Our Dilemma

October 13th, 2010

I think that we are kind of beaten down in this country right now. We are feeling the effects of the most traumatic recession in modern history. We have experienced the greatest drop in housing value and the number of foreclosures has never been higher. Unemployment seems stuck at almost 10%. The number of poor has substantially increased with an alarming number of children not having enough food.  Politician’s attempt to hide this reality by coining new terms like “food insecure” so we don’t have to feel that it really is hunger.

These circumstances aren’t about some third world country. They are about the U.S. What is shocking to me is the contrasting data. Financial institutions are reporting all time high profits which in turn are producing record executive bonuses reported to be over $144 Billion (that’s right Billion). Major corporations who have access to public sources of money are getting all the cash they need and more. In fact, they have on hand deposits in excess of $1Trillion dollars. Simultaneously small businesses that are owned by our neighbors and friends continue to be strangled and are doing all they can to just survive.

The forces that brought about the recession seem to have been rewarded for their behavior and those of us that followed the rules have been given the bill. In fact, a recent report exposes that our government and the Federal Reserve Bank has hidden the real state of the largest U.S. bank balance sheets by allowing them to list home mortgages at full value even when they know they are worth 30 to 40 cents on the dollar.

Ok. So I don’t like the way things are. I am clearly not alone – just look at the attraction of the tea party and its friends in the conservative media. But I’m not going to take that route. That route is about tearing apart people trying to make things work and stating that the free market system is what we need. We know that’s code for “let’s get out of the way of big business and let them do what they do best – make more money.”

It’s this sentiment that has my attention. In the background there is a movement that is gaining some traction. We talked about it on the Business Matters program today. It’s the conscious capitalism movement. At its foundation is the belief that sustainable, successful businesses are about taking care of all their stakeholders. That means the customers and the employees and the vendors and the local communities and the planet we inhabit.  What motivates the leaders of these organizations and all the workers is a shared purpose. A Conscious Business has a higher purpose that transcends profit maximization. It is clear about and focused on fulfilling that higher purpose, which evolves dynamically over time.

Conscious businesses are centered in true shared accountability. This shared accountability isn’t focused on controlling the actions of workers. It’s about an intrinsic trust that promotes flexibility, satisfaction and individual passion.

Conscious businesses embody leadership that serves as a steward to both the company’s and its stakeholder’s deeper purpose thereby facilitating a harmony of interests, rather than personal gain.

Business as usual isn’t working. The good news is there are companies who are embracing the conscious capitalism movement. These are public companies and private companies. They are creating new rules of the game of business and the funny thing is, contrary to conventional wisdom, they are also very profitable.

You can play a part in this change. Find out about the companies you buy your goods and services from. If their focus is on maximizing profits, while disregarding its responsibilities to its employees, the environment and society, consider sending them the most impactful message a consumer can. “No thank you.”  This message is best delivered by simply not buying their products.

For those companies who are operating in this new, more responsible way, let them know you like what they are doing. Become their customers. For in the end, you do make the difference.

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