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Nice to Have … or … Need to Have?

Recently a friend was being interviewed on a podcast about her services which support and celebrate changemakers in the world. The host asked the audience if her services were a “nice to have” or a “need to have.” The responses were varied, but they leaned heavily toward the “nice to have” side of the scorecard.

We often see social impact programs relegated to the passionless friends only category. Why is that? It strikes me that we are pretty passionate when we speak about our political viewpoints on social issues such as human trafficking, abortion, nuclear war, pay equalization, LGBTQ, trade, diplomacy, taxes, cyberbullying, healthcare, climate change, voters rights and a myriad of other issues that show up in our daily news feed. We are vocal because every single one of these issues have to do with our humanity, with us as social creatures.

Some of the issues may seem like they are distant and belong to others but, trust me when I say, they are edging into to your own backyard. In the near future, they may be knocking on your door. You may find that “they” have become “us”, and the need quotient has risen exponentially on your meter. Until that time, is fixing someone else’s problem a “nice to have” or a “need to have”?

It’s a question I ask every day when I speak with businesses toying with the idea of implementing social impact programs as strategic drivers for growth and accountability. New generations of talent look for conscious cultures, impact investors want their money to have purpose as well as a robust ROI and, customers want to do business with solid corporate citizens. But, business owners struggle with whether these initiatives will dramatically increase their expenses and impact their resources, ultimately reducing their bottom line. Shortsighted, they often believe they can’t afford to lose money just to be nice.

What we know is that the stakeholder business model (as opposed to the shareholder model) is a long game, not the short game of quarterly returns and quick hits. I concede that the business of doing business in the for-profit world was historically to make money for shareholders, to the exclusion of all else. And, that the nonprofits were anointed the caretakers of the problems that faced at risk populations. No longer - companies are now expected to join the nonprofit sector to resolve social issues - both internally and externally. Value exchange and win-win are the new buzz words.

Statistics show that nice guys DON’T finish last despite this negative connotation. Somehow the word nice feels mild and meek, kind of Pollyanna like, rather than agreeable or satisfactory. Can you only win if you are a jerk, greedy or thoughtless? Apparently not, because companies with worthy social impact programs are actually doing better than the Fortune 500. The “nice to have” has become a “need to have” just to stay competitive for talent, customers, investment dollars and brand image.

Still, companies are stepping carefully into uncharted waters unsure if the programs should be integrated into their daily business and culture or relegated to their foundations or philanthropy committees. Stuck a few decades ago in “they” vs “us” thinking, they believe that writing a check is sufficient to score points. Those days are gone. The relevant questions now are:

  • Are you being “nice”, agreeable and empathetic to your employees?

  • Are you being “nice” to your vendors, offering them the payment terms, partnerships and transparency that they need in win-win relationships?

  • Are you being “nice” to your investors who want you to add feel good dollars to their accounts in addition to financial returns?

  • Are you being “nice” to your community, a good neighbor?

  • Are you being “nice” to your planet, leaving a zero-footprint behind?

  • Are you being “nice”, focused on humanity and a higher purpose or greed only?

For me, a “nice to have” means I may not buy the new couch if I have a perfectly functional couch and no one gains anything with the new purchase. But, if someone is at risk of being hurt when they sit on it, then its heading to the dumpster and I’m heading to the store. At what point does nice shift to responsible in your world?

Copyright © 2019

All rights reserved – Linda Lattimore

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