I’m a firm believer that as a leader, you should build your organization based on a purpose, not just profit. At the highest level this business endeavor has been deemed as developing a Triple Bottom Line. As the definition states, a Triple Bottom Line occurs when the financial, social, and environmental effects of a firm's policies and actions determine its viability as a sustainable organization. Today, there are many successful corporate organizations such as Starbucks and General Electric who reflect the realization of this theory.
For me, I have incorporated my passion in mentoring youth as a way to pursue a greater purpose in each of the companies I have been fortunate to lead. The most meaningful mentoring program I influenced was called, “Little Bang”. I hold it close to my heart because our firm’s actions lead to our culture becoming amalgamated around a common, higher purpose to enrich student lives through giving them experience in the business environment. There are many stories to share around this group, one of the best starts toward the end of the five year program.
The program’s structure was simple with the key assignment of the group of students being the development of a product they would take to market. This included how they were going to finance the product. We could have made it simple and invested the $5,000 that was required from our own corporate funds. However, we wanted to give the students the opportunity and the experience that comes with this business aspect. I coordinated two meetings, one with the Abell Foundation and the other with SunTrust Bank. I spoke to each representative and told them what we were doing and insisted that once they heard the students pitch that they would not be able to say no. However, I asked them to refrain from that natural instinct and to treat the group as real businessmen and businesswomen.
The day of the pitch came. For me, it was an amazing personal and professional experience from start to end. The day was broken into two memorable moments…
The Office Rally
The morning of the pitch, numerous employees had gathered in the office to get the 10 students ready. The organization had been entrusted with nurturing the students for so long and you could feel the conclusiveness the moment was bringing to the relationship. Many brought in professional clothing for the students to wear. It was emotionally powerful to witness employees tying ties and choosing the right shoes for these young adults who were in a way ‘graduating’ from all that they had learned from being involved in the program. This simple office rally was the perfect ceremony to kick off the capstone of the student’s project.The impact on the students may have been outdone by the sense of pride and camaraderie that surged throughout the entire office.
All 10 students, my colleague and I, assembled into the elevator at the atrium of the downtown building that accommodated the Abell Foundation. The students were hyped up and did not pay attention to the older gentlemen who shuffled in behind them. Upon reaching the top floor, our sprightly group, plus the older man, Walter Sondheim, spilled out of the elevator into the polished lobby of the Abell Foundation. The father of modern day Baltimore chuckled under his breath and gave me a wink. I could see in his eyes that he knew what it was all about.
As soon as the group was escorted into the conference room, we lost the students. They all ran to the massive floor to ceiling windows that captured the Inner Harbor view. Excitement washed through the group as they quickly pointed out the well-known landmarks including their former school, Highlandtown Middle. Trying to bring order back – we reminded them why they were here and organized them around the table according to what they were to present on.
Leanne and I sat away from the table and behind the students, giving them full rein of the proceedings with Eileen O'Rourke and her colleague. To this day, I remember everyone delivering a beautiful performance. Then it was Corey’s turn. The intimidating high school offensive lineman unfolded his 6’4 frame from the table and stood towering over the Abell Foundation representatives. Leaning in he said, “You’ve heard from my teammates. My responsibility is the ‘Ask’. We need $5,000.” He then sat back down with his face imitating the pure confidence of a sealed deal. Eileen didn’t miss a beat. She thanked Corey and the others and then proceeded to ask questions. The meeting concluded with Eileen and her colleague congratulating the students on a terrific presentation.
Back on the ground floor, in the atrium the students gathered in a celebratory circle, high fiving and excitingly talking about the meeting.One chirped up and said, “Mr. Gib – we got it! We don’t have to go to SunTrust now, do we?” I looked over the group and speaking as an experienced businessman I countered with the question, “Well, did you leave with a check in hand?” A sudden hush fell over the group. “No,” the group responded. “But, we nailed it! There’s no way they would say no,” replied a student. After a few more minutes of back and forth about whether the group had succeed– they determined that it was in their best interest to carry on to the next meeting.
Of course, this story has a happy ending. The students did acquire the funding. I share this story to showcase that as a business leader, contribution toward an ardent cause can have a great effect on a whole organization as well as the cause. It can align those in the organization, give them purpose outside of their daily tasks, and strengthen their team involvement. In turn, a greater cause leads to the possibility of being able to take that vocation out to the community and create a greater social impact. The PR that occurred for our organization was small in comparison to the emotional privilege we shared in helping the students find self-confidence, understand the business world and work toward accomplishing a goal.
You may be thinking – that’s all and good – but my “bottom line” means showing financial results. To that proclamation I continually reply that the profit will always appear around the social contribution. Studies have shown that productivity increases in an organization that offers a greater purpose to their mission; monetary investments increase because it’s just one of the ways people can show they are enrolled in the cause and support the efforts. Operational strategies become easier to develop and maintain from a long-term perspective because there is a solidified element to guide them. Most organizations have a hard time looking up from their numerical goals to see that by integrating social and environmental factors into their core calculations they can reach even further. That by doing so, they have an opportunity to distinguish themselves in the marketplace, altruistically and financially. Food for thought….I challenge you to consider the possibility of pursuing something greater for your organization.