More than 10 years ago I had a coaching client who was the CEO and primary shareholder of a fairly large company.
He was struggling.
As the original founder of the company, he felt a tremendous obligation to his employees, particularly those who had been with him from the beginning, to provide a secure and nurturing environment: a sense of community. At the same time, he also felt a sense of responsibility to the shareholders: some of whom were lifelong friends or family members.
Each and every decision he had to make seemed to be painfully splitting him into different parts of himself. Should he look after the needs and well-being of the people who show up for work every day? Should he be doing the right thing environmentally, and be a good steward to the planet? Or should he be primarily responsible for creating profits as high as possible for the people who have trusted him with their investment?
As it happens, that particular coaching client also had a young family. He was a great dad. They did all kinds of great trips together, some overseas.
One day we had a particular conversation. He was concerned about his eight-year-old daughter’s grades at school, which were slipping. He wanted her to get into the habit of doing well academically, so that she could later have a good chance of getting into a good university. “What about the trip you have planned at Easter time to go skiing in Utah?” I asked him. “Do you think that will directly contribute to her getting better grades?”
“Of course not, what a strange question!” He replied to me.
“And what about the bike rides you all go on together each Sunday, how do they help to improve her grades?” I went on to quiz him about all kinds of things they did together as a family: visiting the grandparents, sports, having friends over for sleepovers, taking care of their animals. It didn’t take him long to see that getting good grades was only one part of his relationship with his children. Having fun, staying healthy, feeling connection with each other, and essentially enjoying being a child were all equally important, and hopefully more important, than a linear measure of academic success.
“Besides,” he said “She’s much more likely to do well at school if she feels happy, if she’s creative, if she’s eating well and feeling stimulated.”
I don’t know if he saw it coming, but there it was: the argument that he needed to present to his shareholders. Running a business cannot possibly be reduced down to a simple measurement of quarterly returns. It would be like evaluating raising a family solely on academic grades. Sure, it’s a great thing for your kids to do well at school. But if you measure everything about family life only based on that, you’ve missed out on most of the best things of being a parent.
If we measure the success of a company only based on profit, we’ve missed out on the most inspiring possibilities of creating a sustainable organization.
That conversation with my coaching client happened more than 10 years ago. Since then, the idea of “multiple bottom lines” has become more and more commonly accepted by businesses of all sizes and financial structures. In my 2005 book The Translucent Revolution I tell the story of what happened to BP. Those two letters used to stand for “British Petroleum,” but after some disastrous PR, the company did a dramatic internal restructuring. The same two letters later referred to “Beyond Petroleum,” and the CEO went on record to set a goal to end the company’s involvement in fossil fuels by 2030.
The annual report for two years in a row was titled: “People, Planet, Profit.”
This is often referred to now as PPP by many organizations. The chairman’s introduction at the beginning of the report made it clear that these multiple bottom lines were exactly in that order: first take care of the people who make up the company, second honor the responsibility the company has to treat the planet in a sustainable way, and third be responsible to shareholders to remain profitable.
BP has in fact wobbled since then in its commitment to these values, but the idea of multiple bottom lines has spread far and wide.
In an earlier article in this series I mentioned my friend, who is in a senior position in the HR department of one of the world’s biggest technology companies. You may remember, he saw a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in London, and it led him to question which of today’s commonly accepted values we would regard as archaic in 30 years. His conclusion was the way we go to work. He actually went on to comment on the “People” part of multiple bottom lines. “It just doesn’t go anywhere near far enough,” he said. “If we compare it to slavery, then many of the perks that companies provide are comparable to slave owners allowing their slaves to sing Spirituals while working. It’s a nice gesture, but slaves are still slaves.”
Many companies today have installed game rooms, happy hour, field trips, and even massage at work in an attempt to take care of the “People” part of PPP.
But many people feel it does not go far enough.
So how do we measure what is “going far enough?”
After many hours of conversation with my friend, we came up with a very simple formula as an answer to this question. And here it is.
My kids are both grown now. They are doing well, both working and studying and completely self-sufficient. Chameli and I have become what is commonly known as “empty-nesters.” What this means is that I can do whatever I damn well want with my time. I can travel where I want, when I want, I can spend the whole day in bed if I choose to, I can go hiking all day or…in fact just about anything I please.
Let me tell you what I’ve ended up doing with this vast vista of free choice. Most days, I wake up naturally with the dawn, between six and seven. I usually get up and practice Chi Kung for about an hour and a half. Why? Because I love it, it’s good for me, and I have a better day as a result. Then I have a shower and a cup of tea. And then I take the commute, all the way from the kitchen to my office, which takes me about six seconds.
I fire up my computer, and I start to w…
I was going to say “work,” but it’s not really the right word: what I really do is play. I play at writing blogs like this. I play at writing books. I have a lot of fun playing with people all over the world, in a very stimulating game called “let’s train to become coaches.” I play at talking to interesting people, who are doing fascinating things, and they also pay me to talk to them, in a game called “coaching.” I do this kind of thing all day, often until seven or eight at night. If friends call me up to go for a walk, or to go for lunch, I often tell them I’m much too busy playing and having fun to be able to stop.
Passion. The point here is that I spend all my time in these kind of activities not because I have to, not because I’m under any obligation to go to work, and not because I’m desperate for money. I do it because I choose to, because I love it, and because it’s my…wait for it…it’s my passion.
Passion. That’s the fourth P. In my opinion, its the P that the understanding of multiple bottom lines has not yet stretched to.
People have a right not only to the pursuit of happiness—they have a right to the pursuit of passion.
My current business manager, as well as my previous one, both have a passionate involvement in the Mankind Project. Several times a year each of them goes off to be part of the staff at a Mankind Project initiation weekend. It’s a right of passage for men. They pay their own way to get to the event. They pay for their own lodging. And, as far as I understand they also pay something to be there. And what are they doing, while they are there? They are working in the kitchen, or in the event room itself. But this is the kind of “work” that they love so much that they are willing to pay to do it.
As I write this post for you I am about to get on a plane to go to an event I am teaching in Germany. At such events there are generally a few dozen people who are participants. They pay to be there. There are also a bunch of others who are “assisting.” They are providing support for the event. And just like my business managers, they pay to go there, they pay for accommodation. This is the kind of “work” that generates so much passion, not only do you not need to get paid, but you’re willing to pay to be there.
These examples absolutely prove that it is possible to bring people together into a particular kind of environment, where they are performing tasks with accountability, (commonly known as “working”) but the nature of the environment, and the relationship between the people, the kind of tasks they are doing, and the context in which those tests are being performed, all add up to the fact that people are willing to pay to be there.
That is the meaning of passion. You do what you do because you love it. If you have to pay to do it, you willingly pay: because you love it so much. If you’re lucky enough, like me, to actually get paid to do what you passionately love, (which I would otherwise be willing to pay for anyway) then so much the better.
This is the potential of business and organizations of all kinds. It’s the fourth P.
This is “going far enough” to create an environment which people want to be in out of genuine passion.
If they get paid as well, its gravy.
Just like my friend with his children and his recognition that academic grades are absolutely not a good measure for the health of the family, so profit is essential for business to be sustainable. But it is an absolutely stupid measurement to put at the center of measuring any business’s well-being. Bringing people together every day for many hours is an opportunity to create a place of passion. A place where people can explore their deepest potential in every possible way.
Where people can explore their untapped brilliance.
We have already been able to achieve this in an absolutely measurable, repeatable, and predictable way with individuals: in all kinds of work environments.
In the next article in this series I’m going to share with you the five essential keys to allowing anyone to untap their innate brilliance while still maintaining the external appearance of “going to work.”
Author: Arjuna Ardagh
Editor: Renée P
Image: opensource.com at Flickr