Over the years many articles have been written encouraging business leaders to pay more attention to ‘the 3P’s’:
PRODUCT (or service) before
PROFIT (or performance).
However, Archbishop Desmond Tutu added another dimension to this expression when he addressed a round table discussion at Saïd Business School’s annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship earlier this month. He told the audience that all business leaders’ actions have moral implications, ‘right and wrong matter, we are thinking beings, we are physical beings and ultimately we are moral beings’. His message was that business leaders should not pretend that their activities take place in some kind of vacuum that business leaders’ actions affect society and therefore they should think about the bigger picture. The Archbishops’ message was clear, ‘whatever contributes to the wellbeing of society in a positive way must have import repercussions for business. If you have a community that is prosperous healthy and happy, shouldn’t that automatically mean that it will be good for business?’
Certainly the opposite is true. Many will have witnessed or experienced communities that have had their heart ripped from them with the closure of a major employer. In the 1980’s and 1990’s many communities saw their coal mines, steel mills and ship yards close and suffered greatly not just from the direct loss of jobs from the closure, but also indirectly from businesses that relied on the pit or steel mill for trade too.
Ultimately, businesses can’t just be about profit for profit’s sake as this is not going to make a sustainable world. Business leaders must also understand their interaction with the local community, and be more socially responsible if they want their business to be sustainable in the long term.
Businesses such as the Cooperative Group have always been about more than just profit. The business has to make a profit to be sustainable but some of its profits are allocated to a range of community initiatives, locally, nationally and internationally. The John Lewis Partnership model is not vastly dissimilar where they strive to put the happiness of their 76,500 Partners at the centre of everything they do.
Ultimately Archbishop Desmond Tutus’ observations about businesses leaders are probably right. If as a business leader you encourage predatory behaviour you might succeed in the short term but in the longer term, you are likely to increase resentment against you and those who are associated with you, which in the long term is not sustainable
So perhaps the expression that this article opened with should be modified to include
PEOPLE and COMMUNITIES before
PRODUCT (or service) before
PROFIT (or performance)