Don't Do Business Differently, Redefine what Business Means
All businesses have impact, and we need to bring our shared humanity into the office whether we’re an “impact” entity or not.
By Erin Mcclarty: Impact Architect. Founder of Erin Mcclarty, PLLC, an impact focused business that helps businesses, charities, and individuals translate their ideas into life-changing projects.
We often hear that “real” businesses look and operate a certain way, while community-driven businesses are plucked and relegated to a separate category on the fringe. Why?!
Though well-intentioned, when we separate businesses that prioritize impact we alienate them. We validate the school of thought that steadfastly believes profits are the only accountability measure that matters in “standard” business operations.
Business culture does not excuse us to abandon those things that make us who we are. We do a huge disservice to ourselves, and the world, when we slip out of our own skin and conform to rigid procedural templates the moment we hit the office door or open our computers.
As we navigate through the current uncertainty, I don’t encourage us to do business differently. Instead, I encourage us to demand the media, business schools, accelerators, and investors redefine what business means. There are ways to run a business that create equitable abundance for ourselves, our employees, and our communities. But first, it starts with acknowledging our shared humanity.
Our Businesses Must Reflect Our Humanity
Our businesses, and the way we run them, must reflect our stories, our trials, triumphs, challenges, and hopes. Our businesses must reflect our vision for ourselves and the rest of our world. Most importantly, our businesses must reflect our purpose.
Purpose is one of those things we spend significant parts of our life looking for. Yet it’s also one of the first things we forget when we’re under pressure to earn, in a tense meeting, or want to book a big client.
We cannot allow mainstream business logic to dehumanize us the moment we step into business roles. In fact, our ability to be responsive, imaginative, and innovative relies on our ability to lean further into our humanity. In doing so, we better empathize with our clients and beneficiaries.
True change happens when we show up in the world as ourselves, and that includes being authentic at home and with friends, but also in our business roles. When we’re authentic in business we can make decisions, products, services, and shifts that align with what means the most to us.
However, it’s not enough for our humanity to simply show up in our logo, mission statement, and perhaps the periodic community project. We must ensure each aspect of our business embodies our values.
Ways to Embody Our Full Selves In Business
Community projects are great, but when pursued as a stand-alone strategy they are just temporary highs. To sustain our impact we must ensure our businesses embody all of the hopes, dreams, and values that we carry with us; we must integrate our purpose.
There are innumerable pathways that lead to embodying ourselves professionally, but here are a few great ideas to get you started:
Consider legal structures that allow you to bake your mission, vision, and values directly into the organization’s DNA. Not only does this dissuade purely profit-driven maneuvers by codifying impact measures and accountability, but it can create a legal requirement to consider stakeholders outside of shareholders in your decision-making process.
Listen to your community’s needs. Think deeper than donations and cause-based marketing. Create relationships so that your business strategically and meaningfully works with its community, nonprofit partners, and service organizations in order to get resources, funding, and awareness where it needs to be.
Reconsider ownership. Look at the ways your business brings in equity. Is it purely driven by hierarchy? Consider structures that allow ownership and economic benefit to be distributed more evenly, such as employee-owned structures or cooperatives.
Be transparent. Consumers are starting to demand more than logos and buy-one-give-one deals. Make honesty and transparency paramount. Look at the way your business exists in the world through its operations, footprint, and touchpoints. For example, do you prioritize living wages and fair contracting?
There is no reason for “impact” to sit next to “business” as a separate category. Every business can and must run in a way that leaves the community better off than before it existed. Not only have our communities always needed such leadership from the private sector, but consumers are starting to expect it.