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The basis of Conscious Capitalism is the moral and economic superiority of Conscious Capitalism over all other economic theories. It has proven to grow companies and countries faster than all competing ideas while at the same time raising the happiness quotient of its beneficiaries.
There are four principles that underpin the practice of Conscious Capitalism: Higher purpose and core values, stakeholder integration; conscious culture and management; and conscious leadership. I am going to focus on the first two.
Author Richard Leider, asks every audience he addresses the following question: What are the two most important days in your life? Most people, he reports, identify the day they were born and an event such as their wedding day. The answer Leider wants them to get to is, obviously the day you are born, but less obviously the day you realize why you were born.
(Pause here and think about this.)
Consider how different your working life would be when it dawns on you that you were born to ensure fairness in business, which is why you are a commercial litigator. You were born to make people’s movement about their cities and country safer and smoother. That is why you are so committed to your work in the Integrated Traffic Systems department of the local roads authority.
When the employees of your company, department or unit, see their work as infused with meaning, you will see a commitment rarely seen elsewhere.
Executive of Medtronics, the world’s largest medical technology company, regularly tell staff: “Your job here is not just to make money for the company; your job is to restore people to full life and health.” To drive this point home six patients are brought to every year-end party to describe about how a Medtronic defibrillator, or a stent, or a spinal surgery with a stimulator has changed their lives.
The Container Store, a hugely successful, multinational chain of stores selling containers, practices Conscious Capitalism. Their purpose is to “help people get organized so that they can lead happier lives.” Cofounder and CEO encourages his sales staff to do everything they can to sell customers products that they might not be aware they need.
He repeats “his lost man in the desert story” at every opportunity. Imagine a man lost for days in the desert, dehydrated, terrified and almost delusional with thirst. He sees you and desperately asks for water. Most people would feel good that they have helped the man by giving him a flask of fresh water. That is all the thirsty man asks for and wants at that moment.
However, there is so much more one can do for him. “He probably has heat exhaustion or sunstroke; he obviously needs a hat and sunscreen; he needs to be re-hydrated. You could call his wife and family and let them know he’s okay, since he’s been missing for days.”
A salesperson whose only focus is to meet target behaves very differently from salesman with a higher purpose. Up-, on- and cross-selling containers is not a way to extract more sales, but a way to get the customer more organized so he can lead a happier life. Purpose-driven salespeople outperform the target driven type across all product groups.
I have emphasised this principle of higher purpose because in my experience with a wide variety of companies in 14 countries, it is the one that seems to “get lost” over time. Often, the founders of the firm where driven by a higher purpose, but without a constant reminders, in a wide variety of ways, (bringing patients to the party or telling stories,) their initial purpose fades or is ambushed by slumps or the race to meet payroll.
It is well worth revisiting the issue of your business’ higher purpose if for no other reason than its economic value.
“Stakeholder integration,” another Conscious Capitalism principle, is a philosophical issue with profound practical consequences.
The stakeholders in any business are the shareholders, the staff, suppliers, the customers or clients, and the community in which the business operates. The common view of stakeholder groups is as a zero-sum game. There is only so much to go around and if staff get increases or suppliers are paid on time, and if contributions are made to the community, someone must get less.
The “Conscious” part of the book’s title “Conscious Capitalism, refers to wider and deeper understanding of how the world really works. People who are not highly conscious, think narrowly and in short time-frames. The do not see the whole picture and they do not see consequences.
When stakeholders are seen as an integrated whole, and this collective is not viewed in terms of a zero-sum game, we know we have to think win-win, and be highly creative.
If staff feel underpaid they will be disgruntled so they may work with less enthusiasm. This leads to lower profits of shareholders, and less satisfied customers. Businesses run on Conscious Capitalism principles outperform businesses based on other economic models.
The business is not mechanical it is organic. Every part affects every other part because each part is connected and interdependent.
There is much food for thought in this wise book. It deserves a slow read.
Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy