Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Is a hybrid business model, grafting the non-profit to the for-profit, the next stage?

Tom Chappell, founder of Tom's of Maine
Perhaps he was ahead of his time when, after studying theology at Harvard and then returning to operate his natural products (tooth paste, deodorant, shampoo etc.), he wrote a book entitled Managing Upside Down.
In it he outlines how he transformed his business and his role in it.
Dedicating a minimum of 5% of all profits to be donated to charities and public issues in the area in Maine, and those decisions about where the money would best serve to his staff, he found the results quite astounding.
He also established a breakfast club at the local high school, inviting, through the principal, those students deemed most disengaged from the formal learning process and most likely to drop out.
Searching for each student's passion/interest, Chappell then coached each to develop a business plan for a personal profit-driven enterprise based on their passion and seed-funded each with $500.
Naturally, after the business plan, there were dozens of additional decisions for each incipient aspiring entrepreneur to make under his guidance.
Win-win was not merely a nice slogan; it was a template bridge between an innovative corporate leader and those who could best benefit from his experience and wisdom.
Kids developed a new sense of identity, from listlessness to more focus and determination to make their little business grow.
The community basked in the glow of the sharing interdependence and the book was written and published.
Later, on this side of the 49th parallel, Thomas Homer-Dixon, then a professor at the University of Toronto, entitled The Ingenuity Gap, in which he argues that Canada faces a deficit of    ingenuity at many levels, business, political and cultural.
I have no idea if Chappell ever met Homer-Dixon; however, a recent conversation with an enterprising Canadian business consultant revealed that some business clients are quite reserved and restrained about "growing" their business.
Comfort with the status quo, a perception that "if it ain't broke don't fix it" and a deep and abiding trust 8n the current people on staff are some of the cited reasons for holding to what seems like stability and security to decision-makers.
This consultant commented that he far more enjoyed helping clients "grow" their top line than their bottom line. When asked the meaning of "too" and " bottom" he replied, "Top line refers to revenue and bottom line to profit."
There is  a different attitude, perspective and even satisfaction in paying attention to the "top" line from the "bottom" line.
First, it evokes a longer term vision; it demands more creative energy; it provides a different kind of satisfaction and security that is based on critical evaluations of how the business might serve its own best interests.
The "Canadian" status quo preservation, as a cultural archetype has served our banking institutions for  more than a century....although even they have made considerable strides to diversify in recent decades.
Evolution would describe their general approach and not revolution. However,  their eye and mind on market trends and their place in that market require them to develop a vision long with strategies and tactics to "adapt" even if their record on staff working conditions including pressure to "sell" as a higher priority than client need and remuneration remain at historical and embarrassing low's.
An interesting comment from our resident consultant, "Rarely have I seen a business operating at more than 80% efficiency because if the variability in human performance."
And another observation, "It would probably be more feasible to coach a business grossing between $1 and $2 million to move to $5 or $6 million than to help it move to $2.2 million."
"Why is that?" I inquired.
"Well there are obvious new revenue streams that are not being explored or tapped and, if pursued, would result in more than marginal revenue growth."
The marketplace, like silky putty (no ridicule), is in constant motion and needs monitoring regularly.
When I inquired about the level of commitment to "research" business clients commit to, his reply was a disappointing "very little".
With a tectonic shift in how people are living and making a living, this seems like an appropriate time to re-evaluate how Canadian business is adapting to these changes.
Not only "greening" their emissions and raising the horizon on their flexibility on working conditions and paid ma-and-pa-ternity leave, but on the way decisions are made and what those decisions are meant to accomplish.
Power, the elusive, imperceptible, odorous, tasteless, and ubiquitous unmentionable that slides down the corridors linking offices, that glides without notice along computer programs, that invisibly undergirds the cultural structure in every organization bears both critical investigation and even more critical exposure.
Workers are not colonial infidels;
executives are not automatically revered gurus; middle managers, although mostly gutted in the last two or three decades, like many towns and cities, are not automatons.
The military and quasi-and pseudo-military organizational templates that have been the "norm" for too long can transformed into a much more equitable and trusting and mutually interdependent kind of ethos based on a higher quality of relationships than those imposed by power "down".
Just this weekend, in a conversation with a local leader, I heard these words, Don"t tell me how much money you made in your business venture; I want to know about the number and the quality of relationships you developed and continue to nurture and to be nurtured by."
I nearly fell off the park bench I was sitting on.
There is a useful reference back to Tom Chappell here. His attempt to marry the modus operandi of the non-profit to the for-profit enterprise is more needed now than ever.
Care for a community (a cause, a specific group, a deeply felt need, a new venture in inventing and creating, a new health service...the list is endless) requires and even demands the skills and commitments of sentient and enthusiastic business leaders. And....here is where it gets in tricky...those business leaders need and even require the rewards and the emotional invigoration and adrenaline that can come from public service.
Writing a cheque to some non-profit, even if it brings a tax receipt is not the same as full engagement in that non-profit. Tokenism can and will bring only token reciprocation.
We have a contemporary culture fed by the hot pursuit of money and power...and we have millions who are dispossessed in a variety of ways.
Patronizing condescension, a pat on the head in pity will not put a roof over the homeless, nor will a donation to a minor hockey team's fundraising drive rescue the kid who is already thinking about leaving home and "surfing" the couches if his friends.
Leadership, not bootcamp yelling, but sensitive and sensible and compassionate creative and courageous leaders of men and women who seek their own and their community's wellness can machete their way through the thicket of horrendous news, hateful and hopeless rhetoric and the blindness that accompanies looking down the telescope from the wrong end.
Now, can we together find those leaders from among our own communities?
And can they be recruited to colour outside the boxes of comfort and status quo?

Who knows? 


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home