With a growing population seeking a better lifestyle to be delivered from a planet with finite resources, is business equipped to deliver? What customers, suppliers, employees, governments and society expect from business is changing. With more access to more information, there is a greater risk of exposure and a demand for accountability. We all want business to succeed, but not at any cost. 'Good' growth’ is in everyone's interest and the new measure of success. But how do you work out what 'good' looks like? Here we talk about some of the issues.
The world craves growth. The developing world needs growth to pull people out of poverty. The developed world needs growth to tackle mounting unemployment and large government deficits.
But is the growth we’re pursuing doing more harm than good? Rapid booms are followed by shattering busts. Pollution is escalating. Precious resources are being drained away.
If we do need to look at growth in a new way what would it look like?
Is growth good when it eats up resources and the community pays a bigger price (e.g. through adverse impacts on health) than the financial gain it generates? Is growth good when one company’s gain in market share is another’s loss? Is growth good when overall wellbeing does not change or there is no increase in GDP?
Good growth is real, inclusive, responsible and lasting. Good growth benefits everyone – consumers, communities, the economy and shareholders alike. Good growth makes good business sense as companies perform better in communities that are stable, healthy and prosperous. So, what do we mean?
Real growth generates wealth rather than simply shifting market share from one company to another (what’s called ‘zero sum growth’). Innovation drives ‘real’ growth by providing solutions that meet people’s needs and aspirations e.g. affordable sanitation for the urban poor creates new a win:win for the company and the community.
Growth that benefits a few at the expense of many just isn’t good. Inclusive growth benefits everyone. For example, mineral rich economies need to balance creating an environment in which businesses thrive with a desire to make sure communities benefit too.
Responsible growth looks at the total impact of doing business, rather than just the profits from business. Financial return can’t be gauged in isolation from the tax contribution, environmental impact and the effect on community stability, health and prosperity.
Lasting growth invests in the future and considers returns over the long-term. For some, meeting short term targets (e.g. based on share-price increases or dividend payments), shows that a company is in good shape and on track. But if this means investment opportunities are being missed, others will think it short sighted. If we only look ahead six months or three years, who will commit to investment that sees strong returns over ten? Who has the confidence and the vision?
But what do you think makes for ‘good growth’?
Can we really have it all or will we have to accept trade-offs and sacrifices? How will we know that we’re doing the right thing?
“My primary responsibility is to my shareholders. If they’re happy then I’m doing well”. But how well are you doing? Could you be failing in your duty to protect shareholder interests if your business is not sustainable over the long-term? What about your responsibilities to the customers that buy your products, your suppliers that provide components or raw materials, and communities that supply your workforce?
Do you need to think about your business in a different way? Your business generates value that extends beyond its share price, when things go well or not it’s not just shareholders who feel it. So what are the risks of ignoring the developments that are reshaping how businesses operate and how they measure success?
Business needs to look at the big picture – open the curtains wide and take in the whole view. There’s a growing need to understand an organisation’s footprint, how its activity has an impact on the environment, society and economy.