Written by Loughlin Hickey (Senior Advisor, a Blueprint for Better Business)
On Tuesday (10th May) a call for evidence was issued for the Cabinet Office’s Mission-Led Business Review. I would urge all to contribute. This is not just because I am a member of the Expert Advisory Panel supporting the review, but also because it is an opportunity for more people to be part of changing the narrative about the role of business within society.
As I have found with my work with Blueprint for Better Business there is a real appetite and mood for change within business – at both a personal and organisational level. The Blueprint approach is based on bringing the riches of thinking from society to business; to help bridge the trust / expectation gap between business and society and to address the related issue a “divided life” (in essence being one person at work and another person outside of work).
Our work leads us to ask business to be clear about their assumptions about the role of business in society and also about their assumptions on what motivates the human person. Both of these are fundamental to understanding and bringing to life the purpose of a business.
The discussion on the first assumption becomes a discussion about the primacy of the shareholder (with an implicit assumption around the need to maximise profits) versus playing a full role in the society which nurtures the business as a whole. The discussion on the second becomes around whether the human person is motivated, and fulfilled, by self interest or seeks to move beyond self interest to build strong relationships, have meaning in what they do and to co-create something better that they and others can share in.
The encouraging news is that when we have these conversations with both current and future generations of leaders (within business or indeed in business schools) there is a richness of reflection and answer that goes beyond shareholder value maximisation and pure self interest. The less good news is that often it is seen as a brave, lonely and perilous path to pursue in practice (This is despite all of the evidence that points to the business and personal benefits of pursuing a more holistic or complete, view of business and the human person). Part of the reason for this hesitancy is the dominance of the narrative around the more narrow assumptions about the role of business and the motivation of the human person. Challenging this dominant narrative, widening the conversation and sharing the evidence of the benefits to society, business and human potential will help embolden people to follow their natural instincts to make the change.
I believe this Review can be an important contributor to a change to a more positive, but no less challenging, view of the role of business within society for the mutual benefit of both. Please contribute your views.