In our deeply divided world, most are inclined to think things are bad and getting worse. But if that’s true, it suggests that current change strategies – even well-intentioned ones – are not effectively addressing the disease that ails us.
In seeking to make things better, business is the key. Why? Because it’s central to everything that happens in today’s world, funding our nonprofits, educational and religious institutions, media outlets and politicians. If business takes the lead in creating a more humane and decent world, most everyone else – intent on maintaining their flow of funds — will change with it.
There’s also so much talent in business — with tech as its poster child — exemplified by the amazing products and distribution and communication mechanisms it has developed in the last 40 years. If business steps up to its leadership role, who better to create the strategies and systems needed to create meaningful change?
In the last 30 years, technology has transformed business and, with it, the world:
- ERM, with its ability to integrate and interpret vast amounts of data, allows managers to allocate resources on a massive scale, in real-time.
- High-speed data transmission and powerful databases have fueled a massive shift toward worldwide outsourcing of operations; and
- Machine learning, with its ever-expanding ability to process and analyze data, has transformed companies’ ability to track and profile buyers, and to predict behavior.
One uncomfortable reality that these examples illustrate, however, is that these transformative capabilities have been used, mostly, to increase profits. And while this is both expectable and understandable, we desperately need businesses to apply them as well to their social outcomes; to create processes that creatively integrate and balance their financial goals with similarly robust attention to their social outcomes.
The initiative discussed below focuses on the consulting — general business advisors, marketing and media specialists, lawyers, accountants, etc.; a sector I was a part of in my 15 years as a law firm partner.
The best of these firms are already making positive contributions to the greater good. But their initiatives are typically episodic and partial. Even today — as threats to our future accelerate and multiply — they mostly remain focused on narrow strategies that allow clients, and their firms, to make more and more money.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. These firms can develop strategies that maintain their role as valued and well-compensated advisors and infuse their work with ways of operating that, increasingly, promote more positive social outcomes.
Thus, a firm that bills on an hourly basis, as so many do, could challenge itself to develop quantitative metrics that measure (1) a project’s success in achieving the clients’ stated goals relative to dollars invested and (2) its contribution to the larger public good.
The first metric’s cost/benefit transparency would provide a competitive advantage to the firm with increasingly cost-conscious clients. And the second metric would offer meaningful guidance to clients who, sharing the firm’s commitment to socially beneficial outcomes, are interested in what it can teach them.
Finally, taking its values-based approach to a new level, the firm could make knowing choices about which cases to take on, factoring in not just profitability but also the work’s social return. In this way it would be able, over time, to create a client base more and more congruent with its commitment to social responsibility; allowing it, increasingly, to use its extraordinary professional skills to support similarly committed client companies.
Early adopters would enjoy an important competitive edge as news of its approach spread. After all, many potential clients — led by people who very much care about the world their children inherit — will be excited to retain a firm that does excellent work, offers greater cost/value transparency, and is seriously committed to creating a more humane and just world.
And what about the firms that miss out on this “early adopter” competitive edge?
My hope is that they, too, will be incentivized to adopt this approach — assuming, as is increasingly the case, that young professionals continue to press for increased attention to quality of life issues. In this scenario, firms would feel compelled to adopt this approach in order to assure the steady infusion of the young talent so important to their profit margins and top-of-the-line professional reputations.
And in its fullest flowering? Young professionals in the tech world and beyond — as well as seasoned practitioners and, of course, clients – would increasingly move away from firms who are wedded to the “old” way; seeing them as outmoded artifacts of an earlier time when crude, greed motivated ways of operating were the norm.
Granted, this outcome might seem wildly optimistic. But who knows? Facing an inherently uncertain future, unexpected things — even good ones — can happen. And with our future at stake as never before, we certainly need to make the effort. The Tech world can, and should, lead the way towards this new values-based world of business.
About the Author
Jeff Garson is author of Radical Decency: A Values-Based Approach to a Better Life and World. A corporate attorney for 25 years, Jeff left the law profession in 2000 and then founded a multi-disciplinary healing center, as well as the Decency Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing Radical Decency to business. In his second career as a psychotherapist, he has supported many clients who struggled to find their way in a world that relentlessly pushes them to compete and win — and to remorselessly judge themselves when they fall short.