The world is changing faster than ever. We now face megatrends of monumental proportions: a global population of 7 billion, greater disparity between rich and poor, increasing numbers of cataclysmic events, the rise of emerging countries, increased consumerism, increased social and technological complexity, increased globalization trends, and so forth.
As leader of a business, how do you face these trends and events?
Can you survive by conducting “business as usual,” or do you embrace, adapt and leverage their potential? Fundamentally, can a firm and its leaders operate without facing these trends and transforming their business to play a productive role in society?
For many decades now, economics and management scholars and behavioral scientists have studied and debated the role of the firm in society.
Why does the firm exist, and what is its role? From these discussions, the theory of the firm has evolved over the years from concepts of profit maximization (neoclassical economics) to customer satisfaction (customer-value theory of the firm) through the management of resources to create competitive advantage (resource-based view of the firm) and the organization of agents and actors to make choices and decisions (behavioral theory of the firm).
Among the vast array of derivative theories and multiple schools of thought surrounding the theory of the firm, none of them actually captures the fundamental question facing our businesses today: Why do firms exist in society, and what will their role be during the next 50 years?
More recently, the concept of sustainable value has emerged at the nexus of discussions about sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Based on Chris Laszlo’s work, this concept proposes that just “doing good” is no longer enough. Firms need to think strategically about their long-lasting value to all stakeholders and make it part of their strategic orientation.
This is a holistic approach that requires vision, action, support and resources. The following quote captures this concept well:
“Companies that are breaking the mold are moving beyond corporate social responsibility … to social innovation. They view community needs as opportunities to develop ideas and demonstrate technologies, to find and serve new markets and to solve long-standing business problems.” — Rosabeth Moss Kantor
So, you might ask, what does this mean for me? It means that you cannot ignore the megatrends. You and your firm can make a difference in society. The question then becomes how to get started.
The following are some recommendations for starting your journey.
Start small, but do it fully.
Select a few programs and partnerships to work on, and fully engage your firm and your staff. Less is better. At Ardex, we work closely with Habitat for Humanity and the local food bank, and we support veterans in need every holiday season. It starts at the top: Business leaders and owners are the organizational champions.
Capture the energy of your employees.
You will surprised by the amount of employee support you receive, as well as the positive impact on the organizational climate. You might not reach everyone, but many of your employees will be motivated and enthusiastic.
Leverage the power of social innovation.
Study the trends and capture their innovation potential without trying to make additional profit. Make it part of your regular business model and be realistic.
Include it as part of your DNA.
Sustainable value is not short term. It is a journey for the long term, and programs cannot be cut at every downturn. It is a transformational journey toward becoming a better corporate citizen and leading with compassion at the organizational level.
Whether you work for a small business or a large corporation, you can make a difference and create lasting value. Everything counts. The role of business is changing, and the best-in-class companies have emerged. Do not sit on the sidelines. Your community, your customers and your employees are watching. The world is watching. ●
Stephan Liozu (www.stephanliozu.com) is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors. He specializes in disruptive approaches in strategy, innovation, pricing and value management. He earned his PhD in Management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at [email protected]