About a year ago, I started down an ambitious but quixotic path to change the way companies think and act. Ambitious because of the key role companies play not just in our economy, but in our society and our lives. And quixotic because companies often have few financial incentives to make these changes, even though many of their most important stakeholders think they need to do so.
This reluctance to change isn’t because they don’t want to be better; in fact, almost all companies want to be better. They want stronger long-term businesses, and they want to do it in a way that isn’t harmful to any of their stakeholders. But change is hard, even when it’s the right thing to do, primarily because companies don’t operate in a vacuum, and outside pressure points such as shareholders and markets often tie their hands. Add the pressure from competing forces pushing different priorities and the effect can be paralyzing.
The need for corporate change and the systemic log jams preventing it are what drove me to join with a couple of partners and start btr. — a company focused on using big data to create a platform and tools to help companies actually be better.
In building btr. (pronounced “better”) over the last year, we learned a lot: that while “big data” is readily available, the right data is still tough to find; that breaking the shareholder-first mindset is not an easy task; and that no matter how technology-centric your product may be, people are still going to be your most powerful “software” asset.
But one of the most encouraging things we learned is that we weren’t the only ones moving down this path; in fact, many company leaders are looking for ways to be better and many entrepreneurs are crafting ways to help them.
And that’s why I’m writing this today; after a year of building btr., we’ve found that the best way to achieve our mission is by joining forces with another organization on the same path: JUST Capital. We’re starting the new year by folding the btr. concept and ideas into JUST, where I’ll be taking the role of Chief Marketing Officer.
At JUST Capital we’re building an information platform that will measure and track corporate performance and develop tools that help companies perform better. The big difference is that at JUST, we’ve improved on the basic model by inviting the public into the conversation and working to make public values part of the solution.
The JUST platform uses the American public’s views on just behavior as both a lens and framework. JUST spent more than nine months completing an exhaustive survey of over 40,000 Americans from all walks of life to determine what they think makes a just company. The ten factors that came out of that survey are the framework on which the JUST Capital platform is being built.
Now that they’ve told us what they think makes a just company, our next step is to rate the nation’s biggest companies using that yardstick — and to create actionable tools to help those companies better meet the expectations of their employees, their customers, their community members and their investors.
All of this — the ten factors, the robust research behind them, and ultimately, the ranking and tools we create — enable JUST to give corporations concrete evidence of value creation for all stakeholders (not just shareholders) and offer a way for companies to credibly prioritize their decision-making and actions.
For me, bringing the work of the last year into JUST means that btr. is getting better. At its core there’s still an ambitious, possibly quixotic plan. And that’s a good thing: the obvious notion of tilting at windmills aside, the first hallmark of a quixotic plan is unrealistic idealism. And unrealistic idealism is exactly what’s needed to to make the world a more just — and better — place.
Thanks for reading and happy 2016.
For more on JUST Capital, check out this NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/21/business/a-plan-to-rank-just-companies-aims-to-close-the-wealth-gap.html