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What "Positive Business" Means to Us

Business is bad. Ask most people and they will agree. Business is part of the problem in our society, not part of the solution. Ask your friends and family and you will likely hear plenty of horror stories about the working world. Pick up the paper, and you’ll likely find a story about the bad behavior of a business. Being part of the business world is a necessary evil. We’ve all got bills to pay. But too often, it doesn’t feel good.

Sadly, the prevailing definition of the purpose of business is from the 1970s: make the most money you can within the confines of the law. Oh, and somehow there are folks who forget about that last part. Over and over, companies demonstrate a preference for adhering to the letter of the law in their aim to drive profit over any moral responsibility to employees, customers, suppliers, or the community. And sometimes also without regard for the shareholders. According to Deloitte Consulting, 80% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs.

We’re trying to change that. And we’re not alone. More and more businesses are realizing that they can do the right thing AND make money. And actually make more money and a bigger impact on all stakeholders over a longer period of time.

Those who have an opportunity to work where they are treated like human beings to be protected, rather than a resource to be exploited, come home at the end of the day feeling good. This should be the rule of the day for all of us, not the exception. Returning from work feeling inspired, safe, fulfilled and grateful is a natural human right to which we are all entitled and not a modern luxury that only a few lucky ones are able to find.

Our sense of right or wrong, despite the letter of the law, matters on a social level. This is the very foundation of civil society. Being a company of high moral standard is the same as being a person of high moral character – a standard not easily determined by the law, but easily felt by anyone. We need to build more organizations that prioritize the care of human beings. As leaders, it is our responsibility to protect our people and, in turn, our people will protect each other and advance the organization together. It is our responsibility to do right by our colleagues, customers, suppliers and communities, as well as our shareholders.

The techniques of positive leadership not only impact society – they are not just soft skills that make the world a better place – research shows that they result in better performance. We need to reverse the damaging effects of prioritizing money, status & power. We need to do what is right.

Adopting positive business practices is good for business, and better for society. Positive organizations:

  • Have more engaged people that drive better results
  • Are more sustainable in a competitive and rapidly changing world
  • Create jobs that enable people learn, grow, and contribute to the betterment of their organization, families and communities
  • Foster high quality relationships across economic, ethic, gender and social differences
  • Actively look for ways to help people become the best versions of themselves
  • Are an essential foundation to a positive and thriving society

At AI, we are lucky that our shareholders share these sentiments, and have allowed us to experiment with many different practices for a long time. We are on a journey to build a high-performing organization that brings out the best in people. We study what other people are doing in this field, we try out the best ideas, and we share our experiences with others. We are part of the Positive Business Consortium and this gives us an opportunity to network, connect, and share ideas with other like-minded businesses, students and researchers. Your feedback and involvement are important too, so please join us on our journey to make AI an extraordinary place to work.

We are not finished, not by a longshot. We are not “great”. But we have come a long way, and we are doing things in the real world that most businesses are not doing, and many wouldn’t even think of doing. Here are some examples:

  • Values that are clearly communicated, deeply meaningful and genuine
  • A clear & compelling higher purpose: protecting people & environment
  • Work-life balance, flexibility on working hours/locations, respect for family time
  • Open book finance, transparency, teaching our people the great game of business
  • Employee representatives on our 401k committee drive decisions & financial learning
  • NPS voice of the customer, customer connections, devotion to service
  • Unique performance feedback, alignment, goal setting & self-appraisal/reflection
  • Published colleague ‘user manuals’ to foster understanding & work relationships
  • Transparent compensation process, management gets less, lowest paid get more
  • Open training for all colleagues on leadership skills, visioning, change, finance

Part of our vision for 2020 is to be a truly great business. An important part of that is continuing our journey to create a positive and high-performing workplace that helps transform our business and society. Are we off to a good start? Yes. Have we done all we can? No. Please join me in this mission to develop a special place that cares about all stakeholders. A place where we are all engaged and fulfilled. A place that is part of the solution for the problems of our society. A workplace that we are proud to build together.