Last week I attended the World Business Forum at London’s Excel centre. I must admit that as the days drew nearer I thought I must be mad. It was a 2-day conference happening immediately after my 2 week holiday in Greece.
As it turned out my flight was delayed. I arrived home at 8pm, grabbed a quick bite to eat, unpacked, re-packed and set the alarm for 5.15am the next morning. E-mail inbox still bursting; holiday washing untouched.
However, by the first coffee break, I was completely sold and at the end of each day, I was buzzing.
The speakers were world class. All gurus in their field and fabulous presenters. They were incredibly passionate about their subjects and thus both authentic and engaging. Moreover, the sessions were really challenging.
Gary Hamel talking about organisations as “emotional deadzones” and the “soft tyranny” of business.
Simon Sinek talking about the “massive leadership vacuum in business today” to a room full of business leaders.
Marcus Buckingham sharing his ‘Nine Lies About Work’ including ‘people care about where they work’ and ‘people need feedback.’
And so on.
The presentations were thought-provoking and inspiring in equal measure.
One of the sessions that resonated with me most was Michael Porter’s on Strategy – a topic I have always found fascinating. He talked about the concept of ‘Shared Value.’ Not a new concept apparently. He wrote an article about it in the Harvard Business Review back in 2011. However, it was the first time I had come across it.
He made the point that most businesses are still following Milton Friedman’s economic model from the 1970’s – that of creating profit and driving shareholder value. The “loadsamoney” syndrome of the ‘80s in particular.
Porter’s challenge was that this approach was no longer fit for purpose. We should no longer be focussing solely on shareholder value but on shared value. The idea being that we still needed to create profitable businesses but they should also profit society at the same time.
More importantly that this shouldn’t just be the classic CSR model: give a bit of money to charity here or volunteer for a day or two there. It needed to go much deeper than that. It needed to be a fully integrated part of your strategy. In fact, it could and should drive your strategy.
To that end the most galvanising things he said were twofold:
- “Societal needs represent the largest untapped market opportunities”
- “Business represents the only institution that can meet these needs at scale whilst creating wealth and prosperity.”
Thus he posited that creating a strategy based on societal need is the way brands and businesses can differentiate themselves, drive exponential growth and make a genuine difference in the world.
When you do that, then you will know why your business matters.