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Now more than ever, business leaders are guiding a workforce and serving consumers who demand that brands stand for more than just profit alone. Smart leaders are asking: How do we harness the power of our brand as a force for good to create more meaning in the world?
As the oldest millennials enter their 40s, and Gen Z establishes their own foothold in the workforce, hierarchal carrots and sticks, two-week vacation policies and incentives that are only tied to profit are motivational tools of the past. The pension was created over 100 years ago, but the food you offer at your headquarters may hold more sway in whether a prospect chooses to work for your brand or a competitor.
The workforce of the future wants to work for an organization that stands for something in the world, and the future is now.
Brands that have a POV, and provide an opportunity to make a difference, stand a greater chance of creating meaning in the world all while galvanizing their workforce and consumers. According to the Presencing Institute, founded by MIT Sloan School of Management senior lecturer Otto Scharmer, there are three “divides” that currently define the era in which we live:
1. The Ecological Divide: a disconnect between ourselves and nature. Currently, we are extracting resources from the planet faster than the earth can regenerate itself. As a result, we are experiencing more severe weather occurrences, increased species extinction and, as we are all too familiar, a rise in natural disasters.
2. The Communal Divide: a disconnect between ourselves and others. We are living in an era of unprecedented polarization. From the rise of nationalism around the world to the raw wounds of systemic racism, all the way to silos and turf wars within organizations, our penchant toward tribalism exacerbates these issues.
3. The Spiritual Divide: a disconnect between our true selves and the version of ourselves we present to the external world. Our collective mental health is in crisis, and the ramifications are playing out before our eyes.
These are big, heady existential divisions that define the times in which we live. If your organization can offer your employees and your consumers an opportunity to be part of the solution, no matter how small, your brand is well on its way to adding more meaning to the world.
Based on my experience, here are some simple ways your brand can help heal the three divides:
Addressing the Ecological Divide
Little things make big differences. Offices around the world are littered with branded merchandise that lacks meaning. Offer swag with purpose. Encourage the elimination of single-use plastic bottles in offices, and provide employees functional, branded reusable bottles.
If you can, consider investing in branded T-shirts and other wearables made with organic cotton, and highlight how significant that is to your teams. Regular cotton is one of the most chemically driven, pesticide-intensive non-food crops in the world. In a distributed workforce, it’s a nice way to be in rapport with colleagues when you see a co-worker on the other side of the world sporting the same T-shirt or taking a sip from the same reusable branded bottle that you have.
Healing the Communal Divide
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts are among the most important initiatives happening across organizations. I talk with leaders daily that fret over whether their DEI strategy is the right strategy. As a foundation, start with cognitive and neuro-diversity. There are powerful diagnostic tools that measure how individuals prefer to think and behave that are scientifically, rather than emotionally, driven. Imagine a DEI program with a diversity of thought and behavior as a foundation. It’s a great way to build a thriving DEI program that allows your people to dance with the tensions of the difficult and sometimes painful conversations that are part of any journey toward significant and lasting social change.
Bridging the Spiritual Divide
For decades the word “spirit” was taboo in many organizations. Regardless of the word, the truth is employee stress, burnout and turnover are at epidemic rates. Mental health issues are on the rise. Some organizations are using technology and harnessing the power of passionate brand advocates to incorporate mindfulness and well-being programs across organizations. Imagine content on meditation, trigger tracking, accountability and stress reduction as digital experiences that communities can participate in together. This collective effort can aid in creating a common vocabulary and shaping culture.
Pandemics, climate change, nationalism, mental health crises — these challenges only get solved by every single human being on planet earth working toward a solution. Corporations, brands, governments and communities are uniquely positioned to galvanize huge populations to the benefit of us all. What are you doing to bridge the three divides of our time? The smallest of actions deeply embedded in your brand’s story can make big differences that make contributions on a global scale. That’s a win for your brand, your people, your consumers and our shared planet.