It’s been said over and over many times – happy employees create a highly productive company culture. But as straightforward as it may seem, why do a lot of organizations still get trapped in the same pitfalls that have been around for ages?
Employee engagement is one of the most difficult conundrums facing businesses that want to grow. In a time of economic downturn, businesses are pressured to increase productivity to avoid further costs, interruptions, or losses, leaving out employee satisfaction in the process. It’s highly tempting for employers to just focus on extreme productivity and disregard the fact that employees also need to be happy in their roles.
When it comes to real-life business practice, a lot of companies still end up applying traditional relationship of authority which leaves employees disengaged and dissatisfied with their work. In fact, Gallup’s most recent data shows that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. Creating a climate of trust between an employee and an employer is hard. And the so-called “engagement programs” that are meant to keep employees committed and productive are doing more harm than good. They often tend to be greedy strategies to get more work done with fewer resources.
France and its Happy Workforce
We all know that France has a reputation of having lazy employees. However, contrary to popular belief, its workforce is not as unproductive as they seem. And this is because of one simple yet powerful mindset they possess – embracing the concept of happiness at work. They started by figuring out what their workforce really needed, from mandating shorter working hours to creating labor policies that value their personal and social lives. Most French retails groups have now taken the politic of happiness at work tempting the public sector to do the same.
What is Happiness at Work?
A great number of large, medium, and small private and public institutions are starting to embrace the concept of happiness. But what exactly does happiness at work mean? Happiness at work may mean differently to different people. It could be a job where people can fulfill their personal interests – a job that allows them to get closer to what they really like and love. It could also mean that an employee’s strengths and efforts are widely recognized. Or it could mean providing employees regular feedbacks and thanking them for their genuine care and attention towards the business. Happiness at work could also mean ending a hierarchical employment system and putting the focus on collaborations and partnership opportunities instead. Oftentimes, it’s not so much of the salary, though it can also factor in on the happiness level of employees. More often than not, the factors are interrelated. Bottom line is, happiness at work is achieved when we feel good about ourselves in the work we do, it’s when we are able to give valuable contributions and get appreciated in return. It’s the feeling of belongingness, of enjoying our social relationships.
Like an Old Family Business
Is the concept of happiness at work new? No, it’s not. It’s just an old family business culture applied to corporations. Think about it. In the traditional family business, all participants get the work done regardless of hierarchy, department, and silos. Everyone helps each other to make the whole thing work. That’s the kind of mentality corporations are looking for while engaging into the concept of happiness at work. It sounds simple but it’s hard to execute when people have been used to hierarchical procedures. Fortunately, workplace happiness and satisfaction collectives and workshops abound. Today’s organizations are lucky to have resources at their fingertips. SYPartners, Ahead and KYU to name a few helps organizations and individuals transform themselves and their respective organizations using business leadership strategies that encourage collaborations. These agencies focus on changing traditional work cultures and promoting effective partnerships through different networks. Aside from discovering new things about yourself and others, you’re given a chance to widen your connections that could prove to be beneficial in the near future.
There’s No Turning Back
Like any other ideas, embracing the concept of happiness also has a risky side. Once you’ve fully embraced this concept, you cannot come back to old practices anymore. Once you have given your employees the freedom to manage their time and responsibilities according to what they believe is the best for the business, you won’t be able to take back the freedom you’ve given them.
Freedom can come with a price that’s why as a leader or an employer, you have to make sure you still maintain a certain degree of authority and professionalism. In the end, it’s all about the equilibrium of every aspect of human life and work life.
Unprecedented economic changes are making significant impacts in economic systems that have led to revision, and creation of new policies and business models. The advent of the industrial economy for instance, has caused both turbulence and growth to businesses which paved the way for experts to develop, improve, and create sustainable business models and principles that we are actually using and adopting today.
The industrial economy in gist
The industrial economy can be categorized into three types – linear, circular, and performance economy. Linear economy is characterized by a straight and close-ended procedure. We extract raw materials from nature, turn these materials into products, sell them, use them, and then eventually throw them away in landfills. This process has led to tremendous environmental problems that have also created concerns on the availability of raw materials and their increasing costs. This became a precursor to the circular economy – the antithesis to the wasteful and environmentally threatening linear economy. Unlike in a linear economy, products and services in a circular economy are designed in ways where materials can be reused in new products or services of equal or higher quality. Going a step further from the circular economy is performance economy which focuses on selling the use of a product instead of selling the product itself.
Performance economy is a strategy?
We’re all likely familiar with the idea of selling a good. However, are we familiar with the idea of selling the use of a good? Performance economy consists of the idea that instead of selling the goods, we sell the usage value of the goods. It focuses on the goal of generating the highest added value possible of goods for the longest time while consuming few materials and little energy as possible. Swiss architect Walter Stahel, the genius behind this notion, came up with this idea as part of his circular economy strategy. The performance economy is basically an extension of his circular economy vision which is about preventing wastage and creating jobs through reusing and extending the service-life of goods.
Performance economy pioneers
Walter Stahel and Genevieve Reday were the brains behind what we now know as economy in loops or circular economy. They created an economic vision that focused on competitiveness, waste prevention, resource saving, employment generation, and economic competitiveness. Industrialized countries were among the first to adopt a circular economy model since it was because of the negative impacts of industrialization that circular economy came to be. In 2014, the executive body of the European Union adopted a zero-waste program that became the legal framework for a circular economy in EU-member countries. Countries in the EU are slowly adopting a circular economy and creating circular economy legislations that projects a savings of around 600-billion Euros. EU members Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden are leading in terms of crafting and applying strategies and laws on reusing and recycling wastes. Non-EU member Scotland and Asian economic giant Japan are also among the leading countries that are adopting circular and performance economy practices.
Companies like GE, Elite, 3M, Michelin, Target and Dow are integrating circular and performance economy policies and strategies to address environmental and economic challenges. For instance, Michelin is offering mobile tyre regrooving and replacement services and retreading worn tyres for reuse. Furthermore, when you see a product or service being advertised nowadays, you’ll notice the emphasis on what you’ll get when you get such item or service. Consumers have become more conscious about the products they buy or services they avail hence, the focus is now more on the value you get rather than on the product you just bought.
Employment and Entrepreneurship
Apart from waste and resource management efficiency, the performance economy also envisions providing sustainable and efficient job opportunities. Employment has been greatly affected by the shift in economic policy and the shift has seen improvements in terms of providing job opportunities for more people. Today’s dominant economic paradigm deviates from the take-make-use-dispose feature of the linear economy that once ruled the industrial era. The shift from a linear economy to a circular one enabled the transformation of consumer behavior and production chains – ensuring that resources are enough for all and for future generations. Activities under circular and performance economies are projected to create jobs and reduce unemployment by a significant number. In fact, a joint study by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and Green Alliance reported that improvements in resource efficiency can help improve Britain’s employment situation. The findings also state that by 2030, Britain could require over half a million jobs and reduce unemployment by over 100,000. That’s if Britain is consistent with its circular and performance economy development plans and activities.
World economies have come a long way. The challenges brought about by industrialization has led to countless possibilities and opportunities, including sustainable outcomes. Performance economy has led organizations into thinking smart – by economically profiting while at the same time contributing to sustainable development. Organizations and companies get a big financial benefit by reusing, remarketing, remanufacturing, repairing goods and materials. Consumers on the other hand benefit from reduced costs of goods and services. Both ends also positively impact the ecological systems that’s why in a sense, it’s a win-win situation.
Transformation has taken a new definition in this era of constant disruption. It’s no longer just a concept or a theory; transformation has already become a necessity and a reality.
Most of today’s societies – both developed and underdeveloped, face growing global crises and unprecedented changes that have profoundly shaken the core of traditional norms and practices. Disruption is starting to shape industries, markets, and our future. And people and businesses need to continuously grow and adapt to such changes in order to achieve and maintain success. If there’s anything that we can learn from these things, it’s that shifting our perceptions and strategies, and embracing disruption can lead to transformational results that we seek.
For the Presencing Institute’s Otto Scharmer, the global crises and unprecedented changes we currently face can be framed in three major divides namely the ecological divide, the social divide, and the spiritual-cultural divide. The ecological divide speaks of the disconnect between self and nature. The way we treat our environment has long-lasting effects be it on the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat. The social divide, the disconnect between self and other, speaks of the gap between social classes. Inequality, poverty, and violence continue to plague our societies because opportunities are not equal. The spiritual-cultural divide, which is the disconnect between self and self, is a reflection of the disconnect between our current self and our emerging future self. It speaks of the way we deal with our innermost self, thoughts, and feelings. Burnout, depression, and other mental health issues are manifestations of the spiritual-cultural divide. These three divides represent the massive failures of our institutions – we have created results that nobody really wanted. Thus, we need to change the way we view and face these challenges. We need to change towards a more humane and sustainable world that values every individual.
From Ego-system to Eco-system
How then should we shift our outdated economic and business thinking into contemporary practices that consider everyone’s well-being? Scharmer offered quite an interesting and informative article regarding this by introducing eight institutional innovations that as a set can help businesses run more intelligently across silos and boundaries. It seems that shifting our economic logic from an ego-system to eco-system awareness is the key create an economy that considers the well-being of all. From nature, entrepreneurship, money, technology, leadership, consumption, governance, and ownership, reinventing our processes and concepts, and encouraging collaboration in these vital areas can redefine the business environment and change the way individuals treat life and business on a fundamental level.
U.Lab, a hybrid massive open online course (MOOC) platform run by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (M.I.T.), recently offered two social innovation-focused programs – Leading Awareness-based Systems Change and How to Sense and Actualize the Future. The two programs offered unique insights on collaboration, co-creation, and succeeding in the emergent future. The programs’ introductory film says it all – a business cannot continue to run the way it goes and there’s a need to bring sustainability principles on core values of a business. True enough, what we need in this disruptive age is to create a profound innovation. We need new ways to connect to the more genuine aspects of our self and encourage consciousness in the way we manage things. Perhaps you would also agree that today’s businesses need to integrate personal and ethical values into their system to help make it more sustainable.
Futhermore, the edX-U.Lab course “Transforming Business, Society and Self” that Scharmer hosted is highly recommended. The course presented his Theory U framework and offered excellent and effective community practices that will really make you think deeply about how you can resolve the different divides.
Following U.Lab since its inception, it has brought a great first impression on a personal level. The courses offered new and authentic insights – leaving old business principles and gearing towards a fresh and spontaneous approach that really fuel growth and competitiveness. It’s actually quite idealistic but this approach will surely revolutionize today’s markets. These programs strengthen our individual capacities and the capabilities of organizations in responding to disruptive challenges through an innovation ecosystem.
Today’s emerging approaches are life-changing. Often we’re so consumed of the challenges the world brings that we somehow forget the very essence of our human existence. We forget about the people around us and focus so much on the problem instead of creating solutions. Understanding the concept of Theory U will make you realize that today’s challenges can be solved by allowing our current and best future self to listen with each other. It’s as simple as listening to others, listening with your heart and mind wide open, co-evolving, co-creating, and allowing inspiration and common will to emerge.
The New Economy Called Sharing Economy
Exclusivity is out. Collaboration is in. Working together is the new way of doing business which brings us to the concept of sharing economy. What does sharing economy mean? As kids, we were taught early on that sharing is an essential part of being. The definition of sharing that we knew back when we were starting to learn about numbers and ABCs is no different to the idea of sharing when referring to the sharing economy.
Uber, Airbnb, Grab, ebay, Fon, HomeAway, and Elance – do any of these companies ring a bell? These are just some of the growing number of sharing-focused businesses that are shaping today’s industries and economies. Companies built on collaborative ecosystem and sharing management culture are transforming businesses and the way people deal with daily life and work situations.
The rise of social media
Admit it or not, social media has become a part of the daily lives of most people. Unlike traditional communication tools, social media offers a two-way communication stream that allows people to be proactively engaged in discussions and the decision-making process. Social media is a tool aimed at collaboration and sharing. Imagine how easy it is to order food, look for a job, shop, book trips and appointments, join organizations, and even set-up a date right at your fingertips. Years ago, we were stuck with lengthy paper processes, charged with exorbitant fees, and even traveled miles away just to do such things. And today, social media has become a fundamental element of the sharing economy as witnessed in the companies mentioned earlier. The advent of social media has changed people’s perception and attitude towards others. Since then, people have become more willing to open up about their lives to strangers as seen on a lot of vlogs and social media posts. People are more engaged and unafraid to share their opinions and recommendations. Subconsciously, these are behaviors that can very well be attributed to the idea of sharing. What started out as a simple idea of sharing information turned into something even bigger – the sharing of resources.
If you don’t evolve, you dissolve
Why do we need to understand the sharing economy? Why does it matter to us? If we are just mere consumers and not into the business and technical side of the sharing economy, then why should it matter to us? The answer is simple. Life is chemistry. Everything around us affects us. And if we don’t evolve and adapt to changes, we will get left behind and stop growing. We need to understand the basic principles of sharing economy because we are a part of it. Our contributions, no matter how small, make all the difference collectively. A deep understanding of this emerging economy can lead us to better opportunities, allow us to reach new horizons, and provide us foresights that will allow us to make strategic decisions. We can’t just always be on the receiving end all of the time. It would be an irony to benefit from an industry that capitalizes on sharing but could not receive its fair share of time, resources, and efforts from the people it caters to.
So, you want to be a part of the sharing economy?
What does it take to be a part of this emerging economy? Just like in any other business or venture, we set values and traits that help us succeed in our undertaking. The values and attributes required in a typical business are no different with the values and traits one needs in the sharing industry. Sharing-focused businesses operate on trust, transparency, accountability, cooperation, open-mindedness, and the willingness to adapt to changes, innovate, and constantly feed your mind with knowledge. Apart from these values, it’s also necessary to come up with a strategic plan for your planned shift to a sharing-centric economy. How will a sharing economy affect your existing business model? Are you well-prepared for disruptions and the transition? Have you thought about the mindset of your market? You need to consider these questions on your planned economic shift. And you need to integrate all the values mentioned earlier in answering and creating solutions for such questions.
Entrepreneurship that creates opportunities for all
The sharing economy is empowering entrepreneurs and reshaping how they do business. Entrepreneurship is evolving because of peer-to-peer marketplaces. Pooling together, sharing resources, and reducing overconsumption or unnecessary purchase of things are redefining the concept of community-building in the perspective of a sharing economy. What sets the sharing economy apart from the traditional economy is its ability to provide business opportunities for all. In a traditional set-up, only those who have enough capital to build or buy apartments or condo units can actually sell or rent out these places. Imagine having an unused room in your apartment that’s just building up dusts and cobwebs. Thanks to the sharing economy, you can now have your room easily rented.
Is it sustainable or not?
This leads us to the question on whether this kind of economy is sustainable or not. Yes and no. Like all things, the sharing economy has its own pros and cons. When it comes to sustainability, it will depend on how we treat and view it today and in the future. It could be sustainable because it creates jobs for people and reduce the unemployment rate but it’s not sustainable for governments because of loss of tax revenues. Will sharing-centered enterprises last long if the number of similar businesses rises? Will it still be sustainable socially and environmentally speaking? The answer will depend on how a business sees the opportunities in challenges. Again, it all boils down to the values mentioned earlier, especially one’s open-mindedness, and willingness to adapt to changes, innovate, and constantly feed their mind with knowledge. These are what will make the sharing economy successful and sustainable.
Companies and organizations need to give back more than what they take from the environment and the society. For a company to be net positive, it needs to outweigh all the negative impacts on society and the environment with positive impacts. Net positive is a way of transforming businesses by having them innovate their products and services in a way that helps consumers have more sustainable lifestyles and restores the environment.
Why the Need to be Net Positive?
Nothing in this world is permanent. We live in a time of profound disruptions, rapid changes and unprecedented social, economic, and environmental challenges. These factors have made significant impacts on our lifestyle and the way we view our environment. When a business or an organization fails to positively respond to these changes, adapt and adopt appropriate measures, it usually leads to failure and eventually, closure of business. This is why becoming net positive is important. Net positive aims to encourage organizations and businesses to leave a positive impact to the environment – you put more resources into the environment than you get. Is it achievable? Yes, it is.
The 12 Principles
Through the 12 principles of a positive net approach, organizations and businesses understand net positive better which in turn help them adopt this new approach more efficiently. Here are the 12 principles of a net positive approach:
Net Positive Leaders
A lot of companies are already geared towards a net positive plan. Companies like IKEA, Coca-Cola, Capgemini and Kingfisher are among the key organizations making a positive impact to the society and the environment. These companies go beyond doing less to zero harm to the environment. What they do is they set clear guidelines and common set of principles to increase their sustainable practices while innovation. The net positive principle is a great way to avoid companies from greenwashing since in going net positive, you don’t just simply label your products or services as eco-friendly. In net positive practice, you show proof that you are indeed returning more than what you get from the environment. Coca-Cola, for example, returns and restores the water it uses in its products. They’ve set a concrete goal with a definite timeline in replenishing all the water they use in making beverages.
This goes beyond just merely restoring the water they use. Coca-Cola incorporates social responsibility through launching community water projects all around the world. These projects range from protecting watersheds to improving access to potable water. Meanwhile, IKEA’s net positive strategy focuses on generating renewable energy. Energy-saving initiatives such as installation of wind turbines and solar panels on their stores and distribution hubs have helped IKEA reduce their energy use globally. Their strategy is also encouraging consumers to change their mindset regarding energy consumption.
Gearing towards a net positive impact will not only drive a restorative economy. More importantly, it will create societal and environmental values that drive sustainability and help build community resilience.
We hear it everywhere, we talk about it among our colleagues, family members and circle of friends in business meetings, social media, and advertising platforms. It’s a concept born out of the need to combat the exploitation of natural resources and to meet the needs of today without compromising the capabilities of future generations to meet their own needs.
How can we address the issues of energy, food, climate, chemicals, renewable resources and globalization well within ecological limits? Sustainability is a key in addressing such challenges we face in our daily lives. It’s a concept that everyone can work towards because even the smallest things we do can gravely impact our future and make a difference.
Capitalism vs. Shared value
Capitalism, being the dominant economic system, plays a crucial role in the formation of a sustainable society. However, times are changing and what used to work before might not work now. What’s more, many of today’s environmental, social and economic challenges are being blamed on corporations. So, if we want a sustainable future and society, we need economic systems that really work. And creating shared value is the way to go – it’s the way to reinvent capitalism. But just what is shared value? It’s more than just creating economic value. It’s about realigning your business to create values that address the challenges and needs of societies.
Is Fair Trade Really Fair?
What started out as a simple means of helping people in developing countries has now evolved into a multibillion-dollar trade that’s helping address poverty and empowering producers in poor countries – or not! Not that we’re being skeptical of fair trade policies but as socially conscious consumers, we can’t help but ask ourselves if fair trade is really being fair to our farmers in poor countries. Are we sure that our money is really going to good causes? How do we gauge it? Who is making sure that it is really fair and ethically acceptable? Who is ensuring that the rights of farmers are not being violated? Critics of the fair-trade movement are arguing that fair trade doesn’t help the poor rather, it’s more beneficial to traders in rich countries. They argue that joining the fair trade requires specific quality and political standards that are obviously difficult for poor farmers to comply with. Another argument is that little money reaches farmers. It’s difficult to find out if the extra money we pay for the goods is really reaching them. There’s not much evidence proving that farmers receive a good sum of the money. Our purchasing power is crucial in helping producers in developing countries but the more critical factor is our discernment of these fair trade-marked products being sold to us. It’s becoming more of an appeal to our emotions rather than helping consumers have a better grasp of the situation and become more proactive in exercising their purchasing power.
Going organic is Green Washing?
Going green is a growing trend among health-conscious and eco-conscious consumers. It’s seen as a sustainable means and ecologically responsible practice of using natural resources. However, this growing trend has recently come under fire mainly because of the integrity in labelling goods as organic. A lot of organizations spend more time and resources in claiming to be eco-friendly through marketing and advertising than they actually practice. It’s a form of deception that is making everything all the more complicated because we have consumers who really want to positively impact the environment but the more that they “go green,” the more that they unknowingly harm the environment and help these deceptive organizations profit.
The Principle of Permaculture
How then can we gauge if something is legitimately eco-friendly and not just greenwashing? Understanding how permaculture works is one way. Permaculture originated from the words permanent and agriculture. It is an ingenious agricultural design process that incorporates ethics and social design principles geared towards sustainability and self-sufficiency. As a consumer, understanding how permaculture works is one big step in being self-sufficient and avoiding greenwashing. It’s a way to avoid greenwashing and counter the linear economy perspective. In permaculture, you are guided by three interwoven ethic principles – care for the people, care for the earth and the concept of fair share. Agroforestry, rainwater harvesting, intensive rotational grazing, fruit tree management and natural building are among the common permaculture practices adopted today. Permaculture can be likened to the circular economy where wastage of resources is avoided. It’s a more viable and legitimately eco-friendly practice than simply buying green-labelled products. And what permaculture does on a larger scale is that it contributes to sustainable economic development.
Shared value, capitalism, fair trade, greenwashing, permaculture – all these things relate to sustainability in one way or another. Understanding the core principles behind these concepts and terms is important just as much as it is important to understand what sustainability really is. For without enough knowledge on these concepts, a surface-level understanding of sustainability would not suffice.
Patrick Roupin is an expert in innovation, design, strategy & entrepreneurship.
Ashrefunisa Shaik is an expert in organizational transformation & sustainability.