The Regenerative Business - redesigning work, cultivate human potential, achieve extraordinary outcomes
By Laura Gibbs
The word ‘regeneration’ is fast becoming the keyword of this decade. With sustainability not living up to its meaning, and with the near daily reports of how climate change, global warming and our lifestyles are irreversibly damaging the planet, we need to think beyond business as normal. And while the business world is going gaga over missions to Mars and self driving cars, Carol Sanford calmly highlights what businesses should be focusing on to survive and become powerfully disruptive in the next 50 years of worldwide change.
A woman with a vision, Carol Sanford has had an impressive forty year career working alongside big (and small) businesses to allow them to reassess the traditional, deep rooted and inherently damaging thinking within businesses, and to realign their organisation to develop people and the stakeholders. Carol most notably focuses on ‘the essence of a business’ who they are, what they offer and who they serve. Big businesses these days are seen as focusing only on profit maximisation with little consideration for the environment.
However, Carol sees the potential within these businesses to transform the world and the business landscape. By understanding the essence of why a business exists, the corporation and employees can align their values to better serving their customers needs and wants. One good example of this comes from Carol’s work with Seventh Generation - a company producing natural plant based baby products. Though looking at what the company wanted to offer, an employee of Seventh Generation took the initiative to train staff at distributing shops on creating a healthy environment for babies, whereby the information would then be passed onto parents. This led to the customers being more informed and eventually growing into a sharing knowledge community, and it also helped Seventh Generation become more trusted by customers.
Alongside the change of organisational focus, Carol imbeds her expertise in businesses becoming more responsible for their own actions. As well as her latest book The Regenerative Business, she is also author of The Responsible Entrepreneur; Four Game-Changing Archetypes for Founders, Leaders, and Impact Investors and The Responsible Business: Reimagining Sustainability and Success. These books have been game changers in the business world and are now required reading at many American Universities including Harvard, Stanford, Haas Berkeley and MIT.
While readers of the Permaculture Association blog might wonder what being a responsible business has to do with permaculture, Carol’s work has a surprising amount of overlap with the earth care, people care and fair share ethics, and believes that caring for people at work will bring about positive outcomes for earth care and fair share.
In The Regenerative Business Carol seeks to show businesses how to evolve into an inspirational changemaker through developing holistic systems within a company. With the main focus being employees, Carol delivers a clear, level headed argument as to why its people should be a business's main priority. If a business inspires an employee's initiative to create systemic effects then those effects can improve the customer's experience and the community, which will then have ripple effects out to landscapes and nations. The power of an innovative company lies within its individuals, and by developing talent and allowing employees the personal agency to follow through on their ideas, a company could see a more meaningful market contribution and a transformation of communities and ecosystems.
The Regenerative Business has case studies of companies far and wide. From Google and Intel, to P&G and Colgate, the book holds countless examples of how a large company has empowered their employees and made systemic changes that creates a space for innovation and genuine improvements for customers and other stakeholders. To some people, big businesses are seen in a negative light, but through The Regenerative Business Carol’s vision of the future can be seen. She expertly picks apart traditional business models of today, and not only explains the unconscious negative effects that they bring to an organisation, but also offers new, holistic and innovative ideas to replace the toxic businesses practices with.
Brainstorming is one ideaCarol labels as toxic, instead offering cognitive dissonance (holding two ideas in the mind at once) as a healthier and more creative option that builds upon current competencies. Common incentive and reward based systems are another practice that needs to be adjusted, with both leading to control over labour and strengthening the bond to superiors rather than the team as a whole. Divided into the aristocracy, behavioural, machine and human potential paradigms, Carol identifies 30 different toxic business practices that need to be reimagined, no matter the size or the industry of the business.
The ideas presented in The Regenerative Business are relevant for any business, permaculture orientated or otherwise, and will move a company towards becoming highly innovative and disruptive in their field. The book is divided into 3 separate sections; part 1 explains the reasons why regenerative work matters and how it will address the challenges of the 21st century. Part 2 is a guide on how to assess your business and its work design. Ideally this will show gaps in holistic practices and force the business to assess where the current practices developed from and how those practices are serving the company. This section asks a business to envision what a truly successful, regenerative and innovate company will look like and asks it to all employees - not just the CEO or shareholders. Part 3 of The Regenerative Business then lays out different phases a company will need to go through in order to grow into a regenerative organisation successfully. The book offers guidance and concepts but encourages each organisation to develop itself uniquely, rather than try to fit into a pre-defined plan.
The Regenerative Business also suggests three criteria for growing human capacity, including giving employees full responsibility for their actions, helping them develop external consideration (caring beyond themselves) and allowing personal agency, whereby they look ‘beyond ableness’ in order to identify things that are achievable in the future but might not be in their ability range now. It is these 3 criteria that will help a company create an environment for employees that sparks change and innovation, but they key is that the company needs to give a certain level of trust and freedom to people to follow through on their ideas.
Throughout the book there are incredibly relevant points about the world of work today and how the world of regenerative businesses would create immense ripple effects leading to a better future. While this book has been written with CEO and higher level executives in mind (perhaps to maximise the potential of change), the contents is applicable for anyone running a business (regardless of size), and also for employees who wish to maximise their potential.
There is often a stigma against big businesses, in regards to their actions towards earth care, people care and fair share ethics, but they also hold the ability and the reach to make great changes to our current economic environment. Carol Sanford could be called brave for attempting to create radical changes within businesses, but she understands that in the essence of a company, businesses firstly want to serve their customers and improve the quality of life for them.
Many companies have evolved using outdated or wrong fitting business models and if they take the initiative to focus on people and their potential transforming effects, then this could mean a whole new era of business. After all imagine a world where regenerative agriculture is a staple in every company’s supply chain, or where permaculture ethics are embedded into a business's DNA and actions. As R. Buckminster Fuller says, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”. And this is what Carol Sanford has been bravely trying to do - tap into the potential of businesses and steer them in the right direction to benefit people, customers, communities, landscapes and in the end, entire nations.