How do we define business success?
Wherever you look, old assumptions are giving way to new realities. Start with what employees expect from their employers. Employees now call on business leaders to take action on social issues in addition to deepening professional opportunities on the job. Product quality has expanded to embrace long tail effects of manufacturing plus the working conditions of contractors who are not even on the pay roll. Leading companies embrace as part of their own environmental footprint how the consumer uses the product in their own home. These effects were once called “externalities.” No more. Human rights. Labor conditions. Environmental impacts. The “business of business” is broadening.
These trends are evident in board rooms and annual meetings, but I saw them in vibrant color at the first gathering of the 2019 First Movers Fellowship class last week in Aspen, Colorado. Twenty-two business managers drawn from diverse industries and continents and cultures met to declare and refine projects they have committed to over the next year. These next-stage innovation projects include initiatives, investments and culture change strategies inside both fast-growing new enterprises and in the largest companies in the world. What these projects have in common is the potential for both a measurable societal benefit and a measurable business benefit.
The Aspen First Mover Fellows convene to practice new techniques that are particularly useful when you need to drive change in a business bureaucracy. How do you “frame” a problem to connect to the mission and reduce barriers to change? What’s the role of story-telling to open minds and build alliances and teams as needed? The Fellows begin to forge a community of fellow-travelers, committed to business as an agent of change, and they give their best back to the group—through peer-coaching and practicing deep-listening with one another.
I have had the pleasure of watching eleven of these cohorts meet for the first time, and over the course of their Fellowship year, hone skills and practice the craft of change. I walk away both inspired and eager for more and deeper connections in the group.
This year, the projects envisioned touched on some themes that help define excellence and quality in business on the forefront of change. Digital transformation that keeps humans and humanity at the center of decision-making. Waste reduction and packaging design that places nature on a par with convenience. The need for industry—and cross-industry collaboration—to tackle the really big issues that confound business and society. Sustainability as a lens on product and business model innovation.
Watch this space for the path that these Fellows pursue and the challenges they undertake.
Congratulations to the nominators and scouts and all of you who work to make the Fellowship sing. Your craft is important. And to the First Mover Fellows of 2019—I am excited to see where you lead us this year, and beyond.