Corporations are being pushed to change—to dial down their single-minded pursuit of financial gain and pay closer attention to their impact on employees, customers, communities, and the environment. Corporate social responsibility from the sidelines is no longer enough, and the pressure comes from various directions: rising and untenable levels of inequality, increasing evidence that the effects of climate change will be devastating, investors’ realization that short-term profitability and long-term sustainability are sometimes in conflict. For reasons like these, a growing number of business leaders now understand that they must embrace both financial and social goals.
However, changing an organization’s DNA is extraordinarily difficult. How can a company that has always focused on profit balance the two aims? It takes upending the existing business model. Not surprisingly, researchers have consistently found that companies are quick to abandon social goals in the quest for profitability.
Research reveals that successful dual-purpose companies have this in common: They take an approach we call hybrid organizing, which involves four levers: setting and monitoring social goals alongside financial ones; structuring the organization to support both socially and financially oriented activities; hiring and socializing employees to embrace both, and practicing dual-minded leadership. Taken together, these levers can help companies cultivate and maintain a hybrid culture while giving leaders the tools to productively manage conflicts between social and financial goals when they emerge, making the endeavor more likely to succeed.
Setting Goals, Monitoring Progress
Well-constructed goals are an essential management tool. They communicate what matters and can highlight what’s working and what’s not. These goals should go beyond mere aspirations to clarify a company’s dual purpose for employees, customers, suppliers, investors, and regulators. Companies may need to experiment with their way to a goal-setting model that works for them.
Just as important as setting goals is identifying and adapting key performance indicators (KPIs) in order to measure the achievement of specific targets, be they financial or social. While we know how to measure sales, revenue growth, and return on assets, no widely accepted metrics currently exist for many social goals (although more progress has been made on measuring environmental impact). Nonetheless, it is possible to set both financial and social KPIs successfully. Research has found that companies succeed by dedicating substantial time and effort to developing a manageable number of trackable metrics during the goal-setting process and revisiting them regularly to assess their continuing relevance and adequacy.
Structuring the Organization
Aligning activities and structure.
Some activities create social and economic value at the same time. Others create predominantly one kind of value. For activities that create both kinds, an integrated organizational structure usually makes sense. Otherwise, the activities are often best managed separately.
Creating spaces of negotiation.
The rub is that tensions inevitably arise—particularly in differentiated structures. Left unattended, they can bring an organization to a halt. The Bolivian microlender Banco Solidario provides a cautionary example. In the 1990s constant resentment and fighting between bankers (concerned with fees and efficiency) and social workers (concerned with the affordability of loans and the livelihoods of microentrepreneurs) essentially froze the company. Loan officers quit left and right, the number of active borrowers plummeted, and the profit margin dropped. We’ve found that successful dual-purpose companies avoid such paralysis by supplementing traditional organizational structures with mechanisms for surfacing and working through tensions. These mechanisms don’t make the tensions disappear—rather, they bring them into the open by letting employees actively discuss trade-offs between creating economic value and creating social value. Such deliberation provides a powerful safety valve and can speed up effective resolution.
Hiring and Socializing Employees
Employees in a company that pursues dual goals tend to be successful when they understand and connect with both the business and the social mission. We’ve seen companies mobilize such people by recruiting three types of profiles: hybrid, specialized, and “blank slate.”
Hybrid individuals arrive equipped with training or experience in both business and social-value fields, such as environmental science, medicine, social work, and so forth. Such people are able to understand issues in both camps and can connect with employees and other stakeholders of either orientation.
Once people are on board, socializing them can be daunting. Every employee needs to understand, value, and become capable of contributing to both financial and social goals in some form.
Formal approaches to socialization may include companywide events such as annual general assemblies and retreats where dual goals and values are explained, discussed, assessed, and put into perspective. Dedicated trainings can remind employees—particularly those who specialize in just one sector—of the interconnectedness of revenue-generating and social-value-creating activities. Job-shadowing programs and other forms of experiential training can also purposefully bring different groups together.
Practicing Dual-Minded Leadership
Strategic decisions should embody dual goals. Whereas goals reflect aspirations, decisions provide real evidence of leaders’ commitment to achieving specific aims.
Profit allocation is another important area of strategic decision making. Dividends can be capped to ensure that financial goals don’t overshadow social ones.
Engaging the board.
In successful hybrid companies, board members serve as guardians of the dual purpose. Thus they must collectively bring a combination of business and social expertise to the table. Diversity on the board is important for drawing the organization’s attention to both social and financial goals, yet it increases the risk of conflict, because members with different perspectives are more likely to differ as to the best course of action. We have seen some companies experience near-paralyzing governance crises when socially and commercially minded board members with similar levels of influence strongly disagree.
Pursuing financial and social goals simultaneously can be very stressful. You can’t control everything in your work environment, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless, even when you’re stuck in a difficult situation. If stress on the job is interfering with your work performance, health, or personal life, it’s time to take action. No matter what you do for a living, what your ambitions are, or how stressful your job is, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your overall stress levels and regain a sense of control at work.
Tip 1: Beat workplace stress by reaching out
Sometimes the best stress-reducer is simply sharing your stress with someone close to you. The act of talking it out and getting support and sympathy—especially face-to-face—can be a highly-effective way of blowing off steam and regaining your sense of calm. The other person doesn’t have to “fix” your problems; they just need to be a good listener.
Turn to co-workers for support. Having a solid support system at work can help buffer you from the negative effects of job stress. Just remember to listen to them and offer support when they are in need as well.
Lean on your friends and family members. As well as increasing social contact at work, having a strong network of supportive friends and family members is extremely important to managing stress in all areas of your life.
Build new satisfying friendships. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to—at work or in your free time—it’s never too late to build new friendships. Meet new people with common interests by taking a class or joining a club, or by volunteering your time.
Tip 2: Support your health with exercise and nutrition
When you’re overly focused on work, it’s easy to neglect your physical health. But when you’re supporting your health with good nutrition and exercise, you’re stronger and more resilient to stress.
Taking care of yourself doesn’t require a total lifestyle overhaul. Even small things can lift your mood, increase your energy, and make you feel like you’re back in the driver’s seat.
Make time for regular exercise
Aerobic exercise—activity that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat—is a hugely effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and body. Rhythmic movement—such as walking, running, dancing, drumming, etc.—is especially soothing for the nervous system. For maximum stress relief, try to get at least 30 minutes of activity on most days.
Make smart, stress-busting food choices
Your food choices can have a huge impact on how you feel during the work day. Eating small, frequent and healthy meals, for example, can help your body maintain an even level of blood sugar. This maintains your energy and focus, and prevents mood swings. Low blood sugar, on the other hand, can make you feel anxious and irritable, while eating too much can make you lethargic.
- Minimize sugar and refined carbs.
- Reduce your intake of foods that can adversely affect your mood.
- Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost.
- Avoid nicotine.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
Tip 3: Don’t skimp on sleep
You may feel like you just don’t have the time to get a full night’s sleep. But skimping on sleep interferes with your daytime productivity, creativity, problem-solving skills, and ability to focus. The better rested you are, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle your job responsibilities and cope with workplace stress.
Stress and shift work
Working night, early morning, or rotating shifts can impact your sleep quality, which in turn may affect productivity and performance, leaving you more vulnerable to stress.
- Adjust your sleep-wake cycle by exposing yourself to bright light when you wake up at night and using bright lamps or daylight-simulation bulbs in your workplace. Then, wear dark glasses on your journey home to block out sunlight and encourage sleepiness.
- Limit the number of night or irregular shifts you work in a row to prevent sleep deprivation from mounting up.
- Avoid frequently rotating shifts so you can maintain the same sleep schedule.
- Eliminate noise and light from your bedroom during the day. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask, turn off the phone, and use ear plugs or a soothing sound machine to block out daytime noise.
Tip 4: Prioritize and organize
When job and workplace stress threatens to overwhelm you, there are simple, practical steps you can take to regain control.
Time management tips for reducing job stress
- Create a balanced schedule.
- Leave earlier in the morning.
- Plan regular breaks.
- Establish healthy boundaries.
- Don’t over-commit yourself.
Task management tips for reducing job stress
Prioritize tasks. Tackle high-priority tasks first. If you have something particularly unpleasant to do, get it over with early. The rest of your day will be more pleasant as a result.
Break projects into small steps. If a large project seems overwhelming, focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.
Delegate responsibility. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Let go of the desire to control every little step. You’ll be letting go of unnecessary stress in the process.
Be willing to compromise. Sometimes, if you and a co-worker or boss can both adjust your expectations a little, you’ll be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces the stress levels for everyone.
Tip 5: Break bad habits that contribute to workplace stress
Many of us make job stress worse with negative thoughts and behavior. If you can turn these self-defeating habits around, you’ll find employer-imposed stress easier to handle.
Resist perfectionism. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself, you’re setting yourself up to fall short. Aim to do your best; no one can ask for more than that.
Flip your negative thinking. If you focus on the downside of every situation and interaction, you’ll find yourself drained of energy and motivation. Try to think positively about your work, avoid negative co-workers, and pat yourself on the back about small accomplishments, even if no one else does.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things at work are beyond our control, particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control, such as the way you choose to react to problems.
Look for humor in the situation. When used appropriately, humor is a great way to relieve stress in the workplace.
Clean up your act. If your desk or workspace is a mess, file and throw away the clutter; just knowing where everything is can save time and cut stress.
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