Business Must Enable Our Collective Humanity

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During 2020, COVID-19 has quickly demonstrated how truly interconnected we are as a global society, but geo-political, economic, and racial tensions, paradoxically, have at the same time magnified our differences and overshadowed what unites us – our collective humanity.

As I travel the world globally with Lenovo – pre-pandemic – across multiple countries and regions meeting with employees and customers, this shared humanity becomes more obvious with each encounter and the unique and rich cultural realities each brings, all reinforcing our oneness.

However, as bigger divides are created, accelerated by social media, 24-hour news and the lack of human connectedness due to the pandemic, businesses have a larger responsibility than ever to lead, and actively work against the growing polarization.

In August of 2019, Business Roundtable announced a new Statement of Purpose, shifting the focus of corporations from serving shareholders to serving all stakeholders – overturning a 22-year-old policy statement that defined a corporation’s purpose as maximizing shareholder return. Over 180 CEOs signed the Statement of Purpose, declaring it is the business community’s duty to serve stakeholders, not shareholders.

Meanwhile, organizations such as the United Nations, Business for Inclusive Growth, and the World Economic Forum are discussing this on global stages and leading initiatives that call on businesses to combat some of the most critical issues we are facing today, setting the example for social change.

Never has the message been so clear. Businesses have a bigger purpose than generating profits. People expect it, businesses have declared it. So, what is getting in the way of making a real change beyond rhetoric? We know organizational change isn’t easy and igniting important conversations doesn’t just happen – we need to take action and be intentional about creating a dialogue.

Nowhere do I see this challenge and opportunity more than in my own company, where we balance 63,000 employees around the world, serving customers in 180 markets. From Lenovo’s very beginning, creating connections and dialogues has been fundamental to who we are as a business and has been critical to our success. This is exemplified through the organization of our leadership team, which is spread across multiple regions, including China, Europe, North America, and South America. It creates the need for consistent civil discourse, making our diversity an asset that connects us. It is something we need to cultivate, nurture, and reevaluate along the way. It is an ethos, not an initiative.

So, how do we move forward? If progress is going to be made, we, as business leaders, need to be deliberate and intentional in how we manifest it. Here are a few ways:

  • Welcome and encourage new ideas from every area of your business and all stakeholders, establishing a culture and an expectation of sharing ideas. Be known for it.
  • Go outside of your organization to find new ways to collaborate. Seek out the structures and environments that are most conducive to having open, productive conversations, and look for ways to include diverse perspectives and experiences.
  • There has never been a more critical time for leaders to lead the way. Set the example from the top of the organization through words, actions, and accountability.
  • It is not enough to “talk the talk.” Think critically about where shared ideas go after a conversation. Establish a process for turning ideas into actions and results, making it a part of your ecosystem and a cultural norm.

The expectation of businesses is clear. Now that commitments have been made and pledges signed, it is time to act and make a meaningful impact. Our actions need to speak louder than our words, and as leaders, we need to follow through and enable our organizations to speak and listen without fear, without judgment. We need to create environments and cultures where these dialogues can thrive, bringing people together around commonalities and shared values.