Values-Driven Business: How to Change the World, Make Money, and Have Fun

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In Values-Driven Business, Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen and Social Venture Network chair Mal Warwick team up to provide you with a way to run your business for profit and personal satisfaction. This practical, down-to-earth book details every step in the process of creating and managing a business that will reflect your personal values, not force you to hide them.

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1: So, why are you in business?

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Perhaps you run a business of your own. For years, you’ve been working impossible hours, neglecting family, friends, and the activities you really enjoy.

Maybe you’re convinced that a business shouldn’t have to treat customers and employees as expendable, ignore the needs of the community where it’s located, or pollute the air and water.

Or maybe you’ve been working for a company that’s making use of few if any of your talents. You’re a cog in someone else’s machine, and you don’t get the respect you deserve. Yet you’ve plugged away, year after year.

Questions about the purpose of life and the meaning of work are certainly not unique to people in business. But they take special shape in the business world. The circumstances that so often lead people in business to wonder about life’s meaning are themselves special.

For one thing, business is commonly regarded in our time as a way to pursue the accumulation of money, pure and simple. Loud voices in the business establishment, in academia, and in government insist that’s so. Sometimes they go much further, asserting that making profits is the only legitimate purpose of business.

 

2: Are you ready to take the plunge?

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You’ve got a great business going. Your customers are happy, your employees are reasonably good at their jobs, and they like you (or at least they act as though they do). People look up to you because you’re successful. The company is profitable. You may not get rich, but you and your family can afford pretty much whatever you need. So what’s the problem?

Something’s missing.

You and your employees are working long, long hours just to stay ahead of the game. You’re not able to spend as much time with family and friends as you’d like.

Or maybe you enjoy your work, but after all these years you’ve started wondering what it means. If you were on your deathbed tomorrow, would you feel as though you’d really accomplished what you wanted in life?

Or perhaps you know that the world around you is in deplorable shape. You want to do something about it, and you’re feeling vaguely guilty about not doing enough.

Whatever the reason, you’ve reached the conclusion that now’s the time to do something different—to take the initiative that will turn things around, to find a meaningful way to fill that void that’s been bugging you.

 

3: First things first YOUR EMPLOYEES

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Once upon a time, when our grandfathers wore knee pants, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. “Efficiency experts” were the superstar management consultants of the era. They worked with managers in manufacturing, wholesale, and retail businesses alike to break down the physical aspects of work into irreducible motions that (as the saying went) “any trained monkey could perform.” Their ideal was to dumb down work, to make workers into true wage slaves, as interchangeable as widgets on the assembly line. Employees became commodities.

Some of today’s businesses still conduct their affairs based on this antiquated and dehumanizing ideal. However, as the twenty-first century unfolds, most of us who are privileged to live in the United States are beginning to have a different understanding of the way the world works:

Those facts speak only to one side of the argument for generous compensation. On the other side of the ledger you’ll find the hidden costs of underpaying your employees:

An understanding of all these facts has led some companies to reject the traditional term “employee” and instead use words such as “associate,” “partner,” and the like.

 

4: Turning the value chain into a “values chain”

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The advocates of the dog-eat-dog school of capitalism contend that just three criteria should be considered when selecting contractors or suppliers: price, quality, and reliability. But if you think that’s the way American consumers think, just ask Nike or the Gap what happened to their sales when some of the factories producing goods for them were exposed for unfair labor practices. Both those companies, having learned the hard way that the American public cares how employees are treated, have since set out to become model corporate citizens.

“Now, hold on!” you might be saying. Sweatshops, child labor, and sixteen-hour-a-day jobs at ten cents an hour represent the extreme case. “Good old Frank’s Machine Shop, which has been supplying our widgets for years, isn’t some Third World sweatshop!”

Fair enough. In most instances, the contractors and suppliers you deal with day after day are reasonable people who run their businesses in full compliance with the law and treat their employees well. They may belong to the Better Business Bureau, the local chamber of commerce, or the Rotary Club and go to the same church, synagogue, or mosque as you. They’re good people, right?

 

5: Developing a dialogue with your customers

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In a business—any business—there is a relationship between the company and its customers. In a successful business, that relationship unfolds in a series of stages that bring customers back again and again. But in a values-driven business, the relationship between company and customer sometimes reaches an even deeper level, where the two become partners in meeting the needs of the community, the nation, or the environment. That, we believe, is the ideal to which a socially responsible business can aspire.

In the table labeled “Who’s on First?” you’ll see one schematic way to look at the development of the relationship between a company and its customers as time goes by.

Any business, no matter how small, whether socially responsible or not, seeks to develop strong, continuing relationships with its customers. Nothing is inherently “responsible” about that. It’s just good business.

You can’t get around it, though: if the values on which you’re building your business don’t include some special consideration for your customers, you have to ask yourself why you are in business:

 

6: Staking out your place in the community

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For almost any retail business, location is critical. A shop on a side street may languish while one on the corner thrives. But anyone in business who has thought through the implications of siting a business is well aware that its location has a great many consequences, good or bad:

However, pragmatic considerations such as these touch on only a part of the question. Just as a dialogue characterizes the relationship between a company and its customers, an ongoing, two-way “conversation” occurs between a business and the surrounding community. At a minimum, a company’s employees are likely to visit local shops and restaurants even if they don’t live nearby. Local residents may covet jobs at the company, whether or not they are qualified. Local governments usually charge business taxes. Community-based nonprofit organizations may seek donations from the company and its employees. The chamber of commerce, the Rotary Club, and other local institutions will probably look to the company or its principal as a potential member. How you handle these relationships—how you manage the dialogue with the community or communities where you do business—can have significant influence on how smoothly your company operates.

 

7: Leaving a lighter footprint on the planet

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Let’s face it. Your company probably isn’t clubbing furry little animals to death or dumping millions of gallons of toxic waste into the river that runs through town. Unless you’re manufacturing something that uses carcinogenic chemicals, creating a Superfund site in your backyard, or actively defying environmental regulations, you may feel that your footprint on the planet isn’t heavy.

Well, guess again. Think about how much you travel (including commuting), about how much energy you and your company use, about the materials in your building, about how much paper is consumed in your work, about the food you eat and the water you use. Simply living and doing business in twenty-first-century America practically ensures that every one of us devours an immoderate share of the earth’s resources. According to Mathis Wackernagel, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading thinkers on environmental impact, if every person on the earth consumed at the level of the average American, we’d need three to five more planets to supply us.3 Just for example, Paul Hawken estimates it takes about 40,000 pounds of materials just to make a 4-pound laptop computer.4

 

8: You really can try this at home!

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It’s your turn now.

You’ve made your way through the seven preceding chapters of this little book (or, at least, we’ll humor ourselves with the thought that you haven’t cheated by skipping to this point to see how the book ends). You’ve traveled with us along a path through the five dimensions of a values-driven business, reviewing how you can relate to your employees, your suppliers, your customers, your community, and the environment in mutually beneficial ways. We’ve described some of the practical steps you can take to live your values—changing the world, making money, and having fun along the way.

Now, don’t make the mistake of concluding that we believe any of this is easy. Running a business is anything but easy. Mistakes are inevitable. For example, consider the time that Ben & Jerry’s was fined by the local environmental authority for exceeding its waste discharge allotment or when the company ordered too much packaging for one of its flavors and had to dump it or when Mal Warwick & Associates stupidly encouraged a new production manager to take the initiative and ended up spending five years paying off an outrageously inflated printing bill.

 

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