Reimagining the PLC: can business be a force for good?

Ruth Stuart of the CIPD explores whether business can really be a force for good

What is the purpose of work?

Work can, and should, be good. For everyone. Including the individuals, the organisations and economies in which we work and the societies in which we all live. It has the capacity to enable us to lead more meaningful lives, advance human knowledge and develop innovative ideas and solutions which can transform the way we see the world and open up vast opportunities. So, in its broadest sense, work has the capacity to help humankind to thrive and prosper.

For many of us, work plays a central role in our lives. It’s where we spend most of our time, and often where we expend most of our energy. But the way in which work is organised and managed doesn’t always result in positive outcomes for everyone; insecure employment may affect an individual’s mental and financial wellbeing; low productivity can impact on competitive advantage; and unethical practice damages the golden triangle of people, planet and profits. So we have this polarity – between the potential work offers, and the often challenging reality.

Doing good – for the people and the planet

In a recent Huffington Post article, ‘PLCs? We need PBCs!’ Samie Al-Achrafi explores the idea of Public Benefit Companies (PBCs) – organisations which set out to do good by people, the planet and wider society – as well as drive profits. Underpinning these PBCs are a set of principles, which guide decision making, in a way that greater rules and regulations (and all those tempting loopholes) cannot.

So what would a PBC actually look like?

Every PBC would be different. A principles-based approach means that instead of following best practice, or what’s worked in the past, you choose your own path – guided by purpose, long-term thinking and a consideration of multiple stakeholders. And that principles-based approach would form the core elements shared by all PBCs:

  • A common commitment to act in the public interest – to put long-term value and societal progress ahead of short-term financial returns
  • Transparent reporting which takes a holistic view of value creation
  • A culture of openness where everyone has the right to a voice
  • People practices that enable equality of opportunity for all
  • Environments where everyone is treated with respect and dignity

Can we have principles at work?

For the lucky minority, workplaces like this already exist today, but they are too few and far between; often, the corporate rhetoric espousing these values isn’t matched by the reality, as we’ve seen by organisational scandals in recent years. But this shouldn’t be a utopian vision. If we were truly to embrace principles of better business, or indeed a PBC approach, we could transform the value that work creates. Sustainable, ethical organisations have the potential to create better outcomes for everyone, in the long term.

Work is a powerful force – and it deserves to be a force for good. So it’s up to each and every one of us to drive more conscientious, ethical business – for ourselves, future generations and the sustainability of our organisations.

Profession for the Future – principles for HR

The CIPD is exploring these questions through our Profession for the Future research, asking what it will take for us all to create better work and working lives. We’re collaborating with a wide range of stakeholders within and outside HR to define and test a set of principles that will help HR professionals to make good decisions, and advise business leaders, no matter what the context and no matter what the future may hold.

Find out more about Profession for the Future, including our latest research.

You can join the debate on Twitter using the hashtag #workischanging