People are not commodities…. people come first

Illustration with a team on puzzle pieces.
Illustration with a team on puzzle pieces.

I recently did a key note to a group of sophisticated entrepreneurs – the topic was on business transformation, sustainability and growth.

My belief is that no one person should ever underestimate the value (and difficulty) in delivering the business basics; as any entrepreneur or CEO will tell you, its really hard to design, create a good product, provide an excellent service, and earn a profit. But when large companies use their incredible power to simultaneously mix profit with positive social impact, we see the truly amazing potential of business at its best. And one of the most encouraging business trends over the past several decades is business leaders’ realisation that companies can take serious steps to minimize their negative environmental impact and still be profitable.

Although, as we have seen, technology can have a baleful impact on the human side of business, it can also work the other way, especially by improving information. The internet enables consumers to discriminate on the basis of more than just quality and price; they can increasingly take human and environmental impact into account too. As companies like BeGood raise the bar about how much information is provided about consumer products, social impact becomes a consumer feature just like any other.

My favourite businesses, though, are not just those that provide value to the marketplace without doing harm but those whose profits are intrinsically linked to solving social or environmental problems. In the past five years thirty-one states in the US have passed benefit corporation legislation, allowing for-profit companies to legally pursue social and environmental impact in addition to profit. The proliferation of ‘B-corps’, including the now publicly traded Etsy, shows that multiple bottom lines are not mutually exclusive.

There is a trend toward inhuman treatment of workers in other ways too, and again, technology can exacerbate but also help. Bosses are often incentivised by systems created by management consultants or software programs brought in order to help improve ‘efficiency’. The result: employees are inhibited from exercising their abilities to the fullest and not trusted to use their judgement, work autonomously, or make decisions outside of specific frameworks.

Much of this comes from the drive to quantify performance. You can understand the impulse that led Amazon forcing its warehouse employees to track themselves without countdown-beeping GPS devices, but how can that justifiable impulse be channelled into a more human approach?

I have discussed a few ideas in this blog, but all the ideas require change, some of the changes start with individual culture and human to human values, spending more time in nature and with our families and children and away from over use of technology. Other changes require businesses to execute transformation with the challenging existential questions that artificial intelligence and robotics present.

I feel that there needs to be a balance of human to human to technology, this will preserve our culture, values and relationships. What ever happened to picking up the phone? Or talking to someone face-to-face? Or do we not have time?

Everything has become too big, too bureaucratic, too distant from the human scale. We feel we can not control the things that matter, It is time to make the world more human.

Itzik Amiel once said:

“It is not only business to business sake but human to human sake.”