Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

If you want your company to be more innovative 5: thinking and executing in terms of the triple bottom line

Posted in HR and personnel, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on July 21, 2013

Improving a business as a competitive enterprise, and making it more effectively communicative and collaboratively innovative, can be as simple as providing employees with a place where they can come together and talk. My goal for this series is to at least briefly outline an approach for facilitating conversation and the sharing of ideas and for collaboration in a business, as an enabler of innovative excellence (see HR and Personnel, postings 165 and loosely following for Parts 1-4.)

I began this series with a discussion that focused on enabling employees as creative contributors to the business they work for, at a single location bricks and mortar business (see Part 1: improve the cafeteria and Part 2: build a creative commons area for a single business location.) I then added in the complexities of maintaining this sense of local community connectedness and of communications and collaboration opportunity across more widely physically dispersed organizations (see Part 3: connecting a geographically dispersed workforce and adding in online commons areas to accompany an office-sited commons and across cultural differences and divides (see Part 4: accommodating and thriving on cultural diversity.)

My goal here and for this posting is to put this entire set of issues into a still larger context of corporate culture and the internalized sense of values that the business seeks to hold to and to project to the world, through its vision and implementation of a triple bottom line as a business model approach. But before I get to that, I want to address a communications challenge that becomes progressively more complex and important as a business:

• Expands out from that one bricks and mortar location to include multiple, distantly located offices and other workplace locations and
• As it moves more and more of its basic information systems and communications online.

It becomes more and more difficult for individuals to find each other to communicate with them, or to even know that the people they most need to connect with even exist.

Online social networking and through:

• Third party explicitly business oriented social networking sites such as Xing, Viadeo, or LinkedIn, or
• Third party general social networking sites such as Facebook that for most individual users and uses are publically visible, or
• Third party hosted online groups that can be controlled and limited for access and even for visibility, as if they were maintained in-house on that business’ own servers. Some of the above sites also offer closed, members-only and member organization-only access for special groups that are set up as a premium feature.
• And as an alternative an organization can set up and host its own social networking capability in-house and on its own servers or as hosted through general cloud-based server storage systems.

Once again, this just makes collaborative networking and communications possible, but people still have to find each other for any of this to work. And this challenge and thoughts of addressing it brings me to consideration of the triple bottom line and similar approaches.

Traditionally, businesses have pursued a more strictly fiscal-measures bottom line, or net income approach as this is also called. Think of this by itself as the single bottom line. A double bottom line simultaneously considers that, as a matter of fiscal capability and investments, and also social responsibility. This is closely aligned with the strategic approach of cause marketing where a business pursues and markets itself as holding to larger, societally important values that support both itself as a business and its communities that it exists in. A triple bottom line approach adds in environmental as well as social and related societal factors and metrics, and seeks to position a business and its performance in a fuller context for its impact in this wider arena.

Ultimately and for all three of these basic models: single, double or triple bottom line business development, effective performance and success is all about bringing people together to get things done. Certainly for double and triple bottom line oriented businesses, this significantly means bringing outside stakeholders into the conversation to set goals and priorities and for organizing and contributing effort and value towards achieving them. Essentially the same outwardly including conversations, of course, can be crucial for the single bottom line-oriented business too. But for any business to succeed long term, and certainly in the face of change and its challenges, this has to mean building from a foundation of bringing its own people together so they can effectively communicate and innovate together first. It is not and cannot be possible to effectively bring outside voices into a conversation when the in-house core of that intended conversation is disorganized, largely muted and in disarray.

That communicative connectedness is easiest to achieve in-house when everyone at that business works together and in at least relatively close proximity but even there, and for large businesses that can become a real challenge.

• We all tend to socialize with people we already know, even if our more open and extroverted networkers in our in-house community are more likely to reach out to new potential acquaintances too, striking up conversations with people they do not already know.
• Spatial complexity and distance, and time factors such as work shift differences can serve to keep even the best potential networking collaborations distant from each other and unaware of each other, blocking even our most effective open networkers from finding each other with any real reliability.
• And the limitations that we face as to how many others we can effectively simultaneously keep in networking and communications contact with at any one time enters in here too (see, for example Robin Dunbar and the Limits to Social Networking – a fundamental question of purpose and definition.)

To take that out of the abstract, here focusing on the second of those points as a source of working examples, consider how people who carry out essentially the same jobs and who face essentially the same challenges and opportunities – but on different shifts might never meet due to their work timing differences. So they would never have opportunity to share thoughts in identifying recurring challenges that might be developed into shared opportunities.

Insight and inspiration can come from gaining new awareness from a single instance, and single events usually do serve as triggers in catching our active, conscious attention and in getting us to see in new ways. But that insight usually comes from seeing larger potential that comes from seeing larger patterns, where any individual triggering event is identified as fitting into a larger whole. Recurrence creates real long-term value where simply coming up with an effective one-off, ad hoc solution to a situation that will never repeat is less likely to. When the right people can come together to meet and share ideas those larger and recurring patterns and their opportunities emerge and become visible – and subject to action and development.

• Bottom line, and for this you can consider essentially any type of meaningful bottom line, this all works best when the corporate culture encourages and enables free and open communication and collaboration, and across the boundaries of work scheduling and location and across the boundaries of the table of organization too.
• This works best when people are actively encouraged to meet and to share ideas and where that is actively facilitated.
• That, as a perhaps simplest case is where the redesigned company cafeteria of Part 1 of this series comes in.
• That is where flexible creativity is called for in maintaining that opportunity for connectedness as the business grows and spreads out.
• That is where disruptively new insights can and will come from – and even with greater frequency and more effective follow-through when just considering the more specifically innovative employees in your business, with job descriptions that call for explicit creativity and insight.
• They need input to work from too and they need to be able to effectively communicate their insights to potential stakeholders to gain focus and traction for what they come up with too.

I am going to at least begin to add the complexities of confidentiality and of control of proprietary information to this narrative in my next series installment, and making this work in the face of due diligence-required and even legally mandated barriers to communications and collaboration. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at HR and Personnel and Social Networking and Business.

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