Business shouldn’t be about ‘can we?’ but about ‘should we?’
The pandemic has made abundantly clear quite how many of the current models of business are simply not sustainable. Unemployment has increased around the world, with the young, people of colour and women being the hardest hit of all.
As restrictions are lifted and economies begin to reopen, business owners have the obligation to build back better; we need to create systemic change in how we approach sustainability.
This is an issue that every business owner / leader needs to address moving forward; making sure that they look after their employees, customers and the planet they live on.
Starting with employees – where they work, how they’re compensated for the work (in salary, pension and benefits), the hours in which the work is done, and who it is that does the work are the immediate concerns.
The traditional place of work is an office. But the pandemic has forced the issue of remote working and shown that despite the many years of resistance, actually, there’s no major issues here and for the most part it has increased staff morale and productivity.
So, in this example; can we make staff work from an office? Yes. Should we? No.
How employees are compensated. The traditional model for businesses is to try and get the maximum amount of work out of an employee for the minimum amount of compensation. And yet this almost never results in success, for anyone involved. People burn out, don’t focus and importantly, don’t care.
If the business you work for seems to actively not care about you as an employee, why would that same employee care about the business?
Adequate compensation (in salary, pension and benefits such as holiday days, etc.) is the bare minimum we should be giving to our employees. Can we pay them less? Yes. Should we? Absolutely not.
The hours in which the work is done for any business will always be more specific to the business itself (deadlines do exist – as much as we wish they didn’t sometimes!). However, a strict 9-5 rule, with employee monitoring, is unlikely to get you the best talent in the world or the levels of loyalty you’d want your staff to have.
The 9-5 rule has been around for far too long and appears to be there simply because ‘that’s the way it is’. This is not good enough. It excludes working mothers, parents who have to work around schooling, people who have elderly relatives to care for or other community obligations.
Can we make people work this way, because it’s how we’ve chosen to work, as business owners? Yes. Should we? No.
And this point brings us onto underrepresentation in staffing. But diversity and inclusion (D&I) can’t be an all talk situation, it has to be a core part of your organisation’s culture. And just in case you weren’t swayed by it simply being the right thing to do – it also makes good business sense.
Employees with diverse backgrounds will bring different perspectives and contribute different ideas to your business. This will then create more innovative environments. Research from Deloitte, which included the findings of several major studies, showed that D&I enhances innovation by about 20%.
So, can we continue to hire and work with people that look and sound like us? Yes. Should we? Well, I think you know where we’re going with this now; absolutely not.
But remember, if businesses approach diversity and inclusion solely as a strategic tactic, then they are going to be setting themselves up for failure. However, if the goal is to genuinely be more respectful and inclusive as a company, then the business advantages will come naturally.
The perspectives other people can bring to our businesses are invaluable.
Alongside employees, we as business owners also need to ensure we give focus to our customers. The basic question we need to ask ourselves is; is what we are bringing to our customers something that is useful and has a positive impact?
How is your business achieving this? What positive impact does the business, its products and / or services have on your customers?
And this needs to be specific to your business, not something that just sits alongside it. Yes, it’s always going to be good if your company supports a local community organisation, or charity (local or global) but if your products, services and business practices don’t also have a positive impact on your customers, then you’re simply not doing enough.
One way of looking at this would be to ask what problem your business is solving? This is the traditional way of finding out what a business does and what its purpose is (I’m sure you’ve all heard the question asked on Dragon’s Den). However, as covered in my previous blog post, Why Purpose Is Not Enough As A Business Owner, having a purpose is not good enough. You have to be useful too.
A ‘problem’ that needs solving can’t be that people want cheaper products. The problem being solved has to actively benefit customers and the planet. It has to make the world a better place for everyone living in it as well as for future generations.
Again, this is not just because it’s the ‘right thing to do’ (though that should be reason enough!), but it makes good business sense.
According to a recent survey reported on by Forbes, more than 80% of people respect companies and brands that adopt eco-friendly practices. The idea that businesses have to decide whether to increase their profits rather than help the environment is no longer true.
So in this instance, not only can we be better business owners, we should be better business owners. For ourselves, our businesses, our employees, customers and the planet.
We are at an exciting point in time. The pandemic, despite the many terrible aspects and impacts of it, could be the catalyst for a better world of work that we all need.