“Creating conditions for a just workplace today and in the future: challenges and opportunities for big business”
Before opening to the usual open meaningful exchange of ideas and questions with participants, Kami introduced a couple of key points starting from mentioning how his 7 and 9 year old kids replied when presented with the concept he would present “what should work look like in the future Daddy? well it should be different from school now”. This apparently unrelated comment allowed Kami to introduce how business, specially big business will offer a very different work environment when the children of today will enter the workplace.
What kind of change? Kami highlighted how in the last three years he has seen a big shift, a new trend that is emerging: big companies are starting to use those wonderful big glass windows that surround their offices to start looking outside at what is happening around them, instead of – just – looking inwardly to how to find internal solutions to serve internal goals.
This metaphor of looking – out – of the window, and the broader trend to try and look for ways to better serve and be useful to the society that surrounds them, he mentioned is what will bring about more justice into the workplace and he used to examples to show this:
HSBC over 300,000 employees when talking to their CEO hearing how he mentioned that “the reason we find ourselves in this banking crisis is because we lost the focus of who we are and what our purpose, what our reason for existing is, of role in society”. So now HSBC’s CEO is strongly aiming towards that purpose not as a nice-to-have but to sustain and strengthen the organization.
And at Unilever – their CEO Paul Polman said and works according to a new, yet old principle “a failing society cannot help a business thrive” hence the role of big businesses to allow society to thrive, in its own self interest.
What are the main challenges in allowing big business to create more just workplaces and fulfil its opportunity to serve society?
This is all sounding great but what is stopping companies from doing this? An anecdote brought the point home: A client of Kami’s in a big bank, shared how his own mother preferred not to seek financial advice from her son in banking and instead asked advice to his brother who is a geography teacher. This makes evident how little trust there currently is towards big business.
Kami highlighted two main challenges to allowing this new role for big business to happen
1. Finding the literacy, the language
Companies don’t know how to talk about justice, was is taught in business schools and the way people are used to interact tend to focus on the economic short-term gains, on self interest. Kami added “The language, the ideas of how to help broader society are missing. Hence the need for organizations and meaningful conversations like the one we are holding tonight at ebbf to create the right language”.
2. Lack of connection and dialogue with the society they aim to serve
Although they begin to recognise the need to work for society, they still don’t have the connections to society to be able to make the informed decisions about what society is looking for and needs.
A number of questions followed, we highlight a couple of exchanges below.
WHO, in companies, is driving this new trend towards openness and using big businesses’ many resources to serve the society that surrounds them? CEO’s the millenials working there, middle management?
This new drive for change is not limited to a specific position or sector or management level, it is people, individuals across different levels of the company, who have personally lived through a crisis, whose core values have been questioned and where they have asked themselves about who you are and your
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role. There is a fast growing number of these individuals.
How do you define justice in the workplace?
it is worth to start by asking ourselves “what is society striving for?” some answers given on the call came up: respect, respect towards diversity … we get to those values if we are clear about where we are as an oganization as opposed to the pursuit of the value of respect. That example of the value of respect then becomes an outcome as opposed to the main aim: setting as an aim that of serving society comes first, doing it comes second. So it is all about setting an outward looking aim of service and only later finding the values and the actions that will allow you to serve society.
Is there an underlying conflict between making money and doing good, serving society?
The recent thinking was “serve society as long as it is profitable and we hit the revenues / earnings”, and still is hindering the long term societal development – do customers leave if the focus is on serving?
If you ask anyone the answer will be YES we are putting short term forward BUT it is bad for the organization – the perception being that shareholders and investors drive decision making.
But we are seeing, as is the example with the Norwegian Sovereign Fund which has a very long term and sustainable view and which now accounts for an important percentage of the world’s investment funds that even in the area of finance, priorities are changing. The big crash in 2008 brought home how short term investment does not even serve the interest of investors.
How do you enter a negotiation, a dialogue with “society”?
Entering in a dialogue, sitting around the table with the stakeholders we wish to serve needs a new language and attitude. We are coming from the “I want to make as much money as possible, and want to pay you as little as possible” fundamental principle of negotiations which misses on the mutual interest. Instead new companies are looking at how to cooperate – a healthy society will help the company where they operate.
Should companies then – first – take actions that prove their intentions, and – then – sit around the negotiating table with a higher level of credibility? It is one possibility but it is even better to walk into a conversation with genuine intent to find the common ground and try to find – together – the solutions and co-create the actions that will serve those common interests.
Next Wednesday 10th of September at 20:00 (CET) you can join the next ebbf meaningful hangout in the run up to the main ebbf international event. Click here to book your free online event seat.
To enjoy many more of these meaningful conversations, even better book your place for the #ebbfjustice annual conference, taking place in beautiful Barcelona from the 2nd to the 5th of October. Click here to view the ebbf annual learning event website here.
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