On the Nature of Business

To say that the nature of business is changing is an understatement. Yet for those of us interested in making things happen, it is worth stopping to ask: in what ways is it changing? And why?

What consumers expect from businesses has changed: we expect more transparency, accountability and sometimes we even look to see whether they share our own values.(To see how this has affected Marketing, read Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day, by Dave Evans.)

Even though the nature of business might be changing, the way in which people working in business see themselves remains the same: some look for opportunities for personal growth outside their office walls; some strive to make the world a better place through volunteering or by contributing much needed funds to social projects.

I have always been baffled (and a little, just a little bit disturbed) by the fact that not more people obtain and seek the opportunities to develop at work. Our formal education ends relatively early – surely we don’t reach our full potential then? And wouldn’t it make sense to become a better professional, a better person, at work, where we spend at least a quarter of our lives? (Calculation based on 40 hrs per week). Granted, this is less than we spend sleeping, for those of us lucky enough to get 8 hours sleep a day, that’s 33% of our time spent re-charging our batteries.

My wider, genuine question is: do businesses have the responsibility to develop their people? Not just to help their businesses excel but also, as a contribution to society?

Business can make an important contribution to society: it provides us with services (things we can’t or won’t do ourselves), meets our needs (even if it creates some of them) and is responsible for many improvements in people’s lives.

And yet, on Peter Day’s Global Business “A New Capitalism” (20 Jan 2011), Michael Porter from Harvard Business School, commented how some of the school’s own students now seem to feel a bit ashamed to be studying Business: ” They are, I won’t say embarrassed about being in business, but they are uneasy and really not proud to be associated with this institution.”

I was happy to hear him add that Corporate Social Responsibility is not the answer (I might add: pretty much like “Citizenship” in the curriculum was not the answer to the decay of behaviour at school).

“There is a hunger for purpose in the business community.”

Michael Porter advocates for integrating social values into the business, so that they cease to be an add-on, a separate department, but are integrated into the company’s strategy and culture.

Not all of us lead a large organisation; not all of us have the status to be able to change the world: but let’s take those values we cherish so much in our personal lives and let them phase into our professional life and let’s see what happens – a small risk to take.

(Further Reading: Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer’s article “The Big Idea: Creating Shared Value” Harvard Business Review Jan/Feb 2011)

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