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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Outside in – bringing intelligence into the corporation

I found this great post by Lee Bryant of Post*shift the other day. Lee describes the clear divide between how social media inside and outside many large organisations is run. How, often, these activities are run by different departments, who may be pulling in different directions. As Lee points out, social on the outside is often run by marketing, while social internally is run by ops, HR and IT.

Marketing, of course, is about giving customers what they want and need.  So a core marketing activity is understanding those wants and needs and communicating them internally – so that the business can respond, and continue to fulfil those needs over time, even as the market changes. That is, in theory at least, how businesses respond to their markets.

But in practice few businesses seem marketing-driven. In a marketing-driven company everything the company does is driven by changes in the market. This means the real power sits with marketing.

Looking around, it seems to me the alternatives are more common. In most cases the power driving the business sits with:

  • engineers and R&D – this explains an apparent proliferation of product features at the expense of benefits that people actually want and need;
  • sales – this explains a short-term focus on increasing sales revenue – regardless of the longer-term brand damage and the like;
  • finance and ultimately the stock exchange – how else can we explain the way  the banking sector seems to be ignoring customer sentiment?

Who or what drives your company?

But Lee’s post is about how (social) marketeers can be part of the solution – helping the business transform so that it is more aligned with what the market truly wants and needs. Even when marketing doesn’t really have all the power it might like.

He rightly points to the need for changes in organisational structure, and the benefits of socialising key processes and workflows.

Content can also be very useful – thought leadership inside an organisation can form the basis of a real dialogue with customers. Leverage the content that people inside businesses work with every day – and use it to start meaningful conversations with customers and potential customers. The result is an increase in trust – and you start to build real relationships across the critical company/customer boundary.

Such relationships form the basis of gaining real intelligence about what the market is saying – what it wants and needs.

Market intelligence isn’t enough

But our experience suggests that even credible (business) intelligence simply isn’t enough to change organisational behaviour. If knowledge and intelligence was sufficient for behaviour change we’d all stick to the speed limit, get enough exercise and happily eat our 5-a-day .

And there are far too many stories of companies that knew perfectly well what was happening in their markets but did nothing about it for us to believe that intelligence is enough.

This is because telling people what to do (based on your superior knowledge/intelligence) doesn’t work – they resist.

Neither does educating them (giving them the benefit of superior knowledge/intelligence) – they still resist.

And actually, despite what some idealists would claim, neither does getting people to ‘buy-in’ through dialogue or the like – real dialogue is a very rare thing indeed.

These approaches don’t work because they tend to ignore the elephant in the room: power. Organisations are all about power – we all know it and yet we hardly ever speak about it.

Good solutions need to take power into account. In fact, leadership, in my view, is about helping people and groups find ways to understand and ‘align’ their power. We all have power – but we are often pulling and pushing in different directions. Leadership is about helping people align – even if only temporarily.

And just how does the marketing leader, or the leader of any kind, build that alignment? There are many ways but one good way is to start by treating other people well. By being respectful and empathic. This is the foundation for any good relationship, and I believe a good relationship is the starting point for finding ways to align power.

But to build good relationships it is also essential to learn to ‘speak up’ – to say what we believe to be true, when faced by other people, not just in the privacy of our own minds or homes. No one respects someone who just tries to please all the time, by keeping quiet, or by agreeing.

Unfortunately, speaking up  is really difficult – the pressure to collude, to fit-in, especially inside a business, is enormous. It is all too easy for the marketing leader to see what is going on but to keep their mouth shut when facing a skeptical ‘superior’.

The good news is that people can learn to speak up more. We use the term ‘congruence’ with our clients because there’s a bit more to it than just speaking-up. In fact, there’s a way of speaking up that enhances relationships rather than harming them, and that is what we are seeking: deeper, more meaningful relationships.

Self-awareness helps. As we grow in awareness we may start to see how much we collude.

A supportive culture helps. One that promotes ideological challenge, open dialogue, and risk-taking in service of a bigger purpose.

But ultimately this is a choice – about putting the goal of helping your business survive and thrive in the digital age ahead of personal fears and limitations. About learning to speak up – in service of others.

There are a couple of events coming up where some of these issues may be discussed: Tomorrow’s Company Today on the 2nd June 2014 (a Conscious Business UK event hosted at Post*shift’s great London offices). And Post*shift have their own event Organising for Social on June 12th.

 


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We’ve come a long way baby

In its short history, the human race has achieved some magnificent things. But together we’ve also created a host of complex, and very serious, social and environmental problems.

Of the three powerful forces in society – business, the public/charitable sector, and politics/religion/media – I believe it is only business which has the power and the flexibility to address these problems.

Power because of its reach – the ability to touch many lives, even from a small base.

Flexibility because only business seems to be currently capable of transforming itself – reinventing itself. Away from greed and personal profit and towards really addressing those broader, much more important problems. Above all, business listens, and people are crying out for change.

But change alone isn’t enough. Too often change just means small improvements to delivering the status quo. We need ‘step-change’ – real transformation. Transformation is beyond change – it means adopting a new purpose, and a completely new way of operating, with new energy.

I am reminded of the story of one visitor to Ray Anderson’s visionary company Interface. A fork-lift truck driver, working for a company that makes office carpets, after helping her all he can, tells the visitor he must get on, because he’s “busy saving the planet”.

That is the new kind of energy we need in business people. Energy released by belief in a new kind of purpose.

How do we get there? As the author Jeanette Winterson said in her New Year resolution: “It is important to work out what is important. Living consciously has never mattered more.”

Individually and collectively we need to raise our consciousness. To become part of the group who are trying to transform things, systemically, radically – at the root.

We need to become more aware of what matters, why it matters, and what we can do, and are doing, about it.

And often are not doing. We need to become aware of our habits and the other things that hold us back. Conscious of our failings, as well as our successes. That means internal, personal work. As much as putting our heads above the parapet.

There are many, many people on this journey. It is not my place to tell you what you should do. But I can tell you what we are doing.

We are building a business – Conscious Business People – that helps leaders discover a more important purpose, a transformational purpose for themselves and their businesses.

Then we help those leaders develop transformational strategy, structure and culture – to create businesses that are part of the solution. Businesses with positive purpose, and radically better behaviours, and much higher levels of awareness.

We help businesses and the people in them become more conscious, and stay that way.

Many will say this is foolhardy, it will never succeed. That mixing business with purpose is simply wrong and doomed to failure. But I think it’s the only game in town. The only game worth playing.

I’d love to know what you think, what you’re doing to “save the planet”.

Happy New Year.


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Institutional corruption?

Remember institutional racism?  This term was coined in the 1960s in the US and widely adopted in the UK in the 1970s to describe a situation where an entire organisation, rather than just one or two individuals within it, collectively fail a particular group of people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. In the UK the term was used to describe the police after a number of high-profile events such those at the Brixton riots, Broadwater Farm and so on.

The idea is that, at least to some extent, the inappropriate behaviours and attitudes of individuals are so widely adopted within the group that they become social norms. Because they are so prevalent, no one questions them. Of if they do question them, their questions fall on deaf ears.

I guess it’s another example of group conformity in action.

Sometimes I wonder whether some organisations today suffer a form of institutional corruption. We all know the extreme examples: Enron, BCCI, Satyam, and so on. Companies where, ultimately, criminal behavior crashed the companies to the ground.

But isn’t corruption sometimes more subtle, and more pervasive?

A while ago, and this is going to begin to sound like an episode from Money Box, my insurance company sent me a renewal notice for my household insurance. Something made me check – and I discovered that they had increased the premium by 30% compared to last year.

When I called them, as soon as they heard the problem was “price”, they put me on to their “loyalty team”. When the salesman (sorry “loyalty consultant”) heard the price he quickly recomputed it and said they could offer the same service for a 0% increase instead.

Now my guess is that probably quite a few customers can’t be bothered to check what last year’s premium was and just renew automatically. Personally, I think that is pretty dubious behaviour for a business. Imagine how I might feel if I went into a shop and they tried to short-change me by 30%?

Wouldn’t I right to be aggrieved? Might it even be fraudulent or criminal?

When I enter into a relationship with a company I expect to be dealt with honestly – I want to trust that company and have them reward my trust. Would the shopkeeper who short-changed me by 30% retain my trust?

So going back to the idea of institutionalised behaviour, is it possible, then, that an entire company can be institutionally corrupt?

Is it possible that the salesman thinks of his role as an upstanding member of the “loyalty” team – when actually he’s in the “covering up our corruption” team?

That his managers and others in the company think that this kind of behaviour is so normal that it’s “commercial best practice”?

Is it possible that even the senior management and the CEO are so institutionally blind that they believe it right and proper to accept favourable compensation packages even while their employees are behaving in ways that are dubious or verge on the criminal?

Could this institutional corruption extend beyond the company to the whole industry? To other companies? To its regulators? To the media? Sometimes there’s not a critical voice to be heard, anywhere, of what some might think are corrupt practices – “this is just the way it is in this industry, it is just the norm”.

When the UK police were accused of institutional racism I can still remember the confused, questioning voices from their representatives: “You can’t be talking about us? We’re not racist”. It took a long, long time to really sink in.

The irony, is, of course, that as with the police force, or any other organisation, the public recognise this institutional racism, or corruption, or whatever it is, much sooner than those inside the organisation.

It feels wrong. But often the fact that everyone else is telling you its right makes it harder to put a name to it. It requires bravery to stand up and make that kind of statement.

Consciousness, even?

But businesses that are institutionally corrupt will lose customer loyalty in the long-run. My insurance company has already lost mine.


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4 good reasons to make your business more conscious now

I get some perplexed looks when I mention ‘conscious business’, which are often initially followed by further confusion as I try to explain the concept. This is because on the face of it, it does not sound very ‘business-like’. But then, maybe the problem with business practice as we’ve always known it, is that it has actually remained too ‘business-like’ and that hasn’t evolved along with the needs, awareness and expectations of society. This leads me to my first point…

  1. Evolution through expectations in the workplace

It might be living in Brighton, it might be that I’m getting older, but it feels like we’re finally getting over the ‘greed is good’ hump and refocusing towards something a bit more enriching. Maybe trying to climb an increasingly greasy pole makes us pause for thought and wonder why we’re focusing so much energy on that specific objective and not so much on everything else in life, such as making it more enjoyable, or pondering what it would be like to look forward to going to work every day because we just love it there.

This is not unique to our generation, it’s the ongoing culmination of the evolution that has been before us and that continues every day. The same basic principles that eradicated slavery, for example, have influence on the increased adoption of flexible working hours, less structured working environments, less formality, project days once a week, etc.

We’re slowly realising that effective collaboration and a well boundaried democracy is far more productive, adaptable and enjoyable than a mono-focused dictatorship. Conscious business is the natural next step in the business evolutionary process and it’s already happening.

  1. Knowledge changes things

Being able to Google anything from your pocket – apart from ruining the pub quiz – has a more profound impact on how society functions because the wide distribution of knowledge means we’re no longer living in the dark, trusting only a few questionable sources.

Part of this shift to knowledge ubiquity has been the rattling of the skeletons in many company’s cupboards. In fact now it’s a bit like the cupboard doors have been removed so all can see inside. So if a company is less than honest and perhaps a little too cut-throat in their practice, the knowledge of this will increasingly decide how and more importantly if, we deal with these people now or in the future.

Consider the web site TripAdvisor: when people have good or bad holiday experiences they have a forum to publicise this information. This knowledge helps others decide whether they want to go to a particular hotel, for example, but most importantly it transfers control of the hotel’s reputation into the hands of the hotel users who are perhaps more objective than the hotel itself.

So if you are not open, honest and genuine in your dealing with your clients you rapidly risk being left behind as your potential customers go to those hotels that are. Wouldn’t it be better to be the hotel that they move to, rather than the one they move from?

Now this sort of balance is what we’ve always wanted but we’ve never had the tools to achieve it before. To that extent, though social media has provided the tool, it’s in response to an underlying desire for balance and fairness that is innate within us. And this is an important distinction: what we innately desire is conscious business, it’s just we’ve lacked the tools to achieve it. Without this desire, TripAdvisor would never have been conceived, let alone built.

On the other side of this the internet also empowers us to make change directly, hence:

  1. The empowerment of the general public

The other part of the ‘TripAdvisor effect’ is that if you’ve been poorly treated by a company as a customer or in B2B dealings, you can broadcast that experience to the world quite easily. So suddenly we’re empowered and the knowledge that we can do this makes us less likely to accept substandard practice.

Last time I got stitched up by restaurant owner, who admitting the mistake (thinking I was a tourist rather than a local) refused to do anything about it, I posted a factual article about the experience on a local restaurant review site for others to read. There were many similar complaints from others – maybe I should have checked first – next time I will.

Now I know most people reading this would never consider ‘stitching anyone up’ for anything but the point is in a business that attempted some empathy with their customers rather than just trying to say the right things to extract the maximum amount of money, one where the client is valued as an ongoing relationship rather than a ‘mark’ to fleece, that business would be full of clients throughout the sparse ‘tourist free’ winter months. This one is always empty. Now I know why.

Again my personal desire was to redress the balance because I’ve been swindled by sharp practice and left with an unwholesome taste in my mouth. It’s just that before I could never do anything other than mention this to a few friends, and now I feel a real sense of  redress because I have ‘outed’ them publicly.

Social media is the tool but it’s only used because there is a desire from me wanting to do something about the situation, to let them know that their behaviour is unacceptable in a way where they can’t brush it under the carpet and to warn others.  Personally I only want the nice, fair businesses to survive and I think I’m probably not alone in that.

Which neatly leads me to the last point and that’s all about spin.

  1. We are better spin detectors

Spin has been the norm in political messaging for a good long time, but because we are aware of it, we’ve got more cautious about believing it and on the whole we’re pretty sick of it. We know when we’re being spun and very often where to look to find the truth or at least what sort of questions to ask to reveal what the spin is designed to conceal. We’re tired of being lied to and want something better than that.

If you think about your relationships in general you will probably find that, if you are honest with yourself, what you prize more now than ever is truthfulness or congruence in how you’re communicated with. We’re tired of being bullshitted to and we increasingly know when it’s happening.  So a very positive differentiator when attracting customers is to be straight with them.

Also remember being congruent is just sooo much easier as well. One of my favourite quotes, from Oscar Wilde I think, is this: ‘People who never lie have it easy because they never have anything to remember.’ If you are always straight and open you will build trusting, long lasting and fruitful relationships.

So where does all this take us? Well, there are lots of reasons to make your business more conscious, but none better than to capitalise by being in front of the revolution as the sort of business that everyone in society wants you to be, rather than desperately trying to catch up when you’ve been left behind.