Capitalism is changing. It’s not just “business as usual” anymore. Worldwide, companies are recognized more and more not just as profit-driven entities, but also as agents of change. Many of the world’s biggest companies self-identify as “mission-first”. Profit is necessary, but only to support the overall vision:
“To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” (Facebook)
“To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (Google)
“To accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible” (Tesla)
Cynics might argue that these companies are just paying lip service and are in fact greedy and no different than traditional corporations. Regardless, these companies are impacting the world in completely new and transformative ways. They are making lots of money, but they are also devoted to their missions.
Corporate culture is also changing. In some ways it seems to be getting worse– more and more employees are transitioned into contractors with few benefits and no job security. Turnover is high and the future uncertain.
But on another level, work is becoming more flexible, more open, and more human. Instead of HR (“human resources” sounds like something aliens came up with, no?), many companies now have “people operations” departments. Some companies have even integrated culture into their core executive functionality. Figuring out how to help employees feel relaxed and happy has become a priority–as evidenced by the rapid growth of the corporate wellness industry, expected to hit $90.7 billion in revenue by 2026.
Even more deeply exciting is recent progress around diversity and inclusion. Top companies are finally hiring their first female CEO’s. Harvard Business Review research from 2019 shows that in 14 surveyed countries, 96-98% of large companies (above 1,000 employees) have diversity and inclusion programs. Of course, there’s still a VERY long way to go, but it seems that corporations are finally waking up to the importance of inclusion.
More and more companies are tackling environmental and social issues as well. I recently went to a talk where a woman who heads up Intel’s AI for Social Good program spoke about AI being used to catch poachers in remote regions in Africa. Other tech companies have founded organizations to apply technological solutions to and invest in social and environmental projects around the world, such as the Chan-Zuckerburg Initiative.
Cynics-I hear you. Yes, these programs are designed to make the parent organizations look good. But does that mean they are wrong and shouldn’t exist? That pure profit is all we should be driving for? I don’t think so. While global governments play catch up and struggle to even understand what the internet, much less AI is, companies are impacting the world in wildly new and transformative ways.
So what’s the takeaway here? I think we can be inspired by the changes that big tech has brought, and apply some of the new business practices that are showing up to our own smaller ventures. We too can have an impact. We can learn from the successes and not just the failures of these new business models.
1. Create a Mission that is Bigger than Profits
Why did you build a business in the first place? Maybe you built your business just to make money, maybe you had other motives. If you really want to help the world, put it right in your mission.
Be authentic about what you want to achieve, and inject your intentions right into the core of your business. Refer back to your authentic mission statement whenever you make decisions or do strategic planning, so you can come back to your why.
2. Outline your Values with your Team and Brainstorm around How to Implement them
After the mission comes your values. Values are not just lip service; they define how we conduct our business. Same as the mission, we should refer to them again and again as we build our organizations and make decisions.
Work with your team to come up with a set of values that feel important to everyone. Come up with a list and narrow it down to the core tenets that you can all agree to really stand by. Build out your business with these values in mind. Then, brainstorm how to apply them in real life, in all aspects of your business: your product, marketing, operations.
Ask yourself constantly, are my decisions supported by our core company values?
3. Bake Inclusivity into your Company Strategy
I’ll say it one time: This is not a bullet point or an aside or a job for HR. Inclusivity should be part of every founding teams top-level strategy. Not just because diverse team members bring higher profit margins or whatever bullshit statistics people used to use to justify why women, people of color, differently-abled, and LGTBQIA folks should be hired. But because it’s the right thing to do. Because it’s not enough for organizations to be “inclusive”, we also need to be actively anti-racist. We need to actively stand against and fight against racism, sexism, and all the other isms that result in people being treated unjustly.
So bring in MANY different voices. Bring them into your leadership team. Whatever you do, DO NOT have an all-white leadership team and board. DO NOT have an all-male leadership team and board. We see you, all-white, all-male executive team and board, and it is no longer acceptable. It’s also not acceptable to tokenize people of color, either. Bring lots of different kinds of people in to you run your business at the highest levels. It’s the only way.
4. Donating Products, Services or Time
Something great we can all do as business owners, experts, and resource providers is to donate some of our products or services to people or other organizations or people in need. If you have proprietary tech, creative, or marketing resources, consider offering discounts to nonprofits, schools, or other low-budget organizations. Nonprofits, mission-oriented orgs, and public institutions always lack funds to pay for high-level tech or any extra services.
Maybe co-sponsor a non-profit’s event, and offer your products or services free-of-charge. Or create your own community event.
Or you can encourage your team to choose somewhere to volunteer, and pay them for it. Salesforce, Deloitte, Zendesk, and lots of other companies provide their employees with robust volunteering opportunities. They make it easy, so that employees can feel good about their workplace and about how their time is being spent. An added benefit is that volunteering helps bring people together. Your team will get to know each other in new and important ways.
In my own one-person business, I make sure that I spend 25% of my time on pro bono, or volunteer consulting projects. It makes me feel good and motivates me in all of my other projects. I started my business to help people scale great ideas, and built service into my values. So I prioritize pro bono work to uphold my mission and values.
You too can provide company-sponsored volunteering, and/or offer easy-to-access resources for employees to learn about volunteering on their own time.
5. Donate Profits & Fundraise
Here’s a really simple one. Consider donating a recurring monthly amount to organizations you are aligned with. Build it into your accounting, so you don’t even have to think about it. Most nonprofits say that anything helps, and they’re right. Even $10 a month can make a difference. Adding some zeros might be better, but we all do what we can, right?
You can also leverage your platform, audience, and resources to do some fundraising for causes you care about. Nonprofits and arts organizations always need money, and it’s easy and fun to cosponsor or sponsor a fundraiser or event to help out. Your team will love getting involved with something different and meaningful.
6. Partnerships with Nonprofits and Mission-Driven Organizations
Maybe you know an organization or have a cause that you feel really strongly about. Maybe you’ve worked together in the past and want to develop a deeper commitment to them. Consider forging a strategic partnership!
Partnerships come in all shapes and sizes; you could develop a promotional partnership, where you promote their actions and events on your platforms, or via content through social media or newsletters. Or you could share contacts or resources.
You can also develop whole programs together and co-manage initiatives. Companies don’t need to start their own mission-driven foundations; they can simply bring on an outside organization who already has the expertise and has done the work. Consider a partnership to help a mission-driven project flourish.
7. Sustainable Products, Packaging, & Office Management
Here’s a simple one to help out the environment: If you make physical products, or have an office, green-ify whatever materials you are producing or using. Let’s use numbers to really drive this home: 88% of consumers want YOU to help them make a difference.
Yes, sustainable products, packaging, and office supplies often come at higher costs, but consider the benefits:
8. Support Local
Whenever you can, #supportlocal. Buy your staff lunch from a local restaurant, get supplies locally whenever possible. Just do it. It may cost you a little more, but you will be supporting your local community.
Engage. Many businesses are now completely online, making it feel easier to forget about local communities. Regardless of whether your customer base is 100% remote, remember that you are part of a community, and at least some of your success exists because of it. Your office space, tax breaks, and other benefits come from the community.
Be the good human, and help other local businesses succeed. Consider creating a list of local businesses and entrepreneurs, and seeing how you can support them and make purchases locally. Join the chamber of commerce, and participate. Even if you need design or web development work–maybe there is someone local who can help you instead of a cheaper team across the country.
These are just a few ways to do good with your business. Get creative! There’s lots of ways to make an impact.
Have you done other great things for your community or the environment with your business? I’d love to hear about it!