In the USA, in August 2019, Business Roundtable announced the release of a new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, which was signed by 181 CEOs from leading organisations.
Their pledge was to
- Deliver value to their customers.
- Invest in their employees.
- Deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers.
- Support the communities in which they work.
- Generate long-term value for shareholders.
Lofty statements indeed. And to see these pledges delivered will require the proactive buy-in of many of those groups. However, in reality, engaged employees number just 31%, according to Gallup. Other studies show a decline in mental health and job security and an increase in the global deterioration of the environment.
So, how can leaders turn these great intentions into concrete action?
Why should we bother at all? Let’s turn to physics to look for a good explanation and for an opportunity for all of us as individuals.
I’m always impressed by how a rendition of “Dancing Queen” by Abba, or some other classic, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin for example, often sees a dance floor fill with people willing to throw off their inhibitions and gyrate enthusiastically in front of others. If you’re a little younger, you may remember just how mesmerising “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Kylie Minogue was.
What science tells us and what it doesn’t
There are some pure physics at play here, of course. Sound propagates through a medium, such as air, water, or solids. The sound waves are generated by a sound source, such as the vibrating diaphragm of a stereo speaker. The sound source creates vibrations in the surrounding medium. As the source continues to vibrate the medium, the vibrations propagate away from the source at the speed of sound, thus forming the sound wave.
So, our brains receive the sound via a sound wave. But why do we dance? There is another variable here that we can’t make so tangible. We dance because the vibration of the music inspires many of us to get up and boogie. This is more than simply the physics of a sound wave. There is optimism, joy, feeling, freedom, sexuality—all this is communicated from the heart and soul of four Swedish musician-song writers (in the case of Abba). But this connection repeats each time we hear the same recording – unless we hear it at a funeral, where the reaction might be different.
When we create our Edinburgh productions, the annual Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show, it all starts with 15 short play scripts. Each one is 6-10 pages long—that’s all. Words on a page. Black and white. The team must turn these words into living, breathing, believable stories with a narrative drive that keeps everyone fully engaged, including the actors, stage managers, technical operators, and the event hosts (we serve 250 people a day at breakfast). Everything comes together, creating moments that at its best has had people shouting out and cheering loudly with joy at end of a performance.
Even when we look back at the pure physics, when the sound of a musical instrument is played near liquid, or sand on a flat surface, patterns emerge in the liquid that are either harmonious or discordant, depending on the sound qualities.
Something that one person or group of people creates can communicate with many others simply through the vibration that it sends to other people. We can’t really observe or measure the physical cause and effect, but somehow, magic happens.
Good vibrations for younger people
So, what does this have to do with business? Well, we’re living in extraordinary times. According to Campaign Monitor, by 2020, Gen Z is expected to account for 40% of all customers. Even more astounding, one US expert says, “Generation Z is one of the most powerful consumer forces in the market today. Their buying power in the US is $44 billion and expands to $600 billion when considering the influence they have on their parents’ spending.” And they’re likely not so excited by Aretha, Abba, or Kylie, for that matter.
So, what vibrations get this Generation up and dancing? “Giant” by Calvin Harris and Rag’n’Bone Man is one of the most popular dance tracks around for Gen Z and Y:
“Don’t hide your emotion
You can throw down your guard
And freed from the notion
We can be who we are
Oh, you taught me something, yeah
That freedom is ours
It was you who taught me living is
Togetherness, togetherness, togetherness”
How can we create workplaces, enabled by digital technology, where these young people will feel engaged and want to deliver? Freedom, authenticity, feelings and connection…
According to The Guardian, one really important area is how they feel about the way their organisation and its leaders behave. What floats their boats is when their employer is fundamentally “clean and green.” Do they operate in an ethical and planet-positive way? Do they address real social causes or just “tick the box” with a bit of token social responsibility?
My friend and one of our 60 interviewees in my Business Soul Interviews series, Erick Nwanshi, writes about a great initiative at a personal level. He is launching a new app called Initiate that seeks to connect people who are keen to volunteer with community causes that need their help.
Erick Nwanshi by Erick Nwanshi
Erick says: “With Initiate, we aim to simplify the process for businesses to get involved in community issues by increasing visibility of community needs, and at the same time providing a platform for collaboration to flourish between business and non-profit organisations.
“At the individual level, Initiate simplifies the process for getting involved in volunteering by addressing those perceived and actual barriers people typically encounter, enabling us to act more on that impulse to reach out and help others.”
Good vibrations, indeed!
Connections are key too—the human kind of connection, not just electronic. There’s a paradox in this digital, work-from-home world. One of my Business Soul interviewees, Georgia Irving, a Gen-Z business developer for the culture-app company Totem, had this to say:
“I’m a great believer in the whole employee journey from the minute that you sit down in an interview to the time when you decide that it’s for you. I was in a company before Totem that had a terrible culture. Really bad. I had connections to friends and individuals, but my connection to the business wasn’t there. So I knew that culture was important to me. When I started speaking to Totem, it was the interview process that made me think right away that I had a place here.”
We must create connections. We know that something one person, or a group of people, creates really can communicate with others simply through the vibrations that it sends. With the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson, aka the “God particle,” new explanations of how the universe works are appearing all the time.
Pink and fluffy…or pivotal?
Nevertheless, when we talk about soul in business, we are certainly pointing to something that feels intangible and is often invisible. Super-pragmatic and pressured business leaders can easily look beyond these apparently non-core areas (dare I say ‘fluffy’), yet engagement (yes, that word again!) requires many levers that can inspire people to dance – metaphorically speaking – so they are more proactive, energised, and purposeful.
Today’s world needs people to adapt faster and to handle more uncertainty than ever before. The pressure on leaders is immense. They need to energise and lift peoples’ spirits so they will want to do their best. And to focus their effort on the important priorities, even when the chips are down. Which may be the case for some time with the current crises we are facing.
Photo by Artwerx Digital
Some human creations, for example, emails, internal communications, or real actions, create positive vibrations. They engage and inspire customers, staff, suppliers, communities, and shareholders. Others, however, create much darker frequencies, leaving people feeling downcast and pessimistic, especially these younger generations on whom we depend in so many ways.
These are the real day-to-day choices that divide people in business between those who connect positively with the soul of people and those who raise up the darker energies of the consumer-driven ego-mind. In our Soul Business interview series (see our Blog Page for more), former Wickes, Focus DIY and Big Food Group CEO Bill Grimsey was refreshingly frank in his self-appraisal:
“We can frame soul as the behavioural patterns and how your brand is presented. If you look back to the second half of the nineties, and then into the early ‘noughties, you see the greed that was imposed on our way of life by people, me included. The boardroom greed of people like Philip Green, who are the epitome of what I consider to be vulgar and bad behaviour and exploitation of people around the world, says something about the company’s soul.”
I certainly feel that Bill and my generation (but only just!), the Baby Boomers (56-74), and most likely Generation X (42-55), have emerged from a world where the search for status and personal significance and shareholder return has often taken precedence over the considerations of more communal and soulful actions and behaviours. And of course, many people from these groups are the people leading our businesses today.
“…being a generation X, you worked hard, you played hard, but my word, you didn’t show who you really were for fear of slowing the climb on the corporate career ladder. But having that tough robotic outer shell takes a whole different type of energy. It’s exhausting, it’s draining, you must play two different characters. When you’re in the workplace, often you’re second guessing yourself because you’re not being yourself these days. I think those that are still following that autocratic, that old world model of being, find it more challenging. I think they’re finding that that dictatorial approach is not being as effective as it used to be. There are certain institutions where it’s still the rigeur, the military being one of those, where that it is very, very hierarchical and that’s what you need to do. But I think in bigger organizations, you’re getting a pushback.”
So, a cliché perhaps, but we are living in a changing world. High-fives to the 181 CEOs who signed the Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation for creating some positive vibes with their signatures to drive businesses with more soul. They are clearly recognising a much broader dashboard for tracking the well-being of a business. And there are more and more studies showing what good business sense such a strategy is. The key now is how we can all translate this intention to 1000s of moments of truth every day, where people make choices to create good vibrations for customers, employees, communities, the environment, suppliers and their shareholders.
The outcome could be a much more positive world to live in and to work in as we all strive together to create. In the shorter term, getting and keeping your stakeholders fully engaged, heart, heart, and soul, may be the difference between success and failure.
Do you really live your values?
I meet a lot of scepticism and disengagement from people about the idea of company values and purpose. Often this is because the creation and the implementation of these initiatives have been done in a purely scientific way. My experience is that if people don’t want to live your team or organisation’s values down to their toes, at a personal level, then chances are they are more likely a source of disengagement or a lack of alignment.
I recently spoke with Paul Camillin, head of Marketing and Communications at my local football club, Brighton & Hove Albion. We worked with him, the board, the leaders, and their teams as well as fans and customers to carefully co-create a set of core values. Over 350 people were involved, and a full development programme was developed that continues today. The programme focuses on how these values can be embedded and lived in the fan/customer experience, in a context of radical change. The club needed a modernised sports hospitality culture as they went from the cramped Withdean Stadium to the new American Express Community Stadium and to their pursuit of the ultimate prize of Premier League status.
Photo by Phil Reeve
Camillin described how the club really shone through the COVID lockdown. Under the inspirational leadership of CEO and Deputy Chairman Paul Barber, Camillin spoke about the following successes:
- The club kept all their people on the payroll through the season.
- Key executives and the team manager took a voluntary pay cut.
- Players kicked off a £400k fund, contributing out of their own salaries, for local charities.
- Club staff, including the chairman, CEO, and the team manager, worked together to personally telephone fans who were over 70 or vulnerable (over 4000 calls).
- Ring fenced 1000 future match tickets for NHS staff.
- Converted the stadium into the biggest testing centre in the south coast, testing up to 1300 per day.
- Designed a special shirt; American Express gave their sponsor place to NHS.
- Surplus food from the postponed Arsenal game went to homeless charities.
- All staff online meetings and team building sessions were held via Zoom.
- Rebates or credit balance for next season were sent to season ticket holders; many fans donated their money to the club or charity.
- Online interaction with fans, Q&As, legends, and supporter’s quizzes were created with over 1000 fans attending some forums.
- Regular press conferences each week were held with media.
- Delivered over 1000 meals to people in need.
Each of these acts created a strong vibration that has inspired people inside and outside the club.
“We were blown away by the friendly hospitality we received from everyone we met. It’s so rare to see a new stadium with so much soul.” The Football League.
We live in a world that is demanding more flexibility, teamwork, and humanity than ever before. In recent years, I’ve shared some of my work with leadership training company Achieve Forum. Forum Corporation found, in an extensive international research programme called Strategic Speed, that the ability to implement a strategy is a function of three qualities: clarity, unity and agility. If we want people to survive and thrive in these circumstances, rather than obsessively point the finger at other teams, leaders, government etc, they need real leadership and the right culture: one that has real soul. We need to invest the time and effort to develop and maintain such a climate, especially in the context of the younger people we’re increasingly relying on, and what would seem to be the new normal of hybrid work.
Do you have these qualities in your leaders, teams, and organisation to lead in way that creates a powerful vibration with your stakeholders? Do you have a plan to develop them?
Connect with me on LinkedIn or get in touch via our website if you’d like to explore the practices needed to drive your business forward with soul. Also check for online and live keynotes and masterclasses with me personally. Book me to speak, facilitate, or coach.