This modern age of social media and internet access has made it more difficult than ever for businesses to pretend to do good. Customers, employees and their friends are watching. Any malfeasance could be Snapchatted into the atmosphere and company initiatives that seem fake instead of heartfelt will be discussed on Facebook or alluded to on Twitter.
How does a company alleviate this mess affiliated with a fake sense of corporate social responsibility? By being authentic and subscribing to a “single organizing idea” that permeates all the things that a company does, from hiring and determining salary to figuring out what charities to support with corporate initiatives. When a company does this, they strike the gold needed to influence the humans who work with and for them, and in so doing also increase their bottom line, according to Neil Gaught, the business consultant and author behind “Core: How A Single Organizing Idea Can Change Business For Good.”
Gaught is not alone in touting the end of corporate social responsibility (CSR) says Jonathan Glennie, the Head of Sustainable Development Research Center for Ipsos and the author of the book’s forward. In part, Glennie writes: “Fortunately, more and more companies are demonstrating that the supposed tension between making money and making a difference is unsubstantiated. It could, in fact, be the opposite of the truth. The best businesses explicitly set out to contribute to society, now often in the context of the new sustainable development goals, and to live out authentically held values…”
Gaught spoke by phone with GenPop about what he thinks should comprise the core of a business.
GenPop: How would you describe your book?
Gaught: It is about how businesses can be a force for good. It’s not just about sustainability. It’s about organization and about human beings and how they interact with each other. How can we do something that is good?
GenPop: Some companies give new employees entire books about their mission. You are advocating for a simple sentence. Why?
Gaught: Lots of businesses have vision statements. But vision statements are kind of posted on the wall or talked among senior management on weekends at golf courses and they say ‘hey these are our visions,’ and no one even understands what it means. They certainly have no way to implement it. A single organizing idea, it takes that complexity and boils it down into that human language. For example, “We are in the business of building better communities.” Fine. Nothing more needs to be said. But we live in a world where these messages become convoluted, denied, delayed. People are over that. Just tell me what our purpose is. Our purpose is to build better communities. Fantastic. I get it. It’s relevant because everybody is involved, and not just senior management. People want to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it.
GenPop: How do you boil these vision statement books into a single sentence?
Gaught: It’s a two or three word (sentence) and it becomes your guiding star. If I say we are in the business of building better communities, anything that doesn’t deal with building better communities? You shouldn’t be doing it. The single organizing idea is the perfect answer. Look at Unilever’s Paul Polman, he is the poster child for that. Paul has single-mindedly fixed on this thing and that’s very powerful for a leader.
GenPop: As you help businesses with your consultancy, how do you convince them not to always chase the dollar?
Gaught: There is a clear difference between businesses that chase the dollar and those that have a greater purpose. The ones with a greater purpose are in the long term the more successful businesses. If you are passionate about what you are doing and what you are doing has value to other people, the profit will come anyway. It’s not the other way around. I spend a bit of time with people in startups just about to launch. They’re full of these ideas like “Hey I’m going to build this thing that’s going to help people get around or that’s going to help people eat healthy food.” Not many of them talk about ‘hey, I’m going to make a fortune.’
GenPop: Why are businesses in denial about such transparency?
Gaught: [Some] big businesses are resistant to change. They have a strategy of deny, delay and then disrupt. Deny the reason to do it, do it later and when it does happen you have businesses that are kind of disrupting so it doesn’t happen as quickly. They are making money with what they’re doing now and they don’t want the future to come as quickly. The future is here.