The Struggle to Find Fulfillment in a "Care-less" Business
May 23, 2014
December 31, 2013
I’m glad we sat down for coffee the other day. It gave us time to reflect back on what brought you to this place and why, despite your frustration, I think you are perched on the edge of a real breakthrough.
“Why,” you undoubtedly wonder, “does Chris see things that way?” After all, your recent work with the food venture has been difficult, and the slow growth and other challenges facing the company are unnerving. You find yourself now contemplating another career switch, and wondering if your insistence on caring about more than just the bottom line is incompatible with having enough money to pay the mortgage!
I am optimistic about your future because of the actions in your past that brought you to this present. When you entered financial services as a bright young mind, you grew quickly, assuming broader responsibilities including a consumer product business that was yours to run. It looked like everything was right on track: a maturing marriage, great kids, and a flourishing career. But recall what you felt at the time—a growing sense of malaise and an awareness that something really important was missing. When it all came to a head and your boss’s boss told you, “Elvie, I’m not sure you’ll ever be happy here. You care too much. This organization isn’t the right fit for you,” you must have boiled with frustration. But that senior executive may very well have been right. And while his words were a veritable indictment of a company that requires “care-less” people, you know that they were spoken in kindness and with your best interests at heart. Truth be told, your passion and compassion were perhaps best used at some place other than the bank, and his words gave you the freedom to begin plotting your exit strategy!
But banking is in your past and this start-up venture is your uncertain present. One thing is certain; you are courageous—which I admire—to question once again if is the right fit. There is so much turmoil that your generation faces in today’s work environment. You struggle to succeed within the profit-driven institutions that we boomers have created, and yet you seek more than they have to offer. You in particular have changed industries, tried vastly different roles, risked job security and personal relationships in this search for greater meaning. You are now sitting on the cusp of yet another change and a very uncertain future, but you continue to strive for the right fit and to create an opportunity where caring is critical and celebrated. Though you are paying a heavy cost for it in anxiety and uncertainty, many in your generation of young leaders are changing the business landscape for the better.
As you experience your current struggle to make ends meet and find fulfillment in a career that meets your new definition for success, it is tempting to be discouraged. When you look at us boomers, with more accumulated assets than any generation before, on the brink of such an inherited transfer of wealth that some of us have become “waiters,” it is easy to feel that you can’t catch up. But be encouraged – because the wind is at your back. Business is changing—because of you and others like you. A radically new form of enterprise is taking shape which you and many others are slowly, together, creating—precisely by caring too much.
As consumers and as employees, you are insisting that businesses stand for something, that they solve even just one of the plethora of problems that the stewardship truancy of previous generations has created. You and your ilk quit working with those employers who don’t infuse their places of employment with meaning and purpose. You reject brands that are exploitative and you organize single voices of protest into a cacophony of social-media fueled criticism that prompts immediate re-direction of corporate policy. You demand authenticity such that a brand, once simply declared, must now be bestowed as a social license, and has to be reflected in an authentic expression of corporate culture. You insist not only that businesses make sound choices and that their cultures reflect their brand, but that those who hold positions of authority in the hierarchy—what some call leaders—live out the ideas they espouse. You have wrenched leadership from the domain of technique and pushed it toward being an expression of integrity—an unwavering personal authenticity recognized by others. And your insistence that the institution of business should first of all attempt to solve real human problems and only secondarily earn a reasonable return on capital is forcing a re-think of capitalism itself. The foundation stones of economic theory presumed by generations of commerce are being reexamined.
From where I sit, I’d say that you and your friends have created quite a ruckus in the corridors of corporate power. Just a few months ago, I asked one very successful CEO how he felt about the radical shift he saw happening in business. His reply: “scared shitless!”
Press on Elvie, the wind is at your back. You and your generation are changing business for the better.
Thank you for your kind words and encouragement!
I believe that authenticity and purpose can exist in organizations large or small, across geographies, industries and in the pursuit of solutions to many different human issues. In order for this to happen though, I think that we all must care more. We need to care more about the impact we are having on each other and our environment. We need to care more about the legacy that we will leave for our children. And we need to care more about the true quality of life we enjoy instead of the accumulation of earnings.
It is happening, and I hope more people will join us in encouraging and nurturing this change so that we can accelerate the transformation.
Patience remains an elusive virtue in my life. So I move between organizations trying to accelerate my own learning of what works and how organizations can consciously increase meaning so that I can be a catalyst for this change.
I am currently reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and I believe his thinking on innovation and entrepreneurship is applicable to the structural changes that are taking place. If we could influence more teams to be entrepreneurs of purpose, of brand, and of culture within their organizations, continuously experimenting with how we can create more meaning, measuring the impact on customer loyalty and employee engagement and learning from the results of these hypotheses, I believe we can increase the pace of change.