What is positive business?

New partnerships between brands and society offer powerful routes to “good business” for all, but only if conflicting organisational behaviours are realigned.

In many circumstances we are all now much more likely to place our trust in a friend of a friend of someone we’ve once met (virtually), than we are in government, a major multinational – or, heaven forbid – a politician.
Everyone can recognise this shift, which is pushing societal trends to move away from institutions and towards personal, friendship and community peer networks. This shift is a major driver of transformational change at an individual, business and organisational level and forms a ‘mega trend’ which is having a major impact across business, brands and society. Inescapably we all now find ourselves part of what’s been called the “age of emotional proximity.”
Rich opportunity for sustainable outcomes and “Good business for everyone” springs from these changes, but only if we can successfully realign commercial goals. Financial strategy needs to be reframed within a wider context, incorporating the objectives of society, civic partners and the media. Perhaps most crucially, people and their networks must always be at the core of this approach.
Without taking these steps now, companies will become less relevant, face increasingly uncertain futures and they will almost inevitably suffer declining performance.
Some are ahead of the game. Earlier this year the Chief Executive of Unilever, Paul Polman, called for capitalism to evolve based on long-term thinking. He re-iterated several of the key themes that Unilever have been following for some time. The corporation seeks to double its turnover over ten years whilst reducing absolute environmental impact and – crucially – by increasing positive social impact.
And Unilever is not alone. Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor also warned that capitalism is at risk of destroying itself, unless the banking sector realise they have an obligation to create a fairer society:
“Just as any revolution eats its children, unchecked market fundamentalism can devour the social capital essential for the long-term dynamism of capitalism itself. To counteract this tendency, individuals and their firms must have a sense of their responsibilities for the broader system.” (Source Guardian 28th May 2014).
We see new strategic partnerships across the public and private sectors as a keystone to the delivery of positive business. Wider social benefits provide a common basis for collaboration and if harnessed effectively, they form the basis of shared “good business” for all the participants. Partnerships can exist at an organisational; brand; programme or campaign level and we show in our case study section how we have helped create a powerful partnership programme for engaging youth through music – with The Big Music Project. But effective partnerships are not without their challenges. They need to be strategically matched and specified based upon an open and transparent understanding of the respective business incentives at play.We have an approach for achieving this match and encouraging the full participation of all partners in what we term “positive partnerships”.
Cause-related marketing has long since demonstrated the power of positive partnerships from which many mainstream businesses and brands can learn. We admire the work of organisations like Cancer Research and their consistent leadership in this area – marshalling many of the key elements, bringing together communities, media, business and charity interests around a powerful and shared cause that holds the prospect for “good business” for all the participants. (for example see http://www.standuptocancer.org.uk ). The recent phenomenon that was the “ice bucket challenge” and the incredible fundraising feats of Stephen Sutton for Teenage Cancer Trust also indicate how the model of giving is evolving.
Perhaps most importantly, trust in companies is built upon consistent business purpose and actual brand behaviours and in the connected world in which we now live, conflicting organisational behaviours simply have no hiding place left. But the leadership of many organisations refuses to accept this plain truth. Despite inspiring practice and admirable commitment from companies such as Unilever, M&S and Kingfisher Group, to date only a minority of businesses have fully committed to “positive business” in this way. Others are surely set to follow.
As Paul Polman says: “Corporate social responsibility and philanthropy are very important, and I certainly don’t want to belittle them. But if you want to exist as a company in the future, you have to go beyond that. You actually have to make a positive contribution. Business needs to step up to the plate.”

We will be looking to highlight positive business behaviours in this blog over the forthcoming months so please do contribute and let us know where you see inspiring examples.

Written by

Mark is a Director of Chartroom.

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