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Branson's B Team - Show Me Numbers!

19/06/2013 12:02 BST | Updated 18/08/2013 10:12 BST
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Branson posted yesterday about his intentions for his B Team, a high velocity group of people including Arianna who have a real shot at helping us reshape our expectations of business in society. Branson writes....

"We will address three initial Challenges: "The Future of Leadership," "The Future Bottom Line" and "The Future of Incentives." The aim of these Challenges is to help focus business away from short-term gain and to balance the long-term benefits for people and planet."

When I read this it struck a chord with me as over the last few weeks I have had the privilege of bouncing ideas off James Doty, the chairman of the Dalai Lama Foundation and the Founder of The Center for Compassion at Stanford. James has spent his working life as a neurosurgeon creating a torrent of scientific evidence showing the incredible power of compassion to transform our businesses, schools and governments if only it is given the central role in our lives that it deserves.

It strikes me that the growing conversation around the tangible value of compassion is quietly signalling a similar kind of future to that of Branson's of focus on Future Leadership, Bottom Line and Incentives

To me, the most interesting area that can actually equip us to drive demonstrable change in our day to day activities is "The future of incentives". This question starts with asking how we define success, measure it, and as a consequence how we employ incentives to replicate the behaviour that we approve of shown by our star employees and customers. Incentives motivate us to take actions and if these actions add value to our worlds then we have a chance to move the needle.

I have been learning this year that even the most compassionate leaders in business, regardless of emotional connection to an idea need quantitative tools at their disposal to have any hope of driving ideas into their organisations that involve more than a single bottom line. They need the hard, real stats to back up their good intentions and convince others of the change required by appealing to both sides of their colleague's brains. Even Jed (The Legend) Bartlett himself needed to be convinced by hard, real quantitative stats in order to allow himself to be moved to take up the argument of equality in his school.

Businesses are created and incentivised to make profit, we have to creatively find ways to make considering people and profit the most attractive option for businesses ruthlessly focused on profit, make it strategic for their success not a distraction from it. Simply helping businesses feel that the "other two Ps" lead to more of the profit they love so much.

For this reason Givey has started working with UCL BASc to conduct behavioural experiments with the aim of understanding each of the 10 major areas that affect our personal and corporate relationship with giving time and money and to find ways to convince even the stingiest of people that they can benefit from rethinking their current habits.

The rubber hits the road when these amazing ideas get tested in the real world. Scalable cultural shift happens when we can convince decision makers that our experiments are showing powerful metrics that they can understand and push within their organisation Nicole Yershon gets this better than anyone I know, she embodies the intersection between thought and action, she grabs progressive ideas and executes the hell out of them. Proving or discounting lofty hypotheses is her daily bread and butter. It is people like Nicole who will help drive B Team's plan into our daily lives.

Givey's piece in this puzzle is building a system that quantifies this elusive triple bottom line to help passionate leaders in organisations convince their peers and bosses that an investment in people and planet will lead to sustainable profits in a way that is essentially strategic to helping their business thrive long term.

This challenge is harder to execute in the UK with only a few percent of employers engaging with their employees in giving and doing good compared with around 85% of US businesses engaging with their employees. There is a strong case that links this lack of responsibility in the UK business culture to the 20% decrease in UK that leaves us with around £9 billion in individual giving per year compared with the US stable statistic of $300 bn. Even accounting for a skew due to faith, exchange rates and population the US still out performs the UK 3 to 1 in giving. That's a complete arse kicking!!

Only through creating an engine that is impossibly simple will we have the chance to create the systemic change required to restore our relationship with giving and by getting this right we can successfully exhibit an example that contributes to the restoration of compassionate business at large.

Establishing the new social norm that will turn Branson's; B team dream into the only norm our children know is work worthy of the people involved, but I am quite sure it will not happen unless we can convince the Jed Bartletts of this world the numbers!