Let’s get one thing clear up front: Conscious business is business. But rather than holding profit to be the supreme purpose of business, conscious business leaders correctly identify the purpose that business serves in society as advancing human thriving. Profit, then, is the fuel that helps companies achieve some piece of this larger puzzle.
“Hold on,” you might say. “Is it really the role of business to advance human thriving? That sounds more like the role of the nonprofit sector, or even religion or government.” Here’s the thing: Business is the single greatest organizer of human effort on the planet — by far. We spend about half our waking adult lives in our places of work. That is way more than school, church, and just about anything else. The sheer number of people-hours business commands makes it the only human institution with the scale required to tackle some of the great obstacles to long-term human thriving. The irony is that many of those obstacles were created by doing business unconsciously.
Does all of this mean conscious businesses make less money? Not at all. In fact, empirical research has demonstrated that conscious businesses end up making more money than their profit-only competitors (check out firmsofendearment.com). It turns out that conscious business is better business all around.
DEFINING CONSCIOUS BUSINESS
Let’s get back to our original question of “what is conscious business?” Conscious business practices fall into four mutually reinforcing disciplines (thank you to Conscious Capitalism Inc. for providing the foundation for this framework):
In terms of purpose, the bar for conscious business is much higher than just offsetting negative impacts or “giving back.” Conscious businesses focus on and demonstrate a profound commitment to a specific — usually measurable — purpose beyond profit. This purpose animates the workplace and is meaningful to all who work there. Purpose is not a superlative (becoming the biggest, or the leading) and it is not a growth target. In fact, the purpose is usually far bigger than the company that seeks to achieve it. Conscious businesses are out there solving recidivism, fixing the food system, creating environmentally sound energy, and much, much more.
All organizations have a diverse set of stakeholders without whom they could not function. Rather than holding the interests of one kind of stakeholder to be supreme — shareholders, for example — conscious businesses reject zero-sum thinking and create alignment between the interests of employees, customers, suppliers, communities, the environment, and yes, shareholders. This demand often spurs game-changing innovation for the benefit of all. Many specific practices apply to each of these (and other) stakeholder groups, but I want to call out two things in particular: First, the required commitment to environmental sustainability in conscious business is tremendous. If we screw that up, not much else matters — and the most recent climate science data suggests we are screwing it up in a way that will threaten the survival of future generations. Second, there is also implied in conscious business a real commitment to proactive inclusiveness and diversity. Your stakeholders are not just the people who look and think like you do. We are all in this together, and the relative weaknesses of homogeneous teams are well-documented.
For conscious business, workplace culture goes way beyond adding a Ping-Pong table in the break room. Conscious business leaders recognize the profound duty they have to care for their employees like family, and make it their goal to send people home at the end of the day happy and fulfilled. Further, they build their cultures to support the growth of all of their people, professionally and personally. In doing so, they create self-improving teams that can grow beyond their own personal and organizational limitations.
Conscious business leaders know that their own personal development sets a cap for that of their organization. Unless they proactively seek out opportunities to develop their intelligence in the emotional (mindfulness), spiritual (meaning-making) and systems (dealing with complexity) realms, and continually raise that cap, their people will be constrained by it and either leave or, worse, settle and stay. Either way, the organization will stagnate.
At this point you may already do some of these things, but not all of them. Does that mean that you aren’t a conscious business leader? Not at all. There is no right way to do this and there is no official certification for “business consciousness.” Conscious business is a journey without an end, and if your business is willing to work on these four disciplines and improve your embodiment of them day after day, and if your leaders can remain committed to the process as you continually discover where there is more work to do, then yours is a conscious business. If you are on the journey, then thank you for your work. If you are not yet on the journey, today is a fine day to begin.
Nathan Havey is the founder of Thrive Consulting Group, where he has created and facilitates a 52-week online training program to help company leadership teams implement conscious business practices. Learn more at ccmworkshop.com.