Business oath to seek and serve a greater good

I was reading an article in The Economist today about 400 MBA students at Harvard Business School taking an unofficial oath to ‘serve the greater good’. They were rather smugly dismissed as naive or cynically regarded as attempting to market themselves in order to stand out in a competitive graduate job market. But the fact is the new business world they are about to emerge into increasingly requires openness, transparency and genuine community spirit from its leaders in order to succeed.

This may sound stretched but the community can and will hold business accountable if their actions are contrary to these core tenants and take great pride in doing so. Equally it will reward and advocate on behalf of those that drive forward with such positive motive.

By the time these graduates are in senior positions this will only be further amplified as we see increased connectivity between people via social technologies. It will be interesting to see how this will challenge the accepted status quo of corruption in countries around the world. It was only a few days ago the Spanish Prime Minister announced local government corruption had cost the country 4.2 billion euros in the last 10 years . How long will such things be tolerated when we as individuals now have the tools that empower us to mobilise on mass with great ease around a cause. Traditional efforts to gag such movements are useless in social media as best demonstrated by Twitter and the Trafigura toxic waste scandal. You simply have to be a better and more ethical business.

So what does it mean to ‘serve a greater good’ and how far is it from the minds of current business leaders? At 90:10 Group we are privileged to work with Honda who already take this stuff very seriously. They genuinely are a belief based business and take one of their many core tenants ‘be a company society wants to exist’ as a guiding thought throughout their day to day and strategic actions. Others like Cadburys, originally a business grounded in Quaker based beliefs, have always been committed to social reform. These businesses are doing more than ticking the CSR box they are in some cases choosing belief over profit. They have found their ‘greater good’ binds them with the society they exist within and as a group of individuals (employees).

We have developed a workshop with Mark Earls, author of Herd, that demands of a business that it collectively finds its purpose beyond simply selling stuff. A great example he uses to inspire during this process is one that many of you with an interest in social media may well be aware of Howies.

In short they believe in a striving for a high quality in their outdoor clothing products not just because that’s what is demanded of such apparel but they believe the longer these things last the less waste there is rubbishing an old pair of trousers and manufacturing a new one. They live this purpose in all their actions. This really resonates with them as people and with their consumer who, given they are the outdoors type, care passionately about the environment. And it pays. They have a powerful external marketing force made up of passion advocates.

So I think the oath is not an optional one. I think its great that these students have found it unnatural to not do it and hope to see new generations pushing this even further. However I do think it should be evolved a little to read as a ‘promise to SEEK and serve a greater good’.

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