you want your company to "do good" in a way that also makes it more profitable, the process might start with you.
How can you help your company profit from doing good?
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