What does it take to cause something big about a community to change — something that no one individually has much power over, even something as big as a prevailing mindset? We know what it takes: a social movement. And social movements aren’t only the domain of community organizers and college students. Business people can set them in motion, too, as we are seeing right now.
Currently gaining force is a movement to focus for-profit enterprises more on the essential work of enriching societies — that is, benefiting not only those humans who are their owners as publicly traded companies but also those who work in them and who stand to benefit from more purpose-driven innovation. Like any social movement, this one has started with many people starting small fires. Look around and you will see them:
- Individual CEOs and their boards deliberately deciding to take a stand. Note, for example, the spirited defense by Paul Polman of Unilever of his long-term, sustainable business philosophy in the wake of a takeover attempt. Note the far-reaching production changes Jean-Dominique Senard has made at Michelin to empower and engage workers. In China look at the unique organization of entrepreneurial cells Zhang Ruimin has created at Haier, and in France look at Vinci Group’s success, under Xavier Huillard, with a radically decentralized model designed to foster entrepreneurial creativity in its three thousand constituent companies. See also Rick Goings’s commitment at Tupperware Brands to increasing women’s economic empowerment in emerging economies as well as mature ones.
- Networks and communities spreading new norms and new forms of capitalism. From the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism to the Conscious Capitalism organization, groups are forming with a mission (in the words of the latter) to “inspire, educate and empower companies to elevate humanity through business.” Some are designing new governance forms for enterprises, such as B-corps and cooperatives. Note especially the brave, innovative management reflected in social enterprises such as the Sampark Foundation, where Vineet Nayar, former CEO of HCL Technologies, is on a mission to inspire kids in rural India to learn how to think and invent like frugal innovators.
- Management thinkers framing the greatest challenges of our time as human ones. Witness the shift that is taking place in the global conversation about artificial intelligence and other advanced digital technologies. Increasingly there is an insistence that these powerful forces must leverage human creativity, not marginalize it. Smart machines can help us find answers more quickly, but cannot frame the questions to address. We must use these technologies to unleash human potential — undoubtedly the most underused resource on the planet — and bring greater purpose, meaning, and values to work.
All these sparks of activity are generating heat and light. But how can the many small flames be fanned into a blazing fire? One key is for all these fire-starters to recognize that they are part of a bigger movement, not just individually acting on their own values but collectively working to change expectations and behaviors. Often this happens when people who would otherwise sit on the sidelines perceive a real threat in not acting, and are galvanized to join the movement.
Read more at Harvard Business Review