By Loughlin Hickey, Trustee and Senior Advisor to Blueprint for Better Business
This week I have had the pleasure of hosting students from Rome studying for an MA in management and corporate responsibility. They have been in London on a field trip, visiting organisations that have had the generosity of spirit to meet them, and talking about the challenges of making management and corporate responsibility a reality.
It is refreshing not only that they chose to come out of the classroom to meet the people living the reality of modern business, but also that the people in the organisations would be open to spending time with them and being frank about their challenges.
If they had remained in the classroom and simply read an online edition of The Financial Times I wonder if they would have abandoned all hope and asked for their money back!
They could have bought the paper and read about a hedge fund owner of a pharmaceutical company in the U.S. dramatically raising the price of a life saving drug. Articles about a car company famous for its “car for the people” using technology to defeat emissions testing rules designed to help protect people and the planet. A thought piece on a Swiss bank lamenting the affect of rules designed to protect consumers demoralising the workforce that could innovate to make their lives better. Just reading one edition they could have concluded that there is no such thing as corporate responsibility, or if there was, then management were powerless to make it happen.
But they came and they were welcomed. And people met and challenged each other, and at each visit their hosts ended with an invitation to keep in touch and to keep asking questions. A baffling collision of realities: The reality of business behaviours that they could read about in the newspapers and the reality of meeting people who cared for them and took seriously the responsibility of being in business. How could these be reconciled?
The answer lies in the reality of people. This was at the heart of the session we had yesterday as a team from Blueprint for Better Business took them through a way of thinking that puts the human person at the heart of business. It challenges the dominant view of the reality of the human person. The Blueprint seeks to liberate people from the limiting paradigms of the purpose of business is simply profit and that people are simply self interested. It presents a more complete view of business and people; business can be a force for good and profit is an outcome and people are indeed self interested (particularly in stress and fear) but as social beings we aspire to build relationships and seek meaning in our lives and activities (including work). A starting point is that business is a part of society and needs to draw its values and thinking from society. This contrasts with a view that business is apart from society and can impose a distorted and limited value set upon the people in business and on society in general.
Drawing on philosophy, wisdom traditions and human sciences it presents a way of thinking and practical tools to illuminate and release the latent good in people and business by making them whole. In short it gives meaning and purpose to a business and people in that business in relation to the society. It provides the way to practice behaviours that build character and judgement that guides the use of acquired skills. It provides the skeleton to shape the commitments and capabilities of business. It helps build the muscles of good behaviours to allow people in business to make the right decisions in stressful situations and call out the bad decisions. It makes real the simple premise that sustainable business is dependent on a sustainable society.
In this reality the good drives out the bad and the needs of society shapes acceptable behaviour in business. Exploiting vulnerable people for profit is recognised as simply unacceptable by those within the business as well as outside. Using the knowledge and resources of an organisation to cheat people is unconscionable by everyone in the business. Fulfilling an important role in the functioning of society drives purposeful innovation and rules and boundaries are respected but cannot limit striving to do the right thing. And each one of us plays our role. We direct our energies and resources (as people working or available to work in business, as customers, as investors (direct and indirect) and as citizens) to those organisations that live up to those standards. And we challenge each other to live those behaviours in the knowledge that we prosper mutually through relationships and relationships are built through respect, dignity and seeking common goods. We simply tap into the ordinary genius that is the complete human person.
This is not fantasy but the new reality of people in business already acting with the courage and conscience to do the right thing and in doing so attracting the people (as workers, customers, suppliers, investors and communities) that will help to build the admired and sustainable businesses of the future.
The students from Rome have been touched by the humanity shown to them and the efforts already being made by business to play a positive role in society. And they now have renewed belief in the changes they can lead, and be part of, and that management and corporate responsibility are a reality. Rome wasn’t built in a day but it now has a new cadre of builders on the way!