At the end of the Love and Humanity in Business event on February 15, I was left with the question of what would it take for all companies to embrace this way of doing business. Certainly, there are many organizations working on different aspects of this issue. B Lab, Just Capitalism, GoBeyondProfit, Conscious Capitalism are a few of the entities driving this movement. But, what’s the end game? How does everyone work together to bring about the desired change? I know that people are working at the national level to think through these issues, but as a management consultant with a rich body of data from CEO Exclusive, I just couldn’t resist. The outline for a strategic plan for full market adoption of conscious business principles has been in my mind for some time.
Refine and Define What People Need to Do
If the goal is to have the universe of businesses operating along the principles of conscious capitalism: having a higher purpose, engaging all stakeholders, maintaining a compassionate culture, and espousing conscious leadership, then I believe it’s critical to refine the current thinking to a list of specific behaviors that leaders can act on. The Field Guide recently developed and published by Conscious Capitalism, Inc is a movement in this direction. To take it a step further, I envision mapping out the stages of a company’s development along conscious business ideals and understanding the different archetypes that a company can embody. Conscious Capitalism doesn’t only look one way, but it’s not loosie-goosy either. I do think there are patterns here, and business leaders will find it enormously helpful to locate themselves on a trajectory that has already been analyzed.
Once the stages of development and underlying behaviors are articulated and analyzed, metrics can be developed to allow business leaders to implement with precision and confidence. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Especially in enterprise-sized organizations, having a reliable way of measuring the authentic/effective adoption and adherence to principles is foundational. I’ve been having a lot of conversations that sound like “conscious capitalism is what I feel in my heart”. This is absolutely true. These ideals must be heartfelt. At the same time, this is terrifying because it leaves sooooo much to interpretation. The sweet spot is at the intersection of heartfelt compassion and stark objectivity. Consciousness + Capitalism.
Behaviors and metrics will give business leaders clarity about *exactly* what they are being asked to do. To understand how this improves their business operations, these need to be tied to financial results. In my interviews, I’ve been specifically pointed to decreased employee turnover, decreased marketing spend, increased productivity/discretionary effort, and improved service quality. This is real money. In order to be fully embraced by the business universe, conscious capitalism needs to prove it.
Build Awareness Especially Amongst Business Leaders
If you want every business leader to adopt conscious capitalism, of course they need to know about it first. I can see this discourse entering mainstream conversations—in fact, that’s how I found out about it. From a long-term strategic standpoint, though, quality is as important as quantity. This is another place where “conscious capitalism is what I feel in my heart” becomes problematic. I envision leaders of the conscious business movement taking control of the conversation. Conscious capitalism has a definition and substance, and there’s a risk that these might be lost in the excitement around building awareness. This risk is non-trivial. Conscious capitalism could end up being mis-associated with CSR and philanthropy; it could end up in the trash heap of business fads; it could end up as an ineffectual “check the box”, like diversity and inclusion. Efforts to build awareness need to include clarity of the key messages.
With clear reinforcement of the key messages, I can see a clear pathway to rapid market awareness through focusing on aggregators of business leaders. Raj Sisiodia, co-author of Conscious Capitalism, has already identified the business leader(s) as the leverage point for embracing these ideals. Peer group organizations like Vistage, EO, YPO include large numbers of c-suite executives. I’ve seen estimates that about 20% of CEOs are in a peer group. My thought is to put together a plan for making sure every business peer group has had a presentation from Conscious Capitalism in the next 1-2 years.
Focus on Commitment in addition to Adoption
After business leaders are aware, if we want conscious capitalism to take over the business world, businesses need to adopt. But, what is adoption? I’ve seen multiple organizations asking individuals to take a pledge. Is this what those of us invested in the spread of these ideals would consider adoption? I’m not so sure. To my mind, the idea of commitment is how we’ll know if people have “adopted”. Seeing commitment in business is relatively easy—look at spending of time, money, and effort. If we see a business leader spending some of his/her time, money, and mindshare on conscious capitalism, we have a live one. To go back to my previous comment on metrics, I imagine the metrics will be able to show an inflection point or indicator of when a commitment to the conscious principles has been made. Then, that metric can be used as our flag for adoption.
Spurring this kind of authentic commitment to implementing conscious principles will take some deep inner work on the part of conscious capitalism thought leaders. From the people with whom I’ve spoken, people want this to become a transcendent brand, one that is around in 100 years. To do this kind of brand work is tough. It will require answering difficult questions: What abiding human needs does conscious capitalism meet? Why should business leaders adopt? How can conscious capitalism itself be consciously capitalist (internally consistent)?
Once this brand work is completed, the movement will then have the foundation to turn conscious capitalism from a “nice to do” to a “have to do”. With this brand needs analysis and the financial metrics, I believe conscious capitalism will really take off and move from the early adopter stage into the mainstream.
Then, there’s also the big stick—getting conscious capitalism embedded in the capital markets. I firmly believe that with solid financial metrics, we can make the case to investors and funding sources that conscious capitalism makes businesses more profitable and sustainable. If we can get underwriting tied to implementation of conscious business ideals, whoa! It will very, very quickly become a priority for your average business leader. Game over, we’ve won.
Support Effective Implementation
If we can get to the point where businesses have to employ conscious capitalism in order to get a loan or private equity funding, business leaders will want to get serious about implementing. Those who are invested in full market adoption will be there to help them along the trajectory that we’ve identified through our research and use the metrics that we’ve developed to track their progress along the way.
I already see the ecosystem developing to support business leaders who want to make this journey. Conscious Capitalism, Inc has developed programming and a certification for consultants. B Lab has their certification. There are local chapters and organizations. A suite of tools and community of fellow businesses is already in place.
Looking at this through a strategic lens, the infrastructure to help businesses who have made the commitment needs to have the following features:
Realistic—I’ve been bringing up the dark side of human behavior in my conversations about conscious capitalism lately. I think it’s critical to have an approach to helping business implement with real people. How do you create a conscious culture in the face of people’s natural tendency to gossip? How do you deal with ethical failures? Implementation has to effectively address non-conscious capitalism. Enough with the butterflies and rainbows, already.
Authentic—Effective implementation has to get underneath the impulse for social performance. I want to look like I have everything together. So do you. So does everyone. But, if implementation of conscious capitalism devolves into good PR, the movement will not realize its potential. Here’s another place where metrics will be incredibly helpful.
Accessible—Conscious Capitalism needs to avoid a club mentality or the specter of elitism. Full market adoption by definition means that this approach is for everyone. Small businesses, large businesses. Rural farmers and city bankers. Hospitals, schools, manufacturers, and every industry you can think of. Fortune 100 CEOs and business school students. Answering the question of how to make implementation available to the masses is a key issue to address.
Once a critical mass of businesses at various stages of growth, different industries, various geographies are reaping the benefits of living out conscious capitalism, their stories will join the stories that are already lighting the way. Advocacy and sharing will be natural. They will share with their colleagues, who will adopt and spread conscious capitalism. Eventually, there will be no other way of doing business.