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The Perfect Trifecta: People, Planet and Profit


Most of us have had a song get stuck in our head. The official term for this occurrence is “earworm.” Years ago, I had a manager who, when anyone on her team would take a shortcut, would dramatically pause, clear her throat, and loudly sing the line, “Take your time, do it right” from the 1970s S.O.S. Band. Since then, and only in my head, I do the same thing when I inevitably try to speed things up too much. And, without exception, immediately following I start singing that song in my head.

Welcome earworm.   

As we move ahead to go back (to work, class, gyms, and life), let’s take the time and do it right. At least more right than perhaps where we left things. There will be critical items to take care of, including new antiviral programs, policies and ways that keep people safer post-COVID-19. And we need to consider the very real and human experience we just shared. People want to matter, and people need to feel relevant.   

In a pre-COVID-19 world, there was still a predominant sense that shareholder value was the goal of most organizations. It was typically viewed as the most important priority of organizations. Despite well-known scandals in the 1990s and early 2000s that proved the need for a deeper purpose and meaning, many businesses and organizations continued to chase after shareholder value and pursue profit as the go-to favorite.  

Don’t get me wrong, making money is both exciting and critical. We do, however, need to acknowledge that there is a stark difference between the meaning and making of profits for organizations than the people who earn it. More than revenue earned, people want to know they play an important role in the process. This signals that we can broaden our focus organizationally.  

As we return to work, we will have more opportunities to synchronize the meaning behind the profits with the experiences of our people. This, by the way, is the best way to achieve shareholder value. Profits don’t precede people; they follow it. As we prepare to salvage the promise of 2020, let’s take the time to do it right and adjust our focus on a broader set of priorities that can help us all find more meaning in the making of profit.  

Sometimes referred to in business as the triple bottom line, people, planet and profit are not a new concept. John Elkington coined the term “Triple Bottom Line” or the 3Ps in 1994 to promote social responsibility within organizations. Much recent research has confirmed that a broader focus on more meaningful outcomes are the key to achieve sustainability. While very recently this perception was gradually gaining momentum, as with many things, COVID-19 has become a stimulant that is accelerating it.  

We are going back to work. You may not have yet assembled your lunch options or dropped off the dry cleaning, but you are thinking about it. Most companies have been forced to take a deep look inside their purpose and core values and reassess all their priorities. It has been a time of uber-quick responses and reactions. This has also led to more moments of reflection and perspective that emerge from close encounters with catastrophe.   

"First and foremost, look to apply broader and deeper levels of meaning to your workplaces by helping people understand why they matter to all of the outcomes you are seeking to generate. This doesn’t change what you are doing as a business and leader, but rather celebrates it more acutely with those who make it happen."– Scott Cawood, president and CEO of WorldatWork

Resilience and Recovery 

We are now turning our sights on the needed readiness for the resilience and recovery stages. And 25-plus years later, Elkington’s pillars give us guidance on how to be more relevant.  

First and foremost, look to apply broader and deeper levels of meaning to your workplaces by helping people understand why they matter to all of the outcomes you are seeking to generate. This doesn’t change what you are doing as a business and leader, but rather celebrates it more acutely with those who make it happen.  

Your organization wants to remain viable and contribute to the larger economic recovery and it can simultaneously create more meaning and purpose in the process. This is the perfect time to reflect on the 3Ps (or your version of that) and shift strategies to help your business, people and community. Take the time now — before Mondays feel like actual Mondays again — and work to add relevance to your resilience plans.   

  1. People. Move the conversation from shareholders to stakeholders. Who counts, and why? This alone is a gamechanger. Including all who have economic interest in the organization provides a greater sense of purpose and diversifies your approach. Shareholders are stakeholders, too.  

Post COVID-19 is the moment to act on that holistic approach to the full ecosystem that creates value including our workforce, customers and communities. WorldatWork recently launched the #KeeptheWorldatWork campaign to bring attention to organizations doing all that is possible to keep their workforce employed. This was done to support people, planet and profit since there are extreme downsides to a prolonged recession.  
Keeping the World at Work has an immediate impact in hopefully avoiding layoffs but also provides an incredible ripple effect that reaches far beyond jobs. Keeping our people working contributes to the solution of the humanitarian and economic crisis that we are facing but also funds vaccines and other prevention strategies. As economies and businesses begin to reopen, we must all focus on creating broader momentum which includes a plan for people, planet and profit.   

  1. Planet. As we begin to emerge from this pandemic, we must keep in mind that a healthier planet improves the quality of life for its people. When we think about this particular P, as in planet, it extends much broader than issues about the climate. It is also about corporate responsibility, doing great work, reducing our carbon footprint, and helping people live a life they find meaningful.  
    Making a difference and helping others has always been a driving core value of most organizations — we just let language like stakeholder value and profit steal the spotlight. People and organizations are so much more than either of those.  
    While people remained quarantined and isolated, there were many headlines about impacts on the environment, and while we will not remain in quarantine forever, we can make changes to our workplaces as a result of what we have learned about working remotely. Commuting into an office every day for work we can accomplish from home is one example. As leaders, we can steer our organization into making better choices in products, actions and interactions that promote an overall better quality of life for all.   
  1. Profit. typically refers to the financial gains of organizations, which in consequence defines their viability. We should never underestimate the importance of profit, especially now when the amount of liquidity an organization has could likely determine its fate. Yet profit on its own is incomplete and does little to help us understand why it matters to our people.  
    We need to extrapolate what goes into profit to get the ultimate value from it. The numerous touch points that result in profit will be more powerful than the actual amount. Profit measures the collective outputs we generated, and this broader view is critical to help your organization and the world kickstart the economy.  
    Look for what generated the profit, the nuances, the moments, the capabilities and do more of it.  Using a broader definition of profit opens up more ways to generate it and in the end, this helps us now with the critical needs for economic recovery, it will also serve as a framework to guide you in your future decision making.   

We are soon going back to work, but we don’t have to go back in the same way we did. Take the time now to do it right. Broaden the focus, and with it, you will broaden the possibility of your people, the chance to sustain the resources of our planet, and the opportunity for more profit.   
For those of you now with earworm, grab some gum and chew it. The repetition of chewing gum distracts the part of the brain that generated the earworm in the first place and is a great way to get rid of it.  

About the Author

Scott Cawood Bio Image

Scott Cawood, Ed.D, CCP, CBP, GRP, CSCP, WLCP is the president and CEO of WorldatWork.

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