For social enterprises, could choosing colleagues motivated by things other than money be the key to balancing social objectives with business viability? I hope so, because I’m one of them
In a recent Guardian article, Dan Zastawny of Social Innovation Greenhouse CIC explains the need for social enterprises to put “viability” as businesses before their social aims. For Zastawny, ideals alone cannot produce social impact. This is entirely sensible: social enterprises should have aims other than just making stacks of cash, but they still have to operate in the same environment as any other business–and if they want to avoid relying on grants and loans forever, they must be able to hold their own in the marketplace. After all, that’s one of the things that distinguishes them from charities.
But is there then a danger of your organisation’s social aims becoming nothing more than vague, corporate marketing messages? How can organisations ensure that, while they focus on making their work sustainable financially, the organisation’s values don’t disappear?
Leadership guru Jesse Lyn Stoner writes that successful values-driven businesses embody those values in day-to-day decisions. She prescribes processes that staff can follow to ensure that an organisation’s stated values framework is written into the very fabric of working life. However, while (again) sensible, this layer of micromanagement is extra work that most budding, busy social enterprises could do without. So what can a social enterprise do to ensure that these values are inscribed into the daily life of the organisation without a continual and remedial drilling?
Picking your colleagues wisely
This is where a values-driven approach to recruitment comes in. Arguably, social enterprises can eliminate this extra management task by hiring people who are already motivated by the kinds of values shared by that organisation. If you know that everyone in your organisation shares the same values–really shares them, that is, and hasn’t been trained to appear to share them–you are building-in a mechanism that ensures those values are not compromised (too much). And while it’s perfectly possible to train a willing and enthusiastic person in skills necessary for effective trading, it’s much harder to change somebody’s values.
There are other advantages to this approach, too. New colleagues motivated by things other than money are less likely to jump ship as soon as a better-paid opportunity comes along. Your organisation will not need to find a huge salary to attract them. They’re likely to be more flexible and open-minded about their role (rather than moaning about job descriptions) if it means achieving the aims of the organisation. And, of course, they’re unlikely to exploit expenses or other discretionary costs.
These people do exist: I am one
Research by the iOpener Institute has shown that members of Generation Y (that is, people born between 1980 and 2000) are more concerned with job fulfillment than with making money. And actually, I can attest to this personally. I joined NESEP, ostensibly as a Sales and Marketing Executive for the new English expansion of goodmoves, in January this year. While the job was created as a salesperson position, I was not hired for my sales experience: I have very little in the way of a sales background. Most of my professional background (beyond a wide range of part-time jobs) is in higher education: I lectured in English Literature at two different universities throughout and after getting my Ph.D in the same subject.
I’m told that the main reason I got the job over the two harder-nosed and experienced salespeople who were interviewed is because of my values. While obviously I need to earn a living like anybody else, I am not money-motivated. One of the reasons I’ve changed careers from higher education (despite the difference in pay) is because I wanted to do something where I could a) help build something new and satisfying and b) ensure that thing would be of positive value. I work at NESEP because I believe, truly, in the potential of social enterprises to have impact without having to generate ridiculous surpluses to satisfy shareholders, and without relying on either the state or donations to survive. I have objectives in mind beyond making money, and I will try to fill whatever role arises within the job to help achieve them.
Good for business?
How my appointment at NESEP sit with the need to be business-savvy about goodmoves? Well, while I’ve had little previous sales or business experience, I do have a lot of other transferable skills. At the risk of this sounding like the personal statement on a CV, I’m hardworking, have tons of project management, research and IT skills and so on and so forth. More importantly, though, I am learning through our development of goodmoves. We’re taking the model that has been massively successful in Scotland for nearly ten years and rolling it out across England. I’ve had training in sales from both advisers close to NESEP and by our colleagues in Scotland, and we’re developing the business more and more every day with the help of the business support expertise that NESEP delivers every day to Social Enterprises in the North East. In other words: NESEP is taking someone with the right values and giving them business skills.
The next stage
It’s early days yet to tell how successful this approach will be–but I know that I am (or rather, we are) going to be tenacious and face every obstacle as it comes. As things continue, I’ll write more blogs, and share with everyone how things are going. All of us here at NESEP think that it’s crucial to employ people with motivations that can match the unique challenges of social enterprise, to balance social aims with business sense.
What do you think?
Bob Stoate is NESEP’s Sales and Marketing Executive for goodmoves , the only UK-wide jobs website for the sector by the sector (seriously–all the other ones are private).