I have seldom met anyone who leads a business who doesn’t want to do good, alongside making a success of the business. Also, I have seldom met anyone who isn’t caring about their team, their jobs, their welfare. That doesn’t mean to say there aren’t others who take a different view, but in my experience they really are few and far between.
What does Business as a Force for Good mean? For me that has changed over the years. When I first started out 43 years ago, business generally seemed to mainly be about survival and profit, and that was quite often in conflict with the city, health and the environment. Health because the research about significant impacts wasn’t available or just emerging, environment because the evidence and data hadn’t really started to be looked at and the city because Bristol’s authorities at that time seemed to see business as an enemy rather than a partner.
As time has moved on business has changed and so has the attitude of the city. BCCI has played a large part in this, as have some others. Business realises that it has significant responsibilities, and mostly welcome them.
In some ways privately owned enterprises have it easier than shareholder value businesses. The privately owned can make decisions re their investments based on both the financial and also on the economics of people, ethics, society and environment. Those running businesses with external shareholders often seem to have no such luxury, too often it is just about the bottom line. They might talk the talk but it can be difficult for them to walk the walk.
However all businesses, whether privately or externally owned, must acknowledge that if we are to run responsible businesses, operating to values and principles created alongside and shared with our teams, it will make for happier businesses and happier people, and so often that means better retention of valuable talent and healthier profits.
But ‘profit’ can be a dirty word, especially if it is linked with excessive consumption. However responsible businesses need to be profitable in order to provide employment, investment and tax, and this tax sustains so many of the things that help make us a civilised society. We might disagree around the edges because we are either left, right or whatever, but we probably agree on some key principles such as healthcare, welfare, education being free at the point of delivery. So responsible profit as a key objective and function of business, is an essential part of business being a force for good.
Like many I have become increasingly despairing of our leadership and government generally. And increasingly business either seems to be disparaged (F**k business being a famous recent Prime Ministerial quote) or painted as ruthless, dispassionate and brutal (the Apprentice). We need to show that this does not represent us and that many politicians have got it wrong.
So business needs to step up, demonstrate that it is a force for good, plan, intervene, lobby, and sometimes just BLOODY SHOUT to make it’s case. This means stepping out its day-to-day
operations and reaching out to its communities to actually participate and be part of them. Secondly by establishing and promoting social values that everyone supports and believes in, and finally helping to provide some leadership when those that are supposed to lead us, just don’t or won’t.