Originally appeared in Asheville Citizen Times.
Can enabling employees to have a strong sense of self and meaning have positive benefits to the company’s bottom line? For those of us with mission-driven companies, we believe that corporate responsibility extends beyond the four walls of the office building, past the bank account and into the real world. Profitability means something more than just dollars and cents. It means bringing real societal benefit through your product or service through mentorship, social good, community building and support, and cultivating a culture of service-learning.
Mission-driven, or socially responsible, enterprises are really just companies that embrace long-term thinking and with a broader understanding of whom exactly their stakeholders are, organizations for which the pursuit of growth and revenue naturally produces mission-related benefits. Organizations that clearly communicate mission and values to every one inside the enterprise regularly see that mission used at every level of decision-making by stakeholders and employees.
We’ve seen a tectonic shift in corporate culture over the past twenty years, and the transformation in the last ten has been even more significant. Silicon Valley companies have turned the old work rules on their head. Almost everyone is familiar with the free fitness rooms and free food as these sorts of corporate perks become ubiquitous. But far fewer know that Google allows employees to spend 20 percent of their working time doing almost anything they like – changing the world they live in through their passions and interests. Or, that Google has a mindfulness program encouraging meditation among its employees.
Google Earth employees take advantage of these out of the norm perks by donating that work time—and their technological expertise—to helping wildlands activists map migration corridors for large animals displaced by climate change and development. This sort of employee enthusiasm comes from a cultural shift that centers on mission, working towards profitability in a way that represents the values of the enterprise. Together. The effect is profound: employees work more efficiently and take greater stock in their work when they know that they’re working towards something good that makes an impact.
Outdoor-clothing brand Patagonia serves as an excellent example of a company that understands the importance of mission and values in achieving both strong brand reputation and attracting talent and customers that share its mission and philosophy of responsible business practices. Founder Yvon Chouinard, in his new book “The Responsible Company” co-authored with Vincent Stanley, argues that companies are ultimately responsible to their resource base above all else. His advice? Reduce your environmental footprint (and its skyrocketing cost), make legitimate products that last, reclaim deep knowledge of your business and its supply chain to make the most of opportunities in the years to come, and earn the trust (and business) you’ll need by treating workers, customers and communities with respect.
To apply that mindset and approach to your own business, one mustn’t wade into the waters of carbon or environmental footprints or give large percentages of their profits away. Instead, start by evaluating your core business model. Ask yourself if you fully understand with deep intensity what your business represents and the opportunities that lie ahead. Next, make sure that the services you provide or the products you create are of sustainable, outstanding quality. Finally, and above all else, treat everyone inside and outside your company with respect, and of course, love.