Don’t underestimate the power of business in the world or your role in it. In other times, religion or military or government set the tone for the society and social good. Not so now. Now business has come into its own and has the power to shape the debate over what matters. So, in a sense, what is good for business is good for the world.

Peter Block

I was sitting in the living room over Christmas break listening to Chad share about his vision to start Lucky Forks to a room full of friends. As he talked, I found myself drawn in more and more. Apparently, it showed, as someone in the room said, “Man, Mike is really into what you’re saying.” Since I got called out, I tried to play it cool—don’t think it worked though…

But as Chad was leaving, I walked outside to tell him how interested I was in what he was doing and said that I’d love to learn more. Little did I know that two months later, I’d be an Advisor to his company and a co-laborer on Lucky Forks’ journey to empower businesses to “do good, be ready.”

A brief background about me: I’ve spent the last twelve years helping leaders and organizations see their work in the world from a multiple bottom line perspective of: profit, people, places, and purpose. First, profit. Profit is good. It tells you that what you are doing is adding value to the world. Without profit, what you are doing is essentially meaningless. No one cares. Now let’s dig a little deeper. Second, people. All businesses rely on people—as employees, customers, investors, etc. You can’t generate profit without people. Third, places. All businesses rely on places—whether it be the communities they depend on to recruit talent or harvest the resources needed to make their products. If you don’t take care of your places, your profit will suffer. And, finally, purpose. Purpose is the future the leader or organization desires to see realized. If you’re going nowhere, no one will buy in.

Think of business like a car. Profit is the gas. People, places, and purpose are the engine. If your engine is broken, having a full tank doesn’t matter.

The Problem

Unfortunately, with the rise of quarterly capitalism, multiple bottom lines are scarcely seen in companies today and the car has broken down. But it isn’t the leaders’ fault. Rather, they have found themselves in a story of business that was rewritten 100 years ago.

In 1919, Henry Ford had the vision to take the profits of his Model T and reinvest it in his company in order to open more factories in more places that would employ more people and make the Model T even cheaper for customers. He was quickly taken to the Michigan Supreme Court by John and Horace Dodge, who were shareholders in his company at the time. They argued that Ford’s sole duty was to his shareholders, not the people, places, and purpose he was planning to serve. Ultimately, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in Dodge’s favor. In that moment, “shareholder supremacy” became the only duty business owed to society. In other words, the name of the game as it pertained to business was profit.

But, as Bob Dylan sang in 1964, “the times they are a changin’.” The story is being re-written. Now one’s decision to work for, buy from, or invest in a company is driven 60% by the company’s reputation, or how much it is investing in people, places, and purpose. Only 40% is driven by the perception of the company’s actual product or service.

This is why my face sold me out that day as Chad spoke about Lucky Forks. What I was hearing was a way for businesses to rewrite their story to catch up with the sign of the times. The vision of Lucky Forks is much bigger than Corporate Social Responsibility Programs (which is awesome by itself). The vision is about empowering companies to rewrite their story and return business to what it once was…a sacred calling.

Let me give you just one example in this post: people. More specifically, the employee.

Relinking Work with Work

We don’t hear the word vocation much these days. But it is a powerful word. It is derived from the Latin word “vocatio,” which means “being called.” Today, employees are calling out businesses to be about more than profit. Like the opening quote from Peter Block, they see business as the primary shaper of good in society and want to help shape society through their participation in their company.

Sociologist Robert Bellah, in his book Habits of the Heart, observed in 1985 that many Americans no longer felt connected to each other or to a larger purpose. They were longing for more than their individual comfort needs being met. They wanted to be a part of serving the common good.

What was interesting was Bellah’s suggested solution to this problem. He said:

To make a real difference…[there would have to be] a appropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.

In other words, what the employee needs is relinking work (jobs) with work (passion and purpose). And interestingly enough, those who are quickly becoming the majority of the workforce—Millennials and Gen Z—are already “there.” They see their jobs as vocations and expect the businesses they work for to empower them to pursue passion, purpose, and meaning in their work.

But meaning only emerges from seeing one’s own connection and contribution to the whole of society—seeing how their work and the company they work for is bettering the world around them. These employees see a career in business as not only a financially lucrative decision, but morally serious vocation and a morally noble one. They are choosing service over self-interest. They want to be able to take pride in the work they and their company are doing and rejoice in it.

Catching Up with the Times

Due to no fault of their own, most business leaders are not catching on, and it is costing them…big time. They can’t recruit the talent they need. And when they occasionally do, they quickly lose them to a company that has the resources to have its own internal CSR programs to market.

Gone are the days where free lunches, ping pong tables, and video games are enough to recruit and retain the type of talent needed. Today’s workforce wants to work for a company that sees itself as an activist for good in society.

But that takes manpower, and lots of it. Due to the hangover of shareholder supremacy, a leader positioning a company as an activist for good is a “nice to have” but it isn’t a “must have.” When quarterly results are all that matters, then fear and scarcity rule the day. Most leaders think (and mean well, mind you), “There just isn’t ‘enough’ to invest in people, places, and purpose. But we will eventually get around to it. We promise.” The problem is that employees aren’t buying it anymore and are leaving these companies in order to pursue calling. And we all know the cost that comes with quality recruitment and retention. It dramatically shapes the bottom line.

Conclusion

This is why I love the vision of Lucky Forks. They make it easy for companies to have a multiple bottom line. They provide everything a company needs to be an activist for good in society. They empower companies to help their employees marry their work with their work. They do the heavy lifting, so you don’t have to.

Lucky Forks is helping business rewrite their stories to catch up with the times. I’m humbled to be a part of it.