We as individuals love our New Year’s resolutions, those steps we promise ourselves we’ll take to improve our health, relationships, and prosperity. But research shows that most resolutions are forgotten within two weeks. It also confirms that when our friends make the same or similar resolutions, we stick with ours longer and do a better job. For this reason, organizations—particularly entrepreneurial businesses—are the perfect places to take on New Year’s resolutions. I propose three that will have the same good effects as personal resolutions by making big contributions toward your business’s growth, our democratic processes and institutions, and Life of Earth.
1. Take early and concerted action to do what makes all of your venture’s stakeholders more vital and viable.
It’s easy for entrepreneurs to make tradeoffs, opting to produce benefits only for their own organizations, planning to do more for others later. But there is no later when it comes to doing what is right and beneficial for all. Think about it. What if we considered only ourselves when we made decisions that affected our families and friends, assuring them that we would make it up to them later? We can see immediately how selfish this is and that it would instantly set in motion a breakdown in reciprocity, undoing our essential, primary bonds.
It’s also true that most of us have not fully developed awareness of the ripple effects of our actions on other people and Earth. We tend to be close-sighted; we see only what is evident to our senses. Make a resolution now to put in place within your organization a reflective practice, to do what my grandmother told me always to do—be considerate. Include this practice in all early and on-going decision-making processes. This is good advice no matter what stage of life your endeavor is in—maybe best when your actions have the scale and longevity to produce either significant harm or evolutionary, beneficial effects on a larger playing field.
To work continually with consideration for all stakeholders goes way beyond doing less harm (sustainability) or giving back (doing good). It requires that we be mindful and intentional about all of our choices and their effects. When this behavior becomes an essential characteristic of business culture, it enables systems to succeed by their own definitions, not ours.
2. Develop and engage the critical thinking skills and personal agency of everyone involved in your value-adding process, from the furthest upstream supplier to the last person to touch an offering as it is delivered.
It’s rare for a business or an individual to be conscious and innovative in every moment, but it’s possible when critical thinking skills are developed. We’re used to hearing complaints from big business about people who have to be told what to do, while entrepreneurial endeavors are full of self-starters. But often those entrepreneurs stop there, at the level of motivation they start with, and thus they lose their entrepreneurial spirit over time. To be self-directed, a person or a business must continually develop personal agency and the ability to think systemically and critically about choices and actions.
In the four years when Seventh Generation grew by double digits in its market, every employee participated in monthly workshops to develop their thinking and self-leadership skills. At the same time they worked on projects and changes strategically targeted to grow the business. Senior management worked three days every month on their personal development, as they were reconceiving the company’s strategic direction. While all this was going on, Seventh Generation also engaged its manufacturing partners in ways that helped them grow. This might seem expensive in terms of time and effort, but the result was triple returns on hours spent, as well as the growth of Seventh Generation’s longer-term capability.
The important factor here is that people work on critical business deliverables at the same time they learn self-management and new systemic thinking processes (living systems modes of thinking). The multiplier effect comes from destabilizing people’s tendency to do things the way they always have, which pops open new ways of thinking that carry over to regular work time and life away from work. At Seventh Generation, it was not only good for business, it was good for democracy. It improved the contribution and engagement skills of co-creators in their local communities and in national organizations and the national democratic process, which ultimately led to their higher-level involvement in leadership at work.
Entrepreneurs cannot wait until they are “bigger” to engage all of their stakeholders. From day one you build your culture and prepare to grow your business. Make a New Year’s resolution to include development of critical thinking skills and personal agency in order to keep entrepreneurial spirit alive.
3. Resolve to forgo the misguided human resource programs or to remove them if they are already part of your organization.
This is a big step and a critical one if you are to retain an ethic and culture of entrepreneurship and build an organization that is responsible in all of its actions. Human resource programs include feedback, incentives, rewards, recognition, rating and ranking, and many other methods for modifying human behavior. They undermine external considering (thinking beyond ourselves) and internal locus of control (knowing that the buck always stops with us, whether we get the outcomes we plan or not). You can’t help but see the damage they do once you know what’s behind them. All of them are based on criteria set by one group of people to determine how well another group is doing or should do. They set artificial, impersonal goals and use behavior modification to achieve them. They train people to look to others to make choices for them and to evaluate their behaviors and results.
Human resource programs have become pervasive in all aspects of human life. They make it easy to manipulate people politically, socially, and personally. They are so familiar now that it’s hard for us to imagine they aren’t morally and practically the right way to get things done. I have noticed some weakening of their hold on us recently, but most businesses still regard them as sacrosanct and they are becoming imbedded in practice sharing and entrepreneurial programs at colleges. Yet they are the antithesis of everything that will grow your business, make democracy flourish, and generate the life and health of Earth.
Human resource programs invite us to be automatons, rather than humans who reflect and think about our choices and effects. Only by resolving to release ourselves from their influence will each of us recover the gift of personal agency, necessary if we are to take full responsibility for our actions, make big contributions to work and life, and live in communities that prosper.
I invite you to discuss all three of these resolutions with your team, and if they interest you, join us for an introduction to The Responsible Entrepreneur Institute (TREI). Sign up to attend our free, one-hour teleseminar on January 10 at 5 pm EST/8 pm PST or to get the recording if you cannot attend. We will look at the three resolutions and how to adopt them into your entrepreneurial venture, and we’ll introduce you to the first six-month program offered by TREI, which will begin in February 2013.
The program offers you the opportunity to learn critical ways to grow great businesses at 40 percent average a year without extracting ever more resources, how to contribute to democracy around the world by the way you run your business at home, and how to foster the development of human beings who are more autonomous, creative, and contributing. This has always been the power of entrepreneurship. Now let’s resolve to avoid the practices that undermine entrepreneurial success.