A sense of purpose is vital to the success of any business. It allows you to stand out from the pack. It gives you direction through even the stormiest of weather. It creates a consistent culture for people to work in.

But to see these benefits you have to communicate that purpose. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a hollow statement of intent, or at best something shared by the people at the top of the business.

Who to Reach

Whether it’s inspiring design, fast travel or just providing a smooth administrative service, the purpose of your business needs to be communicated to two distinct groups of people – your employees and your potential customers.

For employees, understanding that sense of purpose gives motivation and focus to their work. As your business becomes more complex, as rules and procedures gain a life of their own, it’s important to be able to cut through the complexities from time to time, to point at your core purpose and ask ‘are we serving that need?’

Communicating purpose to potential customers is about selling your services or products to them as individuals. Mass advertising is a dying beast. To draw in modern customers you need to reach out not with generalities but with something specific, something that directly interests the right people.

Selecting Your Audience

When it comes to employees, you know who you’re communicating your purpose to, and that’s everyone. Every single employee in your company needs to understand your purpose. If your purpose is sound but it’s one they can’t get behind then that’s a recruitment problem, not a communication one. So communicate your purpose to everyone.

For potential customers this is more complicated, but fortunately modern marketing has the answers.

Start by narrowing down who you’re interested in. Look at the data around your market. If your purpose is to provide the latest clothing trends as quickly as possible then you want to communicate that to millennials, as millennial men spend twice as much on clothing as their predecessors, while millennial women buy a third more clothing than those who came before. On the other hand, if your aim is high quality clothes that last then you want to reach a different market.

Narrow your focus as much as you can. Don’t look for the biggest audience, but for the one most interested in your purpose – that’s how you’ll make the most impact.

Communicating Clearly

No matter how grand your purpose, no matter how carefully chosen your audience, your purpose won’t be understood unless you communicate it clearly.

Communication is arguably the most important skillin the world today. The rise and rise of public relations firms, advertising agencies and communication courses proves that. The greatest innovation of our age, the Internet, exists to communicate more quickly and efficiently.

Cutting through the jargon is central to good communication. You understand the language of your sector in a way that your customers may not. You understand the language of management and business in a way your employees don’t. You need to get your purpose across in ways these groups will understand.

So spend the time and money to improve communication skills across your organization, and to ensure that your communications are expressed in terms suitable for your chosen audience. You need to be clear and appropriate in your choices, reaching millennials in the language of millennials, business leaders in the language of business leaders.

For your purpose to have meaning it needs to reach people, both inside and outside your business. That means finding the right people to approach, and the right language to approach them in. Only then will your purpose spread and come to life.

Life Tree-More Human

Making your business more human

The human side of business is perhaps its most fragile element. That glimmer of personality and real consideration that makes us stand out as more than just products and processes is far too easily lost in the rush to make those products and processes better.

But making business more human is incredibly valuable, both in making work more enjoyable for you and your employees and in building relationships with customers. So how can we make a business more human?

Acknowledge the presence of people

Many of our products and decisions are made deliberately anonymous. The people crafting reports don’t sign their names to them, either because they will be officially signed off by a higher manager or because people fear taking responsibility for something that could go wrong. Decisions and products are presented to customers in abstract terms – ‘we made this’, ‘we have decided’, ‘the company has created…’

Of course this de-humanizes a business, because it fails to acknowledge that there are people creating these things. It can protect them from blame, but it also means that they never get the praise or acknowledgement they deserve, and that customers feel as if they are dealing with a faceless institution.

Let people’s names be associated with their work, like an artist signing their paintings. Many successful marketing campaigns are based on tying a personality to a product, so why not use the personalities you already have?

Take risks

Taking small risks can make a huge difference to the way people respond to us. They show courage, and they show humanity. They demonstrate a very human willingness to follow our instincts rather than the herd, to put ourselves out for others.

So don’t hide behind the shield of anonymity but take some risks. Create quirky products that fit the ethos and aesthetic of your company. Send the statistics expert to make the big presentation, instead of the senior manager he was going to brief. Acknowledge failures and set out how you will tackle them, even when you don’t have to admit that something went wrong.

Taking risks shows that you and your company have personality; they make you vulnerable if only for a moment, and they let people feel a sense of connection from the times when they too have been vulnerable. They are a great way to humanize a business, and to get past the stumbling blocks of unoriginal thinking.

Resist dehumanizing pressures

When peer pressure is applied to teenagers we consider it a bad thing, and we encourage them to resist. Yet when it affects businesses we treat it as just part of the market.

So many stores have given way to the pressure to make staff work at Thanksgiving that it becomes worthy of note when businesses don’t. But giving way to such a pressure dehumanizes your business, makes you look like you don’t care about your staff, about their feelings, about their leisure time and their families. The stores that resist this pressure lose out on some sales on the holiday weekend, but they make themselves more appealing to customers for the time when they’re open, the whole of the rest of the year. And by letting staff’s humanity override commercial concerns they create happier staff who will put in the extra effort when they are working.

So resist the pressure to ignore the humanity of your workforce. Take risks that reflect human concerns and that let customers see a vulnerable, considerate side. Acknowledge the presence of real people creating real products. It will make your business more human, show that it’s more human, and ultimately create better results.

For a socially responsible business, flexible working isn’t just nice to have – it’s a vital part of using work to make the world a better place. Social responsibility starts at home, and unless you treat your employees right then everything else is just an add-on.

Setting the Tone for the World We Live In

One reason why flexible working is so important to a social business is that it sends a message about how you view the world.

Social businesses are about connecting together profits with what’s good for people. Human and environmental well-being don’t get sacrificed on the altar of the fast buck. Instead, human-centered practices are shown to be good for a business’s bottom line, disrupting the old dichotomy between the two.

Inflexible working patterns came from a way of working, and of viewing work, that saw people as little more than a resource with which to achieve business ends. It didn’t matter whether the pattern of work suited employees, as long it suited the business. It was the opposite of socially responsible business – business riding roughshod over human lives.

Flexible working shows that you care about what’s good for your employees. It sends a message to those employees and to the world that you’re not putting money before people, because you think that what’s good for people is good for profits. It sets the tone for your business and for the world we live in.

Social Responsibility Towards Your Employees

It’s great to create socially responsible products and services, whether that’s fair trade coffee, environmentally sustainable technology, or financial services for the disadvantaged. But if your social responsibility is focused entirely on your customers then you’re missing out on helping the people whose lives you most directly influence – your employees.

Flexible working practices make the lives of employees far easier. Tasks important to their well-being, such as visiting the doctor or dropping the kids off at school, become much easier to manage. This makes for employees who are happier, healthier, and less stressed. That in itself is a goal worth achieving.

For this to work, you have to give employees genuine control of their hours. Calling it flexible isn’t enough if you set core hours, duties, or layers of approvals that give them no room to maneuver.

Increased Productivity

Flexible working isn’t just good for your employees – it’s good for your bottom line as well. An international survey by Vodafone, which questioned 8,000 employers and employees, found that 83% had seen improvements in productivity thanks to flexible working. A similar survey of workers in the UK found that twice as many found their productivity increased when working at home as found that it decreased.

Flexible working increases productivity in a number of ways.

Firstly, and tying in to the previous point, it increases the happiness and decreases the stress level of employees. This makes them able to work better.

Secondly, it allows better use of time. If an employee can work while sitting at home waiting for the washing machine repair man then the flow of work won’t be disrupted for that morning. If they can attend a meeting through a conference call while looking after their kids then that meeting doesn’t need to be postponed.

Thirdly, is allows recruitment from a larger talent pool. If you allow home working or flexible hours then you can take on employees who live further from your base of operations or whose lives wouldn’t allow them to work full time, whether due to health, children, or many other reasons.

Flexible working helps you to employ the best people and to get the most out of them.

Community Action

There are countless opportunities for people to volunteer in their communities. From food banks to charity shops to environmental improvements, volunteering helps to fill gaps left by the system. Many people are keen to help out in this way, but the challenge comes in finding the time, and particularly in finding time at a time that is convenient for the task to be done.

Flexible working allows employees to more easily fit volunteer activities into their schedule. Some people might choose to work four days a week and volunteer on the fifth. Others might arrange their schedule to fit a full working week around a morning as a volunteer, or take longer lunch breaks for an activity like reading in schools.

Flexible working can allow groups of employees to take time off together to volunteer. This can make volunteering, and the social good it does, more central to your business and the way it faces the world.

Approaches to Flexible Working

There are many different ways to make working patterns more flexible. Flexi-time can be used to let people shift their hours around, as can being adaptable about scheduling. Allowing employees to buy extra holiday days or be awarded them as bonuses gives them more potential time to themselves. Companies such as Netflix and Hubspot use unlimited leave schemes, allowing employees to work in a way that suits them, focusing on results rather than time spent at a desk. Remote working integrates home and work lives, creating more freedom and saving time on commuting.

By giving employees the chance to balance their home and work lives, you take responsibility for improving the society you’re a part of – that of your employees.

However, you achieve flexible working, it’s a way to be more socially responsible as a business, to set the tone for businesses everywhere, and to give something back while increasing productivity. In short, it’s essential to being a socially responsible business.

Social business isn’t just about creating more ethical products. It isn’t about small tweaks that make a business less ugly. It’s about addressing the fundamentals of society and of a business within society. And nothing is more fundamental to business than pay. After all, nobody would go to the office without it.

So what are the problems with the current approach to pay? And what might we change to make pay work better for society?

Letting Go of Entitlement

There’s a reason why we’ve heard so much talk about entitlement in recent social debates. Arguments ranging from political engagement to the plots of computer games often boil down to attempts by one side to create greater equality, while the other side defends the status quo, feeling they are entitled to what they have simply because that’s how things have been.

Like the angry voices of “Gamergate,” many in business feel entitled to ever-rising pay. In this view, doing well entitles us to ever higher wages. Our pay should never drop unless we make a cataclysmic error. And it indulges those at the top to massive sums, with CEO’s receiving 300 times as much as average workers.

But this approach to pay is not set in stone. As recently as the 1970s, the pay ratio between CEOs and average workers was only twenty-five to one. Ever-rising wages are connected to the dangers of inflation.

If we let go of our entitled assumptions, what models could we adopt instead?

Leaving Behind Performance-related Pay

One model we certainly shouldn’t expand is performance-related pay. The example of high-powered sales forces, and the obvious appeal of a chance for more money, have led to performance-related pay increasing dominance of leadership compensation.

But a large number of psychological studies have shown that performance-related pay is not only less effective than its advocates believe – it can actually be harmful. In a similar way to having an audience, performance-related pay adds psychological pressure. This can increase productivity in jobs that require little mental engagement. When complex thinking is required, however, it gets in the way, leading to worse performance when high pay is at stake. Competition for these rewards crowds out beneficial cooperation, and the mechanisms of performance-related pay create complications, frustrations and extra work.

In short, the high flyers of the 1980s were wrong – greed isn’t good, and tapping into it is harmful.

Making Pay Levels Relative

Letting go of performance-related pay and entitlement to endless growth creates new possibilities. If we want to be socially responsible then we should build pay around the whole social unit of a business, not just its individual parts.

The Israeli government may have the solution.

A recent law passed 56-0 in the Israeli parliament has capped the salary of top banking and insurance executives. But this is not a simple maximum payment – it is tied to the salaries of employees, with leaders in these businesses unable to earn more than 44 times the salary of their lowest paid employees.

Think for a minute about what that means. If pay is a ratio then executives at the top have an interest in improving pay for everyone in the company, not just themselves. The interests of those at the top of this part of society are now tied to those at the bottom. There will doubtless be loopholes, and for such a measure to be truly effective it needs to cover contractors as well as employees. But as a way to make those at the top of a business help those at the bottom, it’s a powerful measure.

The implication for creating a real living wage is obvious. To be meaningful and resistant to inflation, that wage has to be connected to the highest wages in society. Wealth, after all, is a relative rather than an absolute measure.

And for those of us running socially responsible businesses, the time is ripe to consider applying similar measures to ourselves. 44 times as much income as the lowest paid employee is still a staggering gap, though less than in the largest US businesses. Consider what ratio you think is reasonable, and apply it within your own organization. Give everyone an interest in raising everyone else’s income.

Letting Pay Drop

Another recent example of how we can change attitudes toward pay comes from Richard Pennycook, the head of the UK’s Co-op Group. This Co-op, Britain’s largest ethically run business, has been struggling in recent years, and Pennycook has helped right the sinking ship. Most executives in his position would have asked for more pay based on their success, but not Pennycook. Instead, he has publicly asked for a drop in his pay because of the reduced workload his success has created for him.

It’s an example to us all. It’s not unreasonable for top executives to ask for more pay when putting in the work on tough situations. But increased pay should not continue indefinitely. When the time comes, and the work is done, perhaps we could all seek less pay, in proportion with a changing role. Perhaps high pay could be constantly assessed against the reasons for which it was initially given.

There are doubtless other ways to rethink pay. What’s important is that we start by throwing out our assumptions and trying something new.

“By using an LLC instead of a traditional foundation… we gain flexibility to execute our mission more effectively.” – Mark Zuckerberg

The foundation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s new philanthropic venture, has drawn attention for the generosity of its founding investment – 99 percent of Zuckerberg’s Facebook shares, valued at $45 billion. But in some ways, the form the initiative will take is as important as the amount of money being invested. The Initiative will be an LLC rather than a registered charity, an unusual model for a philanthropic endeavor, and one for which Zuckerberg has been criticized.

Zuckerberg’s approach highlights how much using business models can benefit social enterprises.


The LLC is among the most popular forms of corporate governance, and with good reason. It provides a level of flexibility not available in most other structures. In particular, it has more flexibility than a charity.

Charities are bound by legal restrictions, and with good reason. For a conventional charity to work, it has to be trusted. Donors need certainty that their money will be spent on the cause to which they donated, and that it will spent wisely. They need to know that the people running the charity aren’t just out to make a profit for themselves, and regulations provide reassurance.

But a foundation such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative doesn’t need to earn public trust. Its funds come from the private wealth of its founders. It can function without the restrictions legal charity status brings, providing greater flexibility.


One of the biggest restrictions on charities is their inability to invest money in profit making ventures. It’s a restriction which makes perfect sense. Charities are intended to give, and profit is often used to take. But as social enterprises, credit unions and ethical businesses have repeatedly shown, profit making endeavors can also do a lot of good.

There are circumstances where investment in profit making can do the most good. Such investment can support ethical businesses, help people out of poverty, even provide organizational structures more appropriate for a particular piece of work. If an organization whose purpose is social good has surplus cash, then it can be better to wisely invest it, making money to spend on a first rate scheme later, than to spend it on a second rate plan now.

Allowing investment for profit across the charitable sector could cause huge problems. But for a well-funded and well run organization, it can bring great benefits.

Attracting Skills

For many employees, the lure of the private sector isn’t the money – it’s the ability to work more freely, act more quickly and behave more creatively. It’s a sad truth that strong regulations and fear of public criticism often lead to conservative management and slow processes in the public and charitable sectors. The motivational techniques used to counter these problems in the private sector, such as target related rewards, are often seen as inappropriate. This can make it hard for charities to attract the most skilled, experienced and energetic staff.

A private enterprise with charitable aims can avoid developing this sort of sluggish, risk-averse culture. With more freedom to run as they see fit, the management can apply the best tools for the job.

A Mixed Model for the Future

There is clearly still a huge place for registered charities and government intervention in improving our world. But there is also a place for organizations like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, doing what charities can’t. Business can and should be about society, not just money. And on the flip side, social endeavors should feel free to get down to business.

Originally appeared on Switch and Shift: http://switchandshift.com/zuckerbergs-llc-future-social-business

Applying Analytics in a Human Way

Big data has been one of the big trends of the past year. But by its very nature it can be dehumanizing, distancing us from the reality of people’s lived experience. The challenge we must face this year, and going forward from it, is how to connect that analytics into the lived experience of employees and so use big data in a more human way.

Encouraging Self-awareness

One of the growing trends in big data is using its power to understand and manage talent. At the moment, this is often viewed from a high level. Managers use the data to identify gaps in the talent pool within their organizations, as well as for opportunities to grow the existing skill base. That insight becomes the basis for broad talent development strategies, which eventually filter down into individual training and development.

But there’s a disconnect between the data and the ways that employees experience the results. While the organization is using data to self-reflect and improve, it isn’t using it to give employees the same opportunity.

The best learning and development comes from understanding ourselves. If we can use the available data to increase employees’ self-awareness then we can make them agents of their own talent development, not just recipients of training courses. We should use the data to help them understand their own performance, put that performance in the wider context of the business, and show them what they could be achieving.

It’s about connecting the abstract numbers to the people on the ground.

Training the Analysts

We spend a lot of time considering how we use big data, but not so much on the processes behind acquiring and analyzing it. The fact is, if we want to get more meaningful, human outputs then we need to think about the people doing the work in meaningful, human ways.

The first instinct whenever a new approach is introduced is for it to be taught and developed in old-fashioned ways. We become so focused on the novel content that we forget the important business of how it’s delivered. But there are few more depersonalized, inhuman experiences than old-fashioned rote learning.

Steps are already being taken to ensure that analytics is taught and developed in more human ways, such as through gamification and modern training techniques. Building up tools for this sort of training, and the infrastructure to support them, will help to ensure that big data is used to its fullest potential.

Admit to Flaws

Sometimes we’re so blinded by the power and potential of data that we ignore the flaws in the numbers that we’re using. Again, this comes from forgetting the human element behind all of this, the fact that one way or another human beings have got this data into the system, and that we all make mistakes.

Recognizing the flaws and limits of our data is vital if we’re to use it well. We shouldn’t ignore flaws in our data or make excuses for them, but neither should we expect an impossible degree of perfection. Recognizing how far we can rely on that data, what questions it can answer and which ones it can’t, is as important to using it well as any statistical tool.

There will be times when the data contradicts the views of human beings doing the work. Often, this will be because people can’t see the big picture or are blinded by their assumptions. But sometimes it will be because the data is flawed. We have to look out for both options.

We need to be careful not to ignore the lived human experience in our rush to use big data, but instead use that experience to understand the data better.

Change - painting apple

The recent outcry over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and its potential use to discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has caused a storm that has drawn businesses into a controversial legal and ethical discussion. It has shown that businesses of any size can act in a socially responsible way, and that doing so, far from harming the bottom line, can do great things for a brand.

Stepping Into the Gap

It would be hard to identify two more successful and widely recognized brands than Gap and Levi Strauss & Co. When it comes to social responsibility, they have until recently taken quite different paths. Gap has been outspoken on issues such as equal pay, while Levi Strauss has largely avoided the spotlight of social activism.

Not any more. Following the enactment of the RFRA, leaders of the two clothing giants came together to condemn the law as ‘legalized discrimination’. They attacked the law, while making clear that their businesses were friendly toward the LGBT community.

In an America increasingly polarized between conservative and liberal movements, this might seem like a damaging step for a company’s bottom line, and it shows great responsibility for a large company to step up and make its voice heard.

Businesses of All Sizes

More courageous, and arguably more important, is the stance taken by small businesses in Indiana. Many of them quickly signed up to a group called Open for Service, in which businesses openly state their support for and openness to the LGBT community. The organization went international, attracting over 2,000 members within a few weeks. With stickers in shop windows, a directory of registered businesses and a fund for future social business ventures, it showed that small businesses could make their voice heard, especially by banding together.

This was a much bigger risk for small Indiana businesses, who could have lost income from customers who supported the RFRA. But it raised their profile and brought a statement of inclusiveness into a divided community. It also ensured custom from the movement’s many supporters, just as Gap and Levi Strauss’s stance bought them more loyalty from LGBT customers.

Passionate Purpose

The RFRA remains a controversial issue. Supporters of the act might argue that they are the ones acting out of a sense of social responsibility, protecting religious freedoms based on the values they support. And this brings us to the heart of real social responsibility – acting on a passionate purpose.

Whatever you believe socially responsible behavior looks like, it touches on what is important to you. By stirring the emotions it can draw criticism, but it also galvanizes support. It gives people more reason to care about your business one way or another. Indifference can kill a business just as surely as hatred. Accepting that you will be criticized, and in return making your staff and customers care, will add real energy to your work.

87% of consumers consider a company’s social responsibility to be important. That’s a lot of customers to reach out to.

Using Your Power

We all have the power to make a difference, whether we’re running a huge corporation or starting up a small business. The RFRA, far from showing the danger of businesses taking a social stance, has reminded us that anyone can make a difference in the world. It has been a reminder that being socially responsible, taking a stance and sticking to it, can do a business far more good than harm. And as Indiana Governor Mike Pence rushed to alter the RFRA, it has shown us how much impact that purpose can have.

Being socially responsible makes us better people, and it makes our organizations into better businesses.

How much difference did you make today? If you were to step back and look at that work, would you feel like you added real value to the world, or just kept things ticking over?

It’s easy to slip into doing the same old thing with your work; to take the safe options rather than rise to the challenge; to follow the aims set out for you by others.

Easy but not satisfying, and not the best that you could do for you or for the world around you.

Rising to the challenge

If you want to make a difference then you need to rise to the challenge, and the first step is identifying a challenge that’s worthwhile.

Look for a problem in the world around you, an absence or a failing, something that doesn’t just make you think but that makes you feel like there is a need for change. Tesla Motors have done this with their bold dedication to producing electric cars. They’ve identified a need for more environmentally friendly cars that are enjoyable to drive. They’ve risen to that challenge, driving down the cost of eco conscious living in the face of some huge difficulties.

Part of finding your challenge lies in recognizing that business does not exist in a vacuum. It is linked to wider social and environmental issues, and if we don’t support our world and society then it won’t support business. Find a purpose, a way for your business to have an impact, and set that as your goal.

Asking why

This is about more than just leaping to the first, most obvious solution. Look deeply at the problem you’ve seen, whether it’s litter on the streets, an educational shortfall or any of the hundreds of other causes that fire people’s passions. Take a tip from the Toyota Production System and ask why things are the way they are, asking again and again until you get to the root of the problem.

Then look at the solutions on offer and ask why they don’t work. Even chimps can look at the behavior of others around them and spot the flaws, finding a better way through. There’s no excuse for us not to.

If you already have an established business and are looking to transform it then ask what harm social and environmental damage are doing to your business, and how you could do something to solve this. Show your employees and shareholders how the solution helps them.

Believe in yourself, believe in better

Staying focused is vital to success. That’s as true in keeping to your purpose as it is in juggling your daily tasks. There will be times when the obstacles seem insurmountable, when flashy distractions and easy options might lure you away from your purpose. But if you believe in yourself, if you believe in your cause and your ability to make a change, then you can overcome anything.

Look again at Tesla Motors. Following the financial crisis the motor industry was in disarray. Even General Motors was filing for bankruptcy, and against this backdrop it was all but impossible to find funding for a relatively unknown car firm, especially one with such a radical and risky focus. But Tesla stuck with it, they found their funding, and they have gone on to provide real innovation in the industry. By the first quarter of 2013 they were posting profits for the first time in their history.

If you have a purpose that people value then they will come round to your cause. If you have a purpose that you value then you will be able to stick with it, even when the going gets tough.

Find your purpose. Live your impact. Make a difference, for you and for the world.

You might not know it from the way we sometimes talk, but business is all about people. In the spirit of keeping that in focus, here are some of the human-centered trends that we can expect to see in 2015.

Customer, Customer, Customer

British Prime Minister Tony Blair once said that his top three priorities were education, education and education. In a similar way, if we really want to work well then the customer should be our first, second and third priority, with everything else following along behind.

Customer focus is hardly a new trend, but as social media empowers customers to become our best advocates or our greatest critics, customers should appear in all of our discussions.

For many businesses this will be a matter of smoothing out the wrinkles in their processes, making customer service extra smooth or resolving complaints with speed and a smile. But for others it may go deeper, using customer-focused models such as lean process improvement to redesign ways of working from customer needs up.

The most visible arena for customer focus is social media. As we leave behind old mass advertising trends we move into an age of personalized messages and ongoing interaction, in which our work truly revolves around the customer.

Tracking Technology

From work tracking software to wearable gadgets, technology is giving us ever greater opportunities to measure what employees are doing. This has the potentially to be enormously liberating or terribly oppressive, depending upon who it empowers. But for better or for worse, it will be centered on people.

The University of Notre Dame recently listed wearable technology among the top ethical dilemmas for the coming year. It creates greater opportunities than ever to track what work is being done, when, where and how. It could provide valuable information about the flow of activity around offices and factory floors, and so allow ever more efficient work. But it also opens up the risk that employers will use the technology to infringe upon the privacy of employees, to leave them feeling watched and controlled, and to micromanage them in wasteful and restrictive ways.

The best use of this technology may be to use it to empower employees themselves, keeping them informed about their own working practices, providing data to use in self-improvement. The potential is huge, and the coming year will doubtless provide examples we can’t even imagine yet.

Gaining by Giving

Our economy is so built around taking for ourselves, whether as individuals or businesses, that the power of giving and the human connection it makes has often been forgotten. Yet anthropologists and historians such as Henri Pirenne long ago showed that this is far from the only model, and that giving goods away can be the most powerful tool in growing your own status.

This principle is re-emerging in the information age, as digital products make it possible to give away products at no cost, and to use this to grow a customer base. It lets customers see you as a person with ideas and values, not just a name. Giving something away is incredibly powerful in building brand power, and is the basis of the best social marketing, in which articles and information are given out to draw in attention. It’s growing into a common strategy for authors, giving away the first e-book in a series to hook readers on the rest.

Giving things away to grow your influence is a principle that can be expanded into other areas of business, such as HR. As we find new ways to use it, it will help to add the human touch over the coming year.

The idea that business should be value driven is an increasingly influential one, and rightly so. The days when we could be content to make profit our only value, and when we could delude ourselves that that in itself was not a value judgment, are far behind us, and values are now being used to anchor leadership in all sorts of businesses.

Making the best use of this, like any insight, involves understanding why it works. Fortunately management is a field that draws on many disciplines, and in this case we can learn much from French philosopher Albert Camus.


In his 1951 book The Rebel, Camus discussed at length how values shape us, our behavior and society, and also the nature of values. Drawing upon Andre Lalande’s Vocabulaire Philosophique, Camus said that values ‘represent a transition from facts to rights, from what is desired to what is desirable’.

In other words, values let us step away from the world as it is and demand that it be better, to leave behind the material and mundane, saying that there is something more to us than just flesh and bones, or in the context of work more than the money we are paid.

This idea that we are something more, and that the world can be something more, is hugely appealing and gives values much of their power to motivate.


Given the book’s title, it’s no surprise that in The Rebel, Camus concerned himself with the act of rebellion. But he saw it not just as a political act, or a cultural one as it would become in the following decade of rock’n’roll. For Camus, rebellion was the act of moving from just believing in ideals to asserting them. Having recognized our values, rebellion is us putting them into action.

This is part of why asserting our values can be so liberating and energizing, even in the workplace. Acting on values is a moment when, instead of bowing to peer pressure and the dominant systems, we set our own path and become rebels with a cause.


This might make it sound like values are something that set us against each other in acts of conflict and revolt. But far from it. Camus saw that the recognition of values and the act of rebellion were based upon seeing something worthwhile in our shared humanity, something that made the risks inherent in rebellion worthwhile.

By working towards a set of values we affirm something deeper in ourselves, the people we work with and the people we work for. We act out a belief that we are more than just cogs in a commercial machine. That affirmation makes us feel more connected to one another, more important to the world.

The act of rebellion, of asserting values, is all about finding something that we share.


So what does this mean for us as leaders?

It means that any set of values should be rooted in an ideal of how we believe the world should work, guiding us in moving the world towards that. This will always be more inspiring than something compromised and broken.

It means that we need to provide an opportunity for employees to act on those values, to back them up when that goes against common behavior, to support them in feeling like rebels.

It means that values are something we should share, and should celebrate sharing, because they are what we see as best in the people around us, and can be hugely unifying.

Our values should say to the world, as Camus put it, ‘this is how I want things to be’.