They say business is changing. We tweet, build online communities and 'like' things on Facebook. The CEO even has a blog, albeit ghost written by some comms guy on the bottom floor.
Despite this thin façade that business is moving with the times, it is clear we really are not. At the core of most businesses is a focus on growing profits in a way that top-hatted industry men of the 19th century would most likely recognise. Surely we can do better than that?
In the new world of work a 21st century business should have meaning. What do I mean by 'meaning'? It should be responsible, socially aware and have common courtesy for everyone it encounters. Businesses shouldn't simply address the needs of shareholders - whose sole care is the quantity of bank notes in the palms of their hands - but should cater to the needs of its staff, customers, and those it may impact upon outside of the obvious stakeholders. After all, we are only six degrees away from one another.
Businesses with meaning focus on long term benefits and are open to emerging trends that safe guard the future of the business against stagnation. Just look at the locally sourced foods movement and opposition to large supermarket chains opening new stores where the high streets are in desperate need of renovation. Big corporations such as the large supermarket chains may seem untouchable, but if they refuse to change with the times they will fall.
Long term benefits are a key part of giving business a meaning. Without that vision, they are lost. Take Patagonia, the manufacturer of outdoor equipment, for example. Patagonia have a long history of innovating with a focus on social good; they were one of the two original creators of the '1% for the Planet' initiative. But it is their work with eBay that is really significant.
'The Common Threads Initiative' allows visitors to Patagonia's website to purchase second hand items through an eBay store - essentially giving away custom! Better yet, they are encouraging past customers to sell their old items through the store too. This would shock most C-Suite members, but Patagonia have realised they need to work towards global sustainability.
It is profitable too. Sure, not in the short term, but with more people experiencing Patagonia products and with increased loyalty, the long term goals are met and money is made. It's a 21st century business, with meaning and healthy profits.
Getting these sorts of ideas approved is difficult. Businesses are, in general, heavily populated, so organising meaning or even having a voice heard seems difficult in these circumstances. The problem is that businesses are not yet a democracy and those at the top often lack the vision or care to even think about it.
When you look closely at the individual employees, listen to the stories they have to tell and start to care about their opinions, you will find a vision. You will find opportunity for meaning which the business can build upon. Collaborative decision making practices allow for social awareness and a thought process that considers those other than the major shareholders. Meaning is just what modern business requires to move forward and to be sustainable.
The Meaning Conference, taking place October 01 in Brighton, will take an in-depth look into this area. It will look at more organisations like Patagonia who have developed great methods and initiatives with are leading the way and show it is possible to achieve sustainability while continuing to profit; and profit well! If more companies take on this approach and find meaning, we'll be able to confidently say we have entered a new 21st century approach to the world of work.
Follow Ross Breadmore on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@nixonmcinnes