What makes a human business?

Posted by

I attended a conference last week where a (well-intentioned) speaker said there were only two types of businesses in the world: those that are business to business (B2B) and those that are business to consumer (B2C).

This struck me as strange. It seemed restrictive to me, inflexible somehow. Surely businesses exist to do more than just serve the needs of their customers? So I came up with a third type of business to add to the speaker’s list: human to human.

You will no doubt have heard of the slightly clunky term that is ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR). This can be broadly defined as the practice of a company taking an interest in wider social issues, an interest that, usually, does not relate to profit margins.

In some environments, I’ve seen CSR reduced to a sort of box-ticking exercise, something that has to be done, rather than something people are really passionate about.

But box-ticking isn’t something we do at Masthaven. So I much prefer the term ‘human business’.

What does that mean? Well, I think a human business is one that:

  • Is genuine and compassionate, treats people with respect
  • Exists to do more than just make money
  • Thinks like a human being, not a computer
  • Has a strong social purpose and makes a significant contribution to society

Today it’s more important than ever that businesses beat with a social purpose. Being involved in the outside world boosts customer and employee engagement, it helps firms innovate, think long-term and stand out from their competition. More than all that, though, is that it’s simply a good thing to do.

A great example of firms getting this right was the work done by Microsoft and other tech companies. In 2016 they linked up with the BBC to develop the micro:bit, a pocket-sized codeable computer that was given to every Year 7 child across the UK. The aim? To address a UK digital skills shortage and inspire a new generation of tech developers.

One thing I really like about the micro:bit is that it’s deeply connected with what those businesses behind the project do. It’s a way for them to develop new products, engage with the community and make a positive social imprint all at the same time.

This year Masthaven will build on our previous good work and become a fully human business – one that’s linked to the wider social world through a number of important initiatives and projects, including a link-up with a homelessness charity, Depaul.

It’s a truism that businesses exist to make profit. But that doesn’t mean that’s all they have to do. Focusing on growing a successful business should also be intrinsically linked to positive social engagement – we only pass by this way once, so let’s make the most of it while we’re here.

The case for being a human business is clear - research even shows the majority of people are willing to pay more for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.

But we’d still do it even if no-one was looking.