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Mehr Mut und weniger alte weiße Männer

Dieses Interview erschien am 22. Mai 2021 auf ZEIT ONLINE. Das Interview führte die Journalistin Petra Pinzler im Rahmen eines Fellowships am THE NEW INSTITUTE.

Notiz der Authorin: der Titel wurde von der Zeit gewählt und muss als kontextfreier, provokativer Anreiz zum Lesen gedeutet werden. Ich empfehle dem Leser, sich auf das Interview einzulassen und sich nicht unnötig am Titel zu reiben (auch wenn dazu Berechtigung besteht).

Frau Muff, The business of business is business – hat der Nobelpreisträger Milton Friedman mal gesagt und damit gemeint, das sich Unternehmen aufs Geldverdienen konzentrieren sollen. Was ist falsch an dem Satz?

Das ist einfach zu simpel gedacht: Die Wirtschaft ist ein Teil der Gesellschaft und die wiederum ein Teil des Planeten. Wenn wir den ruinieren, dann funktioniert weder die Gesellschaft noch die Wirtschaft. Also müssen Unternehmen ihre Wirkung auf die Umwelt und die Gesellschaft mit im Blick haben.

Friedman glaubte an die Idee, dass alle Menschen egoistisch handeln, das aber in einer Marktwirtschaft trotzdem zu einem guten Ergebnis führt – weil der Markt die Wünsche aller koordiniert und das am Ende zur bestmöglichen Verteilung von Gütern führt. So ähnlich jedenfalls lernen das die meisten Ökonomie-Studierenden bis heute schon im ersten Semester.

In modernen Studiengängen lernen sie aber auch, dass auch das so einfach nicht stimmt. Die berühmte unsichtbare Hand des Marktes, die Angebot und Nachfrage so steuert, dass am Ende immer etwas Gutes herauskommt, funktioniert ja nicht. Es braucht Regeln, die der Staat bestimmt. Und es wird auch nicht alles gut, wenn in Unternehmen nur ans Geldverdienen gedacht wird.

Anscheinend überzeugt das auch immer mehr Leute in den Chefetagen. Kürzlich gelobten jedenfalls 180 Chefs namhafter US-Konzerne wie Amazon und Walmart in einem Statement of Corporate Purpose künftig auch ihrer Belegschaft, der Gesellschaft und der Umwelt nützen zu wollen – statt nur den Aktionären. Wird die Wirtschaft gerade grün und gut?

Na ja, die Ankündigungen sind das eine, Handeln das andere. Natürlich ist es erst mal positiv, wenn Chefs versprechen, dass sie beim Wirtschaften mehr Rücksicht auf die Natur und auf die Menschen nehmen wollen. Aber das ist nur der erste Schritt. Als nächstes muss das ganze Unternehmen umdenken und umlernen.

Was muss da konkret passieren?

In Unternehmen, die sich so auf den Weg machen, verändern sich vier Dinge.

Erstens, die interne Kultur, was sich nicht nur an neuen Kriterien für die Beförderung, sondern auch konkreten Unternehmenszielen zeigt. Klimaziele, zum Beispiel, müssen überprüfbar sein. Wenn ein Unternehmen verspricht, bis 2050 klimaneutral werden zu wollen, aber keine kurzfristigen Umsetzungspläne hat, dann geschieht nichts.

So was ist, zweitens, nur gemeinsam mit anderen erreichbar. Und dazu muss ein Unternehmen sich als Teil der Gesellschaft sehen, statt nur sich selbst im Mittelpunkt zu stellen. Es geht um mehr.

Drittens, braucht es einen zukunftsfähigen Aufsichtsrat, in dem darf nicht immer der gleiche Typ Mensch sitzen, diversere Aufsichtsräte bringen strategische Gesellschaftsthemen stärker auf den Tisch. Da wird dann in einer Aufsichtsratssitzung nicht mehr nur nach der Umsatzrendite und Risikominimierung gefragt, sondern auch nach neuen Geschäftsfelder, die helfen, die Gesellschaft zu verbessern oder Umweltprobleme zu lösen.

Dies ist der vierte Punkt: Wie zeigt sich das alles in neuen Dienstleistungen?

Notiz der Authorin: hier wird auf den Strategischen Innovationscanvas der Positive Impact Organizationen verwiesen, dieser enthält vier Differenzierungsmerkmale sowie acht Innovationsanstösse. Ein kurzer Online-kurs dazu hier.

Wenn ich die Nachhaltigkeitsberichte von Unternehmen lese oder Begriffe wie Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) höre, dann gruselt es mich häufig. Da stehen so viele schöne Worte und so wenig harte Fakten …

Tatsächlich schleichen sich viele Unternehmen noch mit schönen Worten in ihren Nachhaltigkeitsberichten weg. Dabei gibt es längst wissenschaftlich fundierte harte Fakten, die man messen kann: beispielsweise die Diversität des Managements oder der CO2-Ausstoß des Unternehmens. Und es gibt Verbände, die ihren Mitgliedern dabei helfen, solche Nachhaltigkeitskriterien strategisch anzuwenden. Dort lässt sich auch von Vorbildern lernen, von Unternehmen, die visionäre Versuche wagen und sich wirklich richtig ehrgeizige Ziele setzen – beispielsweise ein 2030 Netto-Null Ziel, für sich und die eigenen Kunden, was im Unternehmen vieles auf den Kopf stellt.

Die Wirtschaft ist ein Teil der Gesellschaft und die wiederum ein Teil des Planeten. Wenn wir den ruinieren, dann funktioniert weder die Gesellschaft noch die Wirtschaft.

Müssen Unternehmen, die die Übernutzung der Natur wirklich ernst nehmen, nicht noch einen viel radikaleren Schritt gehen: Müssten sie nicht einfach eine Menge der Produkte aus ihren Katalogen streichen? Wer braucht in Zeiten der Klimakrise beispielsweise noch Privatjets oder in Zeiten der Wasserknappheit einen privaten Pool – um nur zwei Beispiele zu nennen.

Diese Beispiele zeigen genau die Größe des Problems. Man kann ja nicht einfach sagen: Schließt doch besser euren Laden! Das wäre ein sehr kurzes Gespräch. Aber machen wir es konkret, nehmen wir Coca-Cola. Die Welt wäre wahrscheinlich ein gesünderer Ort, wenn es keine hart beworbenen zuckerhaltigen Süßgetränke gäbe …

… zumindest hätten wir dann viel weniger Kinder mit Zahnschäden oder Übergewicht …

Genau. Wenn sich das Unternehmen aber zum Ziel setzt einen sinnvollen gesellschaftlichen Beitrag zu leisten, dann sollte es seine Kernkompetenzen klüger nutzen. Coca-Cola schafft es, ein perfekt gekühltes Süssgetränk bis ans Ende der Welt zu bringen. Das ist eine ungeheure logistische Leistung. Wer schafft das sonst schon? Könnte man diese Kompetenz nicht auch dafür nutzen, mit Nährstoffen und Vitaminen angereicherte Nahrungsmittel in genau diese Enden der Welt zu bringen? Das ist es jetzt nur eine Idee, und soll zeigen, welche Fragen sich Unternehmen stellen, die eine positive Wirkung haben wollen. Es geht nicht nur darum, den negativen Fußabdruck des aktuellen Geschäftes zu vermindern, sondern auch neue sinnvolle Geschäftsfelder zu entdecken und zu entwickeln. Wie der US-Ökonom Peter Drucker schon sagte:«jedes ungelöste gesellschaftliche Problem ist eigentlich nichts anderes als eine grosse unentdeckte Martkchance.»

Gibt es für solch einen Umbau auch Argumente, die den altmodischen Kriterien standhalten? Es heißt, nachhaltige Unternehmen seien langfristig auch ökonomisch stärker als andere …

Ja, und nicht nur das. Nachhaltigkeit ist auch wichtig, um gute Leute zu bekommen. Junge Leute finden es heute viel wichtiger als in der Vergangenheit, was und wie ihr Arbeitgeber im Markt anbietet. Sie bestimmen zunehmend, was verlangt wird. Bereits heute buhlen in einigen Industrieländern immer mehr Unternehmen um die besten hochqualifizierten Talente. Die wollen für inspirierende Unternehmen arbeiten, die wollen etwas Sinnvolles tun. Auch im Unternehmen motiviert ein Sinn jenseits der Rendite alle diejenigen, denen es nicht nur ums Geld geht.

Es geht nicht nur darum, den negativen Fußabdruck des aktuellen Geschäftes zu vermindern, sondern auch neue sinnvolle Geschäftsfelder zu entdecken und zu entwickeln. Regierungen müssen sich schon fragen, was gut für ihre Gesellschaft und die Umwelt ist. Und dann müssen sie das auch in verbindlichen Regeln festschreiben.

Können Sie das belegen?

Ich habe erst vor ein paar Tagen mit dem Chef eines großen internationalen Konzerns gesprochen und der hat mir gesagt, dass Klimaschutz und ein inspirierender Purpose bei der Mitarbeiterwerbung einen noch viel höheren Stellenwert als noch vor 10 Jahren haben. Es gibt auch eine Studie der Young Presidents Organization, in welcher CEOs nach der Bedeutung von Nachhaltigkeit gefragt werden – und die zeigt, wie sehr sich auch bei denen die Stimmung in den vergangen fünf Jahren verändert hat: 93 Prozent finden, dass ein Unternehmen einem gesellschaftlichen Zweck dienen muss, was dem neuen Verständnis von Nachhaltigkeit entspricht und wo auch das Klimaproblem dazugehört. Und dies aus drei Gründen: erstens wegen Druck von Mitarbeitern, zweitens wegen Druck der eigenen Kinder und drittens wegen Druck der Kunden.

Ist das Klima jetzt so wichtig, weil alle jetzt darüber reden? Oder erleben wir da wirklich einen grundsätzlichen Wandel, eine Moralisierung der Märkte, setzt sich da die Idee der planetaren Grenzen durch – also die Idee, dass wir die Erde in vielfacher Hinsicht überlasten und daran etwas ändern müssen?

Immer mehr Leute, egal an welcher Stelle im Unternehmen, wollen etwas Sinnvolles tun. Dies hat oft mit Nachhaltigkeit zu tun und kann das Klima betreffen, die Umwelt, oder die Biodiversität. Es kann aber auch die wachsende Ungleichheit in der Gesellschaft oder andere soziale Themen betreffen.

Welche Rolle spielen dabei die Finanzmärkte? Vor allem bei Aktiengesellschaften heißt es immer wieder, dass die gar nicht anders können, als den Gewinn zu maximieren. Würden sie sich anders verhalten, würden die Aktionäre die Vorstände und Aufsichtsräte davonjagen.

Da habe ich gute Nachrichten. Was da im vergangenen Jahr passiert ist und in diesem Jahr auch noch passieren wird, wird die Welt verändern. Die Verwalter der großen Fonds haben begriffen, dass man mit Nachhaltigkeit Geld verdienen kann und dass die Renditen bei nachhaltigen Unternehmen langfristig gut und sicher sind. Schweizer Großbanken wie die UBS oder auch die Black Rock, der weltweit grösste Investor, verändern ihre Kriterien für Investitionen gerade stark, nicht nur wegen den Vermögenstransfers an die nächste Generation, die einfach andere Prioritäten hat und das Geld bewusst anlegen will.  Jedenfalls ist der Zuwachs bei sogenannten nachhaltigen Geldanlagen und beim Impact Investment rasant.

Impact Investment bedeutet …

… dass Menschen ihr Geld dort investieren, wo es es etwas bewegt und zwar nicht philanthropisch sondern als profitables Geschäftsmodell mit gutem Zweck.

Reden Sie sich die Welt da nicht schön und ist die Realität nicht doch noch eine andere? Kürzlich hat RWE, das große deutsche Energieunternehmen, die niederländische Regierung vor einem Schiedsgericht auf Schadenersatz verklagt – weil die Niederlande schnell aus der Kohleverstromung aussteigen wollen. Gleichzeitig wirbt RWE in großen Anzeigen, dass das Unternehmen künftig ganz grün werden will. Das passt doch nicht. Das Argument für diese Art von Klagen ist dann immer: Wir müssen das tun, sonst werden wir von den Aktionären verklagt.

Einerseits fordern gewisse Investoren nun was anderes. Auf der Aktionärsversammlung von Unilever wurde dem Unternehmen vor Kurzem der Auftrag gegeben, die Klimastrategie ins Zentrum der Unternehmensstrategie zu stellen. Es spielen jedoch tatsächlich die Aufsichtsräte häufig noch eine hinderliche Rolle. Den Aufsichtsräten geht es zu oft nur um die eigene Risikominimierung, die wollen nicht von den Aktionären verklagt werden und haben eine zu kurzfristige Perspektive. Da wünsche ich mir mehr Mut und weniger weiße alte Männer. Denn schon wenn Sie die Gremien anders zusammensetzen, würde das viel verändern.

Das klingt verblüffend einfach. Eine andere Personalpolitik in den Chefetagen und damit dort eine andere Sicht auf die Welt – und alles wird gut?

Wir sind im Moment tatsächlich in der glücklichen Lage, dass Unternehmen von allen Seiten Druck bekommen. Und für ein solches Umdenken bringen jüngere, weiblichere und insgesamt diverse Chefetagen und Aufsichtsräte den nötigen frischen Wind und Weitblick.

Wäre das leichter, wenn wir strengere staatliche Regeln hätten, die von allen Unternehmen verlangen, dauerhaft und nachprüfbar anders mit der Umwelt umzugehen?

Ja, das wäre sicherlich hilfreich. Regierungen müssen sich schon fragen, was gut für ihre Gesellschaft und die Umwelt ist. Und dann müssen sie das auch in verbindlichen Regeln festschreiben. Der New Green Deal der EU setzt ein hervorragendes Zeichen,  der einen schonenderen Umgang mit der Umwelt für die Wirtschaft verbindlich zu machen will. Diese signalisieren der zögerlichen Wirtschaft: Euer Sandkasten wird gerade verschoben. Und unterschätzen Sie dann die Unternehmer nicht. Die sind sehr innovativ, wenn es darum geht, ihr Spielzeug dann auch zu verschieben.

Es kursieren im Moment viele Ideen für andere Unternehmensformen. Da gibt es Social Entrepreneurship, in den USA die B-Corps, in Deutschland die Bewegung der purpose economy. Bei allen geht es im Kern darum, dass schon in den Statuten des Unternehmens nicht nur die Gewinnmaximierung steht, sondern auch andere sinnvolle Ziele. Für wie wirkmächtig halten Sie die?

Die stoßen auf jeden Fall etwas an. Und sie knüpfen im Grunde an eine alte Idee von Unternehmertum an. Nehmen Sie beispielsweise den Gründungsgedanken von Unilever oder Nestle. Die wurden gegründet, weil sie ein gesellschaftliches Problem lösen wollten. Bei Nestle ging es darum, die Kindersterblichkeit zu senken, Unilever wollte die Hygienestandards in England verbessern.

Ich kenne Nestle vor allem, weil es immer wieder für die Privatisierung von Wasser kritisiert worden ist – und dafür, dass es viele Tonnen unnötiger Plastikflaschen produziert. Also nicht gerade als Modell.

Stimmt, da müsste wohl einiges passieren, damit der Ursprungsgedanke wieder stärker in den Fokus kommt. Unsere Forschung zeigt, dazu braucht es einen CEO mit entsprechenden Zukunftskompetenzen und ein Unternehmen, welches ko-kreativ mit anderen Akteuren arbeiten kann.

Kennen Sie eigentlich ein Unternehmen, bei dem alles stimmt – das gute Produkte hat, gutes Geld verdient, gut für die Umwelt ist und für die Gesellschaft? Oder ist das die Quadratur des Kreises?

Wir nennen solche Unternehmen „Positive Impact Organisationen“. Es gibt alternative Banken, die ihr Geld nachhaltig und nach ethischen Kriterien anlegen. In der Schweiz gibt es Choba-Choba, welches die Kakaobauern am Unternehmen beteiligt. Und die SV-Gruppe, ein Catering-Unternehmen, das seinen Klimaimpact dank einer Umschulung der Chefköche massiv reduzieren konnte, mit gleichem Profit. Oder es gibt Climeworks, ein Zürcher Unternehmen das CO2 aus der Luft holt und nicht nur bindet, sondern auch Mineralwasser-Herstellern weiterverkauft. Wir sammeln einerseits Beispiele solcher Unternehmen um zu inspirieren (Kurzvideos hier auf Sustainability-Today.com) und helfen Unternehmen andererseits beim Entdecken solcher neuer Geschäftschancen. Packen wir’s an, denn die Zeit läuft!


When the Stakeholder Perspective takes a Purpose Orientation

Understanding Business Sustainability Types in terms of stakeholder engagement

Every organization talks about stakeholder engagement – yet what does this really mean? In the era of positive impact, engaging with stakeholders goes beyond reaching out to your employees, customers, suppliers and concerned civil society institutions. A truly sustainable organization will have recognized that it is itself a stakeholder in a much larger context, in which it doesn’t play the central role. Creating a positive impact through focusing on purpose is all about recognizing one’s own limited perspective and value contribution to a society which includes other perspectives such as civil society and government.

The purpose orientation of business has become a popular topic recently. It is hard to open a new book on the current and future challenges for business and society and not stumble over the purpose topic. In analyzing the evolution of business sustainability empirically, Grayson et al. conclude in their book “All In” (2018: 30-32) that we have entered the “Purpose Driven Era” in 2016. For them, today’s best corporate leaders focus what they do through the lens of the purposeful and positive impact they aspire to have in the world.

This understanding of purpose contrasts with another popular interpretation of the role of business, the stakeholder model. The Business Roundtable, an association of some 200 CEOs of major U.S. companies, published a widely acclaimed statement on the purpose of a corporation in August 2019. These companies committed for the first time since 1997 to a responsibility to all stakeholders – namely customers, employees, suppliers, the communities in which they operate, and their owners. All stakeholders are seen by them as important, and value must be created for all of them. This is a significant extension of understanding from seeing the shareholder as the one primary stakeholder of business.

What is the difference between these two interpretations of business and its role in society?

What is the difference between the purpose orientation of business and the stakeholder model? And how do they relate to each other?

A helpful answer can be found in the Davos Manifesto 2020 on the role of business in the 21st century presented by Klaus Schwab, the founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum. This manifesto goes beyond the Business Roundtable’s position in two different ways. First, it includes society in the catalog of stakeholders. Second and more significantly, it sees business not only as an economic entity in the service of wealth creation for different stakeholders, but also as a societal institution delivering multiple values. Along with government and civil society, business here is seen as another, equally important “stakeholder of our global future”. Business is expected to contribute through its specific resources and capabilities to improve the state of the world, together with government and civil society. To achieve this, a purpose orientation is needed to guide the business.

How do we make sense of this evolution of understanding of stakeholders?

In a first step, an organization extends its understanding from a single stakeholder, often the owner or shareholder, to a more extensive group of business-relevant stakeholders. This is the shift from Business Sustainability 1.0 to Business Sustainability 2.0 in the Dyllick-Muff Typology (see below).  This extension from a single to a number of relevant stakeholder groups can be viewed as a “horizontal extension,” with new stakeholder groups being added to existing ones. A majority of organizations are in this conceptual phase of understanding stakeholder engagement. At this stage, the central focus, however, remains on the business, which is seen to fulfill multiple demands through its activities.

When an organization, in a further step, starts to consider itself as a societal stakeholder, this is a completely different perspective. It represents the shift from inside-out to outside-in thinking which means that an organization is able to look at its own role from an external meta level. It starts perceiving itself as just another stakeholder in society. It is society which takes on the central space, no longer the organizations which sees its role as providing a positive value to society. This shift introduces an additional dimension and can be seen as a “vertical expansion” of the relevant perspective. This new position is what Business Sustainability 3.0, or true business sustainability, is all about.

The graph illustrates that we are in effect dealing with two different perspectives on business and society. And these two perspectives bring about two quite different discussions, as has been demonstrated also in developing our concept of True Business Sustainability.

In reviewing the established approaches to Business Sustainability, we developed a typology that focuses on effective business contributions to sustainable development (Dyllick and Muff, 2016). We call it the Business Sustainability Typology (BST). It ranges from Business Sustainability (BST) 1.0 to BST 2.0 and BST 3.0.

What do we mean by this?

In a first phase of BST 1.0 companies recognize that through sustainability management they can save costs and reduce risks, they can increase their reputation on the job market as well as their differentiation in the product markets. We defined this early form of Business Sustainability 1.0 as a form of “refined shareholder value-management” where shareholders play the dominating role. This is reflected in the interaction between business and their shareholders in the graphic.

In a second phase, companies start broadening their stakeholder perspective beyond their shareholders, thereby pursuing a triple bottom line approach. Value creation mow includes economic or social values to other stakeholders as well. This advanced view of BST 2.0 we have called “Managing for the Triple Bottom Line”. In contrast to BST 1.0 not only economic objectives, but also social and environmental objectives are pursued by business as part of their stakeholder management. But the companies still look at things from the inside out, from its own activities to stakeholders and to society. And it is about diminishing the negative side effects of the economic activities. This is well reflected in the horizontal extension to multiple stakeholders in the above graphic.

In a third phase, companies shift from an “Inside-Out-Thinking” to an “Outside-In-Thinking”, i.e. when the company starts from society and its problems and then asks itself which opportunities arise by contributing to solving societal challenges? This results in BST 3.0 or “True Business Sustainability” and is well reflected in the perspective where an organization sees itself as a societal stakeholder.

With regard to the vertical expansion the relevant questions address the needs of society to continue solving its problems and the relevant contributions made by government, civil society, and business. It raises questions about the role of business and its purpose in the development of the economy and society. This requires business to engage with the broader external environment, beyond the economic and market environments. And it requires an “outside-in perspective” instead of the dominant “inside-out perspective.” Such a perspective considers the company and its impact from the outside, starting with the societal problems and challenges; rather than from the inside, starting from the goals and concerns of the company itself.

This is a major step change in thinking about the development of business sustainability, or more generally, about business and society. It opens the discussion for the new question about corporate purpose. And it frames the discussion in a different way. Not as adding value to more stakeholder groups, but as focusing on very different challenges, societal challenges, where corporate contributions are much in need.


Reimagining capitalism – Three concrete options for business

Rebeccca Henderson is a University Professor at Harvard Business School in the area of sustainable business. In her passionate new book “Reimagining capitalism” she looks at a world on fire and develops a model of what sustainable business in a fundamentally transformed capitalism would require and look like.  She distinguishes three strategy levels for business, which I find very helpful and which I link to my experiences in Switzerland.

Massive environmental degradation, skyrocketing economic inequality, and institutional collapse (by looking at the USA and other nations turning increasingly autocratic, but also at multilateral organizations like the WHO or the WTO) grow more important by the day. She argues convincingly that this is something that cannot be left to governments and civil society alone, as classical economic thinking declares, while companies continue with business-as-usual. If we fail in transforming capitalism and putting its significant power and resources to better use, we will not be able to effectively address these problems. And business will put its own – but also our future at risk.

What can be done in such a situation? What are the available options for business?

Three different progressively more far reaching but also more demanding strategy levels can be found in the book, although in a somewhat different logic and argumentation as presented here.

Creating Shared Value

A first strategy level is based on the idea of creating shared value, a concept championed by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer. They define shared value creation as creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. “In today’s world, reimagining capitalism requires embracing the idea that while firms must be profitable if they are to thrive, their purpose must be not only to make money but also to build prosperity and freedom in the context of a livable planet and a healthy society.” (R. Henderson) However, as long as shared values are defined by business looking from the inside out, their perspective will focus on reducing the bads of their existing activities. They will reduce waste, resources, or risks and happily report on newly created shared values. This cannot be sufficient. Only when they start to look from the outside in, starting from the problems society is facing and finding economic solutions for them, will their contributions address problems of real social relevance. Only then, they may be approaching what Katrin Muff and I call “true business sustainability”. For this, they clearly will have to follow a larger purpose than simply maximizing their profits.

Cooperative Self-Regulation

A second strategy level is based on cooperative self-regulation. It engages firms with each other, with the third sector, and with government partners in the pursuit of solutions to common problems, which cannot be solved by any of the partners alone, often prototyping solutions that prove to be a model for subsequent practice. Famous examples are Nike trying to get child labor out of its supply chain by creating the Sustainable Apparel Coalition or WWF and Unilever which spearheaded the creation of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil, both as a response to the massive critique by NGOs. A current example on a national level, where the author is personally engaged, is PRISMA, an inter-industry cooperation of major companies in the food production, retailing, and packaging sector engaged in bringing about a circular economy solution in Switzerland for consumer goods packaging. While the existing system of materially separated collection systems has been working well in the past, it has reached its limits of including new packaging materials and of demanding an increasingly difficult contribution from the consumers to separate and collect the different materials. The new model developed and promoted by the PRISMA-coalition is an innovative One-For-All collection and recycling system. It consists of a blueprint for a future collection system, prototypes of different elements of a practical solution, and a roadmap for developing and promoting an industry agreement.

Supporting Inclusive Political Action

Cooperative self-regulation is a powerful new way to mobilize the business community in support of promoting collective goods. The increased reach, however, comes at a price. It is hard to achieve and even harder to sustain over time. It needs to be carefully managed. To create more stability and to counter market deficiencies, we need to turn to the third strategy level which is supporting inclusive  political action. Environmental degradation, climate collapse, inequality, and public health are systemic problems that cannot be solved without government action. Free markets need democratic, transparent and effective governments, if they are to survive, as well as the other institutions of an open, inclusive society including the rule of law, shared respect for the truth, and a commitment to vigorous free media. Free markets need free and effective politics to continuously balance and rebalance the evolving rules of the market in light of changing conditions and challenges.

The challenges are huge

Energy demand is projected to double over the next 50 years. Stopping global warming will mean ensuring that every new plant that’s built is carbon-free. It also means shutting down or decarbonizing the world’s existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Inequality, poverty, and migration present a similarly tough set of intertwined systemic problems that can only be fully addressed through government action. Most of these challenges are beyond the reach of individual countries and need international political cooperation. A good example is the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to phase out ozone-destroying chemicals which became effective 1989. It has been remarkably successful. It proved to be possible to find CFC substitutes relatively quickly, despite strong opposition from major business players, and the Antarctic ozone hole is expected to return to its 1980 status by 2030. It has also reduced global Green House Gas emissions by about 5,5%.

The systemic problems we are facing today confront us with the fact that we must build effective global institutions. Business must become an active partner in shoring up the institutions that we have and in building the new ones that we need. And to be clear, this is not about improving the framework conditions for one’s own business or industry. It is about supporting the foundations of our society and of its healthy development. It is about protecting and developing the institutions that have made business and all of us rich and free.

A current example from Switzerland is the public vote on a popular initiative holding Swiss corporations legally accountable for environmental and human rights violations outside Switzerland. While 50,7% of the people voted in favor of the initiative, the second condition for an acceptance – the majority of cantons – was not achieved. The strong lobby of multinational corporations, their business associations and political allies prevented a move that could have paved the way for a more responsible and accountable form of supply chain management in a developing world context. In this case, it was a missed chance to go beyond simply reporting good news and demonstrate real engagement in one of the current hot spots of global development, although public and political pressure in Switzerland and on an international level will not go away It demonstrates how challenging it is for business to find a new role in this profound process of social change and business transformation.

Different strategy levels – different reach – different competences

Creating shared value, cooperative self-regulation, and supporting inclusive political action – on a national or an international level, depending on the issue at case – must be seen as three crucial sustainability strategies for business. While the first strategy is located on an organizational level and allows companies to act by themselves, this is easier to do, but its reach is also limited. Cooperative self-regulations offer a wider reach, often including whole industries or multi-industry and stakeholder coalitions. But this is clearly more challenging and demands very different competences and resources in the collaborative field to practically succeed. And a strategy of supporting inclusive political action aims at the political level and needs again very different competences and resources to act effectively. Here it will need political coalitions with business being only one player among many. But this level may prove to be the most important in the years to come.


Anybody can contribute to the mindset shift that is needed to create a positive impact!

We know that it takes an enlightened leader to reposition an organization to provide also value for society and the planet. And we also know that there aren’t enough such leaders. However, latest research shows that there is hope: any engaged employee can increase their changemaker potential by inviting external stakeholders to traditionally internal decisions-making meetings. The current digital meetings are a great bridge for this. Learn here more about the magic of external stakeholders in triggering the organizational mindset shift towards creating positive value.

What lesson does COVID-19 crisis have for business?

Covid has shown us how important it is for organizations to become resilient. There is one guaranteed way to increase your resilience, and that is by orienting yourself to the burning challenges that society and the world face today. Pioneering organizations do this by matching their core competencies with these challenges in order to develop new business models and revenue streams for their business. This requires you to create value, no longer just for your shareholder, or even stakeholders, but to think beyond the existing markets and clients to think broader. The question becomes: How can you as an organization with all the competencies, resources, and capacities you have contribute to solving societal and environmental challenges that are out there?

How do leading positive impact organizations accomplish this?

The pioneers show that in order to transform from a traditional organization to a positive impact organization, there are two predictors of success:

  1. an enlightened leader, meaning somebody who gets the benefits of contributing value to society beyond just looking for creating value for your business, and
  2. an organization that is capable to work outside of its business boundaries, as effectively as internally. I call this the co-creative organization. In addition to managing your business internally, you need to learn how to be co-creative outside, and not just the CEO, but actually many people in your organization.

So that’s why I talk about two mindset shifts: 1) one of the leader who needs to shift somehow the purpose of the organization to want to create more value than just for shareholders. And 2) the mindset shift of the organization where suddenly a sufficient number of employees in the organization learn how to work creatively outside of their boundaries and make sense for their own organization out of it. This external fluency is an entirely new expertise that typically doesn’t get developed in business schools.

But there aren’t enough such leaders, are there?

Indeed, there are unfortunately there aren’t enough leaders. But our research offers great hope. Since it takes two things, the leader, and a co-creative organization, I have some ways to make sure that your organization can become co-creative. Even if you don’t have an enlightened leader, at least you now have one of the two success factors. And we have seen that process of becoming co creative co creative becomes a mindset shift trigger for the CEO. By engaging in the practices to become co-creative, there is a transformation. Even with the leader so you may have initially a leader who doesn’t get it.

Are you saying anybody can bring about change?

Indeed, we are calling them intrapreneurs or change-makers. It could be the head of sustainability, the head of strategy, head of innovation, who says: «Hey, we’re going to bring in such new practices».  In addition, there is a younger generation, an amazing amount of changemakers that are already kind of intrapreneurs that are ready to bring in a lot of energy, new thinking and dynamism, to be the changemakers that can bring in that that can work on that co-creation part.

But what would such a change agent do?

There is a method for turning a traditional organization into a co-creative one. There is a specific way to bring in external stakeholders. I call them Collaboratory events. The change agent invites constructive external stakeholders and together with them the company participants develop a solution to a problem that is out there. In that one-day workshop, particularly if you have the CEO present, our research shows that something happens with people. Exposure to different thinking, arguments, ideas, perspectives opens your mind. And sometimes, the little opening that happens triggers a mindset shift. A mindset shift is nothing else than an expansion of mind. The key to the organizational mindset shift is all about creating triggering incidents where participants minds expands. There are specific proven processes for this. My book «Five Superpowers for Co-creators» is all about it.

So what do you suggest for changemakers out there?

If you have an appetite for helping your organization to identify what are the positive opportunities in there and get together with the innovators and the strategists in your business together, what you need to do is to find a professional facilitator, ideally somebody trained with the SDGXCHANGE methodology, and organize a multi-stakeholder meeting. You pick a day, invite some external stakeholders and a diverse range of your work colleagues – new and long-time serving your organization, all ages, genders, backgrounds and skills. And together with a skilled facilitator, the group has a conversation about what could be the positive role or contribution of your business to address these issues out there. This is what it would mean to put yourself on the «offense» team.

Take-away message

Even if you work in an organization that currently isn’t focused on creating a positive impact for society and the world, and your leader doesn’t necessarily get the importance of such an orientation, there is something you can do: find ways to bring in external stakeholders to your next meeting you have in your department. Any meeting that benefits from a broader perspective and new ideas will be perfect for this. With this simple act, you will start broadening the mindset of your colleagues and help position your organization for a mindset shift. Be surprised with how the positive benefits start to spread in your organization.

If you need help in how to go about this, feel free to reach out to me katrin@katrinmuff.com.


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Listening – deepening a capacity

In the spirit of continued authentic communication as initiated in my last blog, I would like to share my reflections about the competency that was in highest demand in my past two months: listening!

 

Let me provide a bit of context. Having stopped my roles at Business School Lausanne at the end of July has brought an abrupt end to the previous demand of my leadership skills. I had chosen to let go of leading already three years prior when we introduced self-organization at the school. Yet I had not been able to drop the reporting function of leadership towards the owners and was in many ways still carrying the full weight of responsibility. It took August and September for me to appreciate how much lighter I started to feel, with human interaction being simplified to the person to person contact, rather than facing the projections and expectations that people would associate with me as a holder of a institutional role. With all of that gone, there was space for something new. 

 

I have discovered listening in many forms: professionally listening was a core competency when facilitating stakeholder meetings or chairing panel sessions, and when conducting interviews of best practice companies. Personally, as I reconnected to my purpose asking myself what would come next, I listened to signs of my body to guide me in deepening my intuition. I am also learning to listening to my emotional, cognitive and physical demands when it comes to freeing myself of my cognitive restrictions when it comes to eating. Behavioral scientists have unveiled to what degree modern times have disconnected many of us from a natural and healthy sense of what our physical needs are when it comes to food and how to listen to these. A multi-layer journey as I am discovering.

 

Listening to myself and to others has been complemented with my more conscious listening to what is around me in the city and in nature. A deeper listening, I am discovering, is slowing me down, grounding me and generating an instant deep connection to the core of what unites us all: the energy field that vibrates and pulsates if only we listen. 

3 x

 active listening

  • It is in that energy field that the solutions lie when I seek a transformative turning point in a multi-stakeholder meeting. Depending on the vibration and pulse, it becomes clear what the group needs to step forward in the direction they seek. 
  • It is also in that energy field that the right question, comment or exercise emerges when coaching a person in their journey. Guiding the coachee to connect to that field allows the person to find her answers herself. 
  • It is in this energy field that I am reconnecting to my deeper purpose and my passion. Be it in nature, be it simply by taking a few slow and deep breaths, be it by feeling my feet on the ground, my mind quiets down and I am operating at the speed of my body and its sensations. 

What are your experiences with listening?

 

For me, my core insight of these past two months of deep listening have let me to ponder the following question: “Why would I not live a life that follows the rhythm of my body, rather than racing through life at the speed of my thoughts always dragging my body behind?” I don’t yet have an answer and for the moment my courage is limited to sharing this question with you. 


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Finding our space in a new place

Building personal resilience – an applied example

CEOs and HR Directors have consistently rated adaptability, authenticity and values as top leadership qualities for people at any level of an organization. These are also key ingredients for resilience. I define resilience as the capacity to respond to external pressure by adapting and recovering quickly and hence finding a new equilibrium.

Typically, we look at resilience in interaction with others in an organizational setting. I discovered last week, that I can apply these three ideas also in a challenging networking environment. As a way to launch our transatlantic blog into a new year, I wanted to dedicate this first blog to how we can build personal resilience while being in new challenging situations. I will demonstrate this with my personal experience and reflection from my first participation at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos last week.

Arriving in Davos for the World Economic Forum was hard. Hard for different reasons than I had anticipated – it had been raining and the slush on the street made it a real challenge to make it to the AirB&B my colleague had organized for us. And yet, all this struggle was nothing compared to the difficulty we had securing accommodation for the event! Unimaginable! My colleague Julia Christensen Hughes, Dean of the College of Business & Economics at the University of Guelph , persisted through all obstacles and miraculously found for our Female Deans Trio a fabulous apartment.

Figuring out networking in an event that is strictly structured around privileged access to select events was another eye-opener. The weather challenge which drowned the arrival in unbelievable masses of snow and rain meant that nothing worked as planned. Being simply in the moment and helping fellow attendees out, together finding registration and queuing for badges ended up being the best way to connect. The human element of together making it in a challenging moment created a connection far more important than a typical cocktail party ever would. I may even have attracted a new MBA student to BSL as a result of one such incident.

Nesting in and finding spaces that feel comfortable was a big thing for me too. Given such unfriendly weather conditions outside made it a necessity to find warm and dry spots. Ideally with a seating option and a coffee machine nearby. So finding comfort in the welcoming Female Quotient equity lounge, felt perfect despite my initial resistance to join a “feminine” movement. Admitting that, listening deeper to my intuition and overriding superficial mental judgement, was important. The previous night, I had ignored such intuition and in an attempt to do some networking and meet up with friends, I ended up roaming the Promenade getting wet feet in the slush and maybe a cold along the way – without ever catching up with my friends. I did have the intuition that I should have stayed in the apartment and caught an early night, but failed to listen.

So what am I saying here? I find that when we reach out into the world as change makers, we end up in new, unfamiliar spaces where we need to orient ourselves and find out how we can be effective in such a space. Being effective, I suggest here with my brief insight into my brief #WEF2018 Davos experience, involves these three things:

  • Adaptability: Arriving well and creating a space of comfort either by being with people or having accessories that create comfort (I always bring a candle when I travel)
  • Authenticity: Being in the present moment and embracing the encounter that presents itself wholeheartedly without trying to be elsewhere – trust serendipity!
  • Values: Listen to your intuition and go or stay where you feel well rather than where a program suggests you should or could be. Find your inner rhythm and stick with it as you dance with what is happening around and allow that duality with grace and joy!

And these three insights that I have gained in Davos link nicely back to what CEOs suggest are the backbone of resilience: adaptability, authenticity and values. I hope you find this reflection insightful in your own journey as a change maker both within your organization, and as you shape your own journey across new ground and landscapes!

 


Business Schools finally involved in the World Economic Forum

A blog by Katrin Muff at Business School Lausanne in collaboration with Julia Christensen Hughes of the College of Business & Economics at the University of Guelph and Mette Morsing of Copenhagen Business School and the Stockholm School of Economics

You may wonder why business schools should be present at a global economic event. Well, some leaders have received their education from business schools and there is great pressure from civil society and business that business schools do a better job in educating the future generation of leaders. Leaders that can deal with the complexity of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (short VUCA) world, that have a solid values-based inner compass, can work effectively both inside and outside of their organizations, fluent in systems thinking and capable of leading multi-stakeholder initiatives that address the complex issues that the world is facing. At Business School Lausanne, we call such people “Responsible leaders for a sustainable and just world”. We are dedicated to developing such leaders across all of our programs, from bachelor to doctoral degrees and substantiate our learning space with world-leading research in the areas of sustainability, responsibility and transformation.

We are not the only ones! Toby Heaps, CEO of Corporate Knights and Jonas Haertle, Head of U.N. PRME jointly invited 40 business school Deans who are championing responsible management education for a better world. So, for the first time at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a comprehensive cohort of Deans from such disrupting schools were present to discuss how to strengthen our initiatives and collaborate with like-minded business leaders. There are 13’000 business schools around the world, and while there are 700 signatories to the PRME principles, it is high time to disrupt the 20th century curriculum built on flawed assumptions about the economy, the purpose of business and the role of a leader. These 40 champions offer inspirational ideas for providing a 21st century education and research focus that provides the foundation to receive a “licence to educate” as expected by society (source www.50plus20.org).

Celebration dinner of the 40 champion business schools appointed by United Nations PRME, in collaboration with Corporate Knights. Lisa Kingo, Head of the UN Global Compact, addressing the champions

I had the privilege to spend time with Julia Christensen Hughes, Dean of the College of Business And Economics at the University of Guelph in Canada and Mette Morsing who created possibly the largest CSR center in business at Copenhagen Business School and who is now creating a similar new sustainability research center at the Stockholm School of Economics. Being roommates in a rustic (AirBnB) apartment in Klosters has allowed not only great late night and early morning talks around the kitchen table, but also deepened a human connection that results from the bonding experience when three women have to make do with one bathroom and make it out of the door by 6am. My coffee capsules helped a bit, and Julia’s tea bags did magic, as did the wine we shared. The celebration dinner hosted by Corporate Knights and PRME allowed us to deepen connections with fellow Deans who have been partners on our transformative journey such as Philip O’Regan who last year hosted an unforgettable joint PRME and GRLI conference in Ireland. It also allowed us to make new connections with delegates from around the world including Africa, and new faces such as AIM in the Philippines, Berkeley in the USA and Insead in France.

Mette Morsing, Julia Christensen-Hughes and Katrin Muff

Visiting the Sustainable Impact HUB

Business schools have a long way to go. And so does business! While it may seem contradictory to participate in an event that assembles a global political and economic elite and where social entrepreneurship is possibly seen as a noteworthy phenomena, we realized how important it is for us, leading disruptors in business education, to also have our voices heard if we are to support further disruption in enabling global business to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Our input was appreciated and called for at many sessions, including those that focused on women’s leadership (and yes, there is a case suggesting that women deans can be particularly effective change agents, like women managers!). In business oriented sessions, our input and reflection was also sought and appreciated; it was heartwarming to feel how welcome our presence was. We were also challenged. Business expects significant change in education – we heard calls for breaking down silos, teaching in interdisciplinary non-linear ways, focusing on problem solving and embracing a spirit of experimentation and co-learning with our students. We also heard of how technology, applied well, is democratizing education – providing anywhere anytime access and opportunity to learn.

Participating in a breakfast meeting

Influencing and networking at the WEF in Davos happens everywhere, not just in meetings. This is the Davos magic. I talked to a successful entrepreneur who became interested in doing an MBA at BSL while queueing for my badge. Mette challenged assumptions behind the WEF competitiveness report while sitting next to its author in a shuttle bus. Julia met business leaders with an interest in supporting further curricular innovation in her business school. She also proudly participated in sessions offered by one of her alumni on block chain and crypto currencies. We got first-hand insights into the new IMF report while riding a local train and we thought of an inspiring new initiative around the Golden Rule when having lunch with Kim Polman. Julia also met renowned author of Donut Economics and HD recipient Kate Raworth while riding a late night shuttle. Kate is designing the first entire updated 21st century economics course with BSL to be launched in September 2018. The WEF demands that you are present in every single moment and that you are free to engage in the most diverse kind of conversations you can imagine at any time of the day, from the moment you open your eyes until your head hits the cushion. It is as much exhausting as it is exhilarating and if we leave this event with one shared learning it is this:

We will be back next year and we will be better prepared and better organized. We will work on the ideas that were developed this time around and announce the results next year. We will organize a house where Transformative Deans (or Deans as Agents of Change) can meet and discuss effective ways to transform not only their own schools but the management education landscape. It takes leadership, and this year’s WEF theme seems to suggest that it takes female leadership. Well, that is a currency we have plenty of!


Corporate Culture in 2017

As I write this blog, year 2017 is winding down. Throughout the year my blogging partner, Katrin Muff, and I have commented frequently on corporate culture. The media seems to share our interest in this subject. Indeed, references to corporate culture have shown up on the front pages of many reputable newspapers and magazines this past year. I did a cursory web search to gather up a few of these stories.

I don’t claim to have done a scientific study of how often and in what context the media mentioned corporate culture.  Nevertheless, many articles popped up when I entered the search term “corporate culture 2017”. Most pertained to companies’ significant problems attributed to toxic corporate cultures. Of course, the media often showcases the bad news stories. Still, the volume of content was significant enough to warrant my attention.

The Wells Fargo Bank fraud hit the headlines at the end of 2016 and kicked off 2017 with bad news for the company. Several newspapers including the Washington Post and the New York Times reported that Wells Fargo employees had opened millions of phony accounts without their clients’ consent. The articles attributed the malfeasance to a company culture where pressure to meet unrealistic sales goals undermined corporate ethics.

Likewise ride-sharing company Uber made the news repeatedly throughout the year. Referring to the egregious sexist culture, the Washington Post had this to say:

“Corporate culture has long been the sort of squishy management consultant term that’s hard to define, even harder to change, and the recipient of lots of lip service yet little action by chief executives. But however amorphous the phrase may be, its importance was stamped into stark relief this week after a former female Uber engineer made allegations about its sexist, chaotic and aggressive culture.” [1]

United Airlines landed in hot water in April of 2017 when a passenger was forcibly dragged off a plane. The articles attributed the incident to a culture where behavior is scripted and employees have little if any latitude to make decisions.[2]

The last few months of the year brought countless stories of cultures where women were treated as prey. For example, in November of 2017, Fox News set up a Workplace Culture Panel following reports of widespread sexual harassment throughout the company.[3]  And as recently as December, the New York Times published an article on sexual harassment at two Ford Motor plants in Chicago. The headline read as follows: “How Tough is it to Change a Culture of Harassment?  Ask the Women of Ford.” [4]

While I could devote the entire blog to recounting similar stories, I believe that the examples I have offered are sufficient to make the point. Culture counts. No matter how amorphous the concept may seem, those of us who lead companies ignore our organizations’ cultures at our own risk. Consider the degree to which toxic cultures impacted companies and the people in them in 2017. Let us each resolve to assess and address our own organizational cultures in 2018.

Take the first step by looking at your current culture. Ask yourselves questions such as the following:

  • What is the purpose of our company and what do we stand for?
  • How do our corporate values influence our decisions and behaviors?
  • What are the stories that we tell each other about our organization?
  • Who are our admired heroes?
  • Who makes the rules for the organization?
  • What do we reward and what do we punish?
  • How often do we have conversations that consider diverse opinions?
  • To what degree do we value the contributions of everyone in the company?
  • What do we do to show respect for all?
  • How do we ensure that everyone’s focus is on serving our customers?

In addition to answering these questions ourselves, we should pose them to others. In my 30+ years of consulting, I have found that leaders are predictably astonished by how employees’ perceptions of the organization diverge from their own. While some are tempted to explain away the differences, the best leaders value the input. They dig deeper to understand and address the discrepancies.

Leaders create the conditions within which a culture emerges. However, they may not fully understand the possible consequences of the systems that they put in place. Likewise, they may be shielded from what occurs within the organization day to day. Asking the right questions and listening openly to the answers can provide them with the needed data for making appropriate changes to improve the organizational culture.

As I anticipate 2018, I wonder what catastrophes might be prevented in the new year if leaders of every company committed to taking  a close look at their own organizational cultures. Chances are most would find a mix of strengths to reinforce and weaknesses to address. And in some cases, they may find signs of the toxicity that, if not eradicated, could create serious consequences for their people and their companies. Let us all resolve to become proactive this new year in stamping out the unhealthy parts of our cultures while fortifying the strengths.

 

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2017/02/24/why-a-toxic-workplace-is-now-a-much-bigger-liability-for-companies/?utm_term=.c854fdb575d8

[2] http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-toxic-united-wells-20170411-story.html

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/20/business/media/fox-news-sexual-harassment.html

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/19/us/ford-chicago-sexual-harassment.html

 

Author: Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins 

Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins is a social psychologist and is the CEO and owner of Miller Consultants , a firm specializing in organizational development, executive coaching and change management. Her work involves helping companies create and sustain organizational cultures that are conducive to executing sustainable strategies. She has worked with companies such as Toyota, IBM, Kindred Health, Brown-Forman, Lexmark, Anthem, Ashland Chemical, the U.S. Military and BC Hydro.


Why We Work

Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” Studs Terkel

How much of your life do you spend at work?  For many of us the answer is shocking.  Working adults residing in the United States spend a third of their time at work, according to recent estimates.  Many of us spend more time at work than in any other endeavor including time with our families and friends. I am not going to debate whether this is the right way to live. However, since many of us will work a large proportion of our adult years, we might reflect on what work means to us.  Are we working only for a paycheck or for something more?

Through my own conversations with working people, I have found that most want to work for companies with a distinct purpose and clear values.  Research that I referenced in my August blog, confirmed that all generations, not just millennials, want to find purpose in their work.

Last month Katrin Muff discussed the importance of connecting our values with our life purpose as it relates to the world outside of ourselves.  Certainly, the workplace is part of that outer world. While our jobs may not suffice to define our total life- purpose, our work and/or our profession are part of our identity.  For example, reflect on how you describe yourself to others.  Chances are if you are a working adult, you include a reference to your profession or what you do for a living.

Since we tend to identify with our work, it is not surprising that most of us want it to be meaningful.

Evidence collected over decades shows a relationship between meaningful work, motivation, engagement and a sense of well-being.  While each of us may have our own definitions of what makes a job meaningful, some common factors are:

  • Person-organization fit
  • Positive and reinforcing personal relationships
  • Opportunities to align with or further one’s values
  • Fulfillment of a social or moral purpose, or broader reason for being. [1]

Year after year we hear that a very large percentage of working adults across the world do not love their jobs and are not engaged with their companies or their work. This disengagement from our work often has a negative impact on our health and well-being.

When we view our work as meaningful, we are also more likely to be motivated to do it well.  In 2015, Alison Alexander conducted research as part of her master’s studies at Northwestern University on how organizations are making work meaningful.  She found a direct connection between the presence of meaning in life and making meaning through work.  She also discovered that organizations with a strong purpose, clear values and commitments to social responsibility provide employees with ways to find meaning through their work.  She concluded that when corporations are committed to serving society, employees can “live their values through their work.”

Last month Katrin Muff argued that each of us must know who we truly are if we are to live an authentic life. I agree, and I believe that that this is also the first step in finding meaningful work or conversely, making work meaningful.  We must be keenly aware of our own values and what we perceive to be our purpose in life before we can expect work to be meaningful. Nancy Collamer, a contributing author to Forbes Magazine, suggests asking yourself questions such as “what five words best describe you”, and “what would you do if you couldn’t fail”.  Regardless of your method of reflection, you must know who you are before finding meaning in your work.

For job seekers, Alexander recommends that you “look under the hood” of the companies you are considering. Determine the degree to which their commitment to social responsibility is embedded throughout the company or isolated to a small group of people in a corporate social responsibility function. Reflect on whether the principles that the companies demonstrate through their words and actions are aligned with your values.  Pursue companies that are committed to the greater good of society.  Ideally, they will have embedded this commitment into all aspects of the company, and every employee will understand the role that they play in contributing to the greater good.

Even if you plan to stay in your current job, most likely you can find ways to make the work more meaningful.  For example, you might seek clarity from your manager about the significance and purpose of your work.  Or if your specific job tasks aren’t fulfilling, you might find others in your workplace who share your interests and values. Perhaps a group of like-minded people can design and carry out on your own time, projects that are fulfilling and contribute to the broader society.  If your company has a Corporate Social Responsibility or Sustainability Department, you might contact them to find out how you can get involved, perhaps as a volunteer.  And if all else fails, start looking for a new job with a purpose-driven company aligned with your own values.

I realize that work will not always be meaningful no matter what we do.  However, despite the role that work plays in our lives, very few of us find all our life-meaning from our jobs or our professions.   In fact it is a bad idea to try to put all our eggs in our professional or work basket. No matter how much meaning we derive from work, we should all seek and find meaning in other parts of our lives as well. We can find meaning from family, spirituality, personal growth, education, community.  The list is very long.  I believe that a sense of well-being, if not happiness, comes from our deepest sense of purpose and our constant pursuit of meaning every day throughout our entire existence.

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”  Viktor E. Frankl

[1] Cardador, T.M.& Rupp, D.E. (2011) “Organizational Culture, Multiple Needs, and the Meaningfulness of Work,” The Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate, Chapter 10.

Author: Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins 

Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins is a social psychologist and is the CEO and owner of Miller Consultants , a firm specializing in organizational development, executive coaching and change management. Her work involves helping companies create and sustain organizational cultures that are conducive to executing sustainable strategies. She has worked with companies such as Toyota, IBM, Kindred Health, Brown-Forman, Lexmark, Anthem, Ashland Chemical, the U.S. Military and BC Hydro.


The tricky interconnection of values and purpose

Being values-based implies a connection with oneself, a deep inner knowing. Embracing a purpose requires, so I argue here, a connection with the context in which we live and operate, a deep outer knowing. When these two senses are disconnected, we are in trouble, as individuals, as organizations and as societies at large. When the senses are aligned, thriving individually, as an organization and as a global community means thriving at all of these levels for the benefit and well-being of all.

Brené Brown recently said in an interview with Marie Forleo “our worth and our belonging are not negotiated with other people. We carry those inside of our hearts.” Brené is a widely recognized and respected psychologist in the domains of authenticity and vulnerability. She talks about how an individual can find herself, find her roots and core and how to stand up for herself and what matters to her. In many ways what she talks about has to do with finding one’s own purpose and identity or what she calls knowing who you truly are. To her, the importance of knowing who you are is key in living an authentic life as it ensures that you can always belong to yourself, rather than fitting in with what others might expect.

I can resonate with this and I understand the importance of what she says. How are we supposed to know what is right and what is wrong if we don’t know who we are and what that means in the context of what happens around us? This journey of self-knowing, of self-awareness, is a key component in the journey of being a responsible leader. It may well be the first and most important one, the dimension without which all the rest doesn’t really make sense. It certainly is critical to create role models that can serve others to find the courage to adapt their behavior and attitudes in order to re-connect with who they truly are. Or, as Lena Faraguna claims: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over the island looking for boats to save. They just stand there shining.”

Quote and image by Lena Faraguna

Let me zoom out a bit. How would we translate this self-knowing, this inner self of self-belonging in the context of working with others, of teams, and of organizations? How can a sense of belonging among a group of people, be it a family of a company, be created without negotiating with others? How can a group of individuals that belong first and foremost to themselves ever belong to a greater cause? I am troubled when I imagine how a particularly purpose-oriented company, such as those that Kathy Miller described in her last blog, might do if it decides to “not negotiate with others because its self-worth is inside of its own purpose”. Isn’t that what we are accusing the modern corporation of doing? Of putting its own priorities first and to forget about the rest? Where is the line drawn? If investors and owners are part of the inner core, then profit-maximization sure makes sense. If they are not part of it (and how might they not?), then how can a company protect its interest from investors without negotiating? Tricky.

When adding a further dimension and zooming out to an entire society, what changes in that frame? If a society decides that it needs to first and foremost belong to itself, its citizens, and not negotiate with others, what might that mean? Wouldn’t we be moving very close to the explosive sense that nationalists are expressing when they say “my country first”? And when they start protecting themselves from perceived outside threats, such as immigrants, refugees and trade agreements?

There is something dangerous in all of this. And this might well also be the dangerous in purpose-oriented firms. Purpose, after all, means what? The dictionary says purpose is “the reason for which something is done”. Well, and that is the entire problem. That is not good enough. There are excellent reasons to do something and there are incredibly stupid reasons for doing other things. Let me take the three-step zoom back from society, to the organization to the individual.

A society that defines a purpose, or “raison d’être” as something that is distinctive from what is around it, will in the worst case create harm to other societies and possibly even to itself. Global well-being can only be achieved if a society, a nation, embraces the idea that it is fundamentally and indisputably a part of the larger context in which it operates. And finding a purpose that does not take this into account is potentially harmful, as the Swiss President and many other statesmen have pointed out after President Trump gave his disturbing “America First” speak at the UN SDG forum last week.

Zooming now in to an organization or a team, what does this mean? If an organization chooses a purpose that is purely self-serving and that may seem like the best way to survive and ride the increasingly turbulent waves of change, then this organization is also very likely to harm those around it, and as a result, potentially itself. The metaphor is the cancer cell that builds its growth on eating into the very organism that is providing its living substance until that organism has been emptied out and can no longer sustain the ongoing growth of these cells. That sounds ugly and I apologize. What I mean to say is that a purposeful organization is not good enough, if that purpose does not imply taking into account the well-being of the context in which the organization operates.

Further zooming in and back to the individual, I struggle to see how an individual can and should have a sense of identify to herself that is limited to herself only. It appears limiting and potentially dangerous. As it if was necessary to put up guards against something outside. As if that sense of inner belonging needed protecting. An inward journey of discovery will uncover, I am certain, that there is both nothing and everything that can shake you and me in our core. Nothing in the sense that we are who we are irrespective of what happens outside of us, our sense of self is based on how we see and talk to ourselves. Everything in the sense that we are shaped by the events in our lives and we respond to them, in the full understanding that we have no idea what lies ahead of us.

The Circle Model (Katrin Muff 2016)

Let me attempt to conclude. In order for purpose and values to be aligned, an ongoing journey between the inner and the outer world in which we live is needed, allowing an emergent transformation as we advance. This allows a development of the inner knowing and the values we build on. In addition, purpose will need to be defined not just as the “reason for which something is done” but “the reason for which what is done serves the well-being of the next larger holon” or unit. Arthur Koestler coined the term holon (“whole”) as something that “simultanesouly a whole and a part”. Holacracy, which is founded on the principle of Holons, embraces this nicely as an operating system. A holon is a unit that is contained in another holon and that may (or not) contain other holons. Each sub-ordinate holon by definition must embrace the purpose of the holon of which it is a part and the entire system is guides by an overarching missing that should – and here Holacracy stops – again serve the next larger holon. Imagine if individuals would understand that we are holons, as parts of organizations, which in turn are holons as a part of societies, which in turn form a part of a global community, all while being in and of itself a whole that again contains other smaller holons. This understanding would allow an alignment of purpose and values based on the understanding that we are all a part of another, infinitely interconnected.

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs