Good for Business: The Rise of the Conscious Corporation. A Book Review

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We live in a free market. If a corporation wants to stay competitive, it needs to move its operations to a place where costs, taxes, and regulations are negligible. As long as consumers keep buying a company’s goods, it can operate any way it wants.

That is so 1990s.

Businesses no longer operate as islands, according to the authors of Good for Business: The Rise of the Conscious Corporation. In an Internet-savvy, skeptical, and tumultuous 21st century, societal goodwill becomes more than a luxury. It becomes a business imperative. “Those corporations (who) have taken the humanization of business into their brand DNA…will have the greatest influence with policymakers (of the future) and the best chance of engaging talent, consumers, and investors alike,” say the authors (p. 185).

Many things have changed for corporations during the past decade. Public scrutiny has become a norm, thanks to open Internet channels. To stay competitive in today’s busy, hypercompetitive markets, companies need to refine their brand images. In an age where a reputation can burn in seconds, soft assets like trust and emotional connection are more important than ever. Tomorrow’s leaders (today’s millennial generation) require a different kind of workplace than their forebears.

How do you stay successful in a changed environment?

Good for Business covers how these changes came about, what they mean, and what to do about them in a three-part book. The first part offers an overview of how the role of the corporation has changed in today’s (post-crisis, millennial) era. It illustrates how consumers have become more aware of who they’re buying from, more networked into opinion groups, and more powerful overall. It explains what that all means for corporate brands. It also introduces the four cornerstones of tomorrow’s successful, conscious corporation: A purpose beyond profit, a people-centered culture, a sustainable approach to business, and respect for consumers’ power.

The second part of the book describes why corporate brands have become so important, and how companies can empower effective brand messengers. It also covers what it means to be a leader in tomorrow’s successful corporation (Leader of Tomorrow). In addition, it explains how to create a culture that engages millennials (the Talent of Tomorrow).

The third part of the book talks about building a useful statement of direction for your conscious corporation, then embedding and sustaining it within your company. This chapter is almost like a workbook, detailing exactly what you need to do and why.

The book concludes with examples of corporations that have good consumer perception of their brand and company. The appendix offers a couple of global marketing study results on the way people consume products and perceive companies.

Examples and context strengthen the book

One of Good for Business’s biggest strengths is the way it puts the current business era into context. You close the book understanding not only that things have changed, but why they have changed. By offering easy-to-understand background information on its claims, the book facilitates a deeper understanding of today’s business conditions.

Thanks to case studies, survey and research results, and informal examples, the book also makes those business conditions feel familiar. The authors integrate such supporting material throughout the book. Examples cover medium-to-large companies, including Zappos, Whole Foods, Google, and Tesco. Some examples are rather superficial—nobody’s going beneath the surface here, especially when it comes to employee sentiment about companies—but they work within the context of the book.

Good for Business covers good topics, but its mission seems unclear

Chapter-by-chapter, Good for Business is full of useful information and tips. The authors (four of them) know what they’re talking about. They offer good examples, solid points, and a clear overview of how to get from yesterday’s corporate standard to tomorrow’s conscious corporation. But beyond that, the purpose of the book baffles me.

I finished the book feeling like I had a good general background on what it meant to run a “conscious” business, but many questions remained in my mind. Perhaps the book tackles too many potentially deep topics. For example, one chapter on millennials will hardly suffice for a company serious about managing them right. It read as though written by someone analyzing Gen-Y from the outside—hardly satisfying.

On the other hand, Part III, on building a statement of purpose, was an incredibly clear, useful how-to. You could read the chapters in that section and come out with your own strong statement of purpose. The chapters on corporate brand also facilitated a crystal-clear understanding. But other chapters don’t offer you that kind of walk-through. Instead, you get background and/or general guidelines.

Overall, the topics are good, but I can’t tell if the book is supposed to be a reference, description of what a conscious corporation is and how it works, or a how-to for building your own conscious corporation. Summations of the key points at the end of each chapter would have done a lot for this patchwork book.

Conclusion

The most memorable part of Good for Business was that it increased intimacy with what modern business conditions are, how they came about, and how they work. I wasn’t clear, however, on how to do everything I needed to do to get my company from Point A to Point B (except with regards to writing a statement of purpose). Was I supposed to know that, or was that not the book’s intention? Either way, I was left wanting more.

Overall, I do recommend this book in certain circumstances. If you want a general overview with how the business environment has changed from a brand and marketing perspective, read this book. If you are unfamiliar with why business is different today, read this book. But if you want a complete reference or a how-to, look elsewhere.

Disclosure: We received a free copy of this book.