June 21, 2006
Staff Picks: Review of Values-Driven Business by Maryann Devine
by Ben Cohen and Mal Warwick
Values-Driven Business is essentially a how-to book. Since one of the authors is Ben Cohen, cofounder of Ben & Jerrys Ice Cream, I expected something a little tastier than this plain vanilla account of the various ways that owners of businesses big and small can incorporate their values into their practices. While the authors praise companies like Cohens for their outspokenness, they play it safe themselves in descriptions of missions and initiatives in dull prose that is anything but inspiring. A quick scan of Ben & Jerrys Double Dip: How to Run a Values-Led Business and Make Money Too by Cohen and cofounder Jerry Greenfield shows that Cohen can ably add flavor to the subject. Values-Driven Business is the first in a series of books in the Social Venture Network Series, with Warwick as series editor. I hope this initial offering doesnt set the tone for the rest.
Dont get me wrong. There is a lot of solid information here, checklists (including one titled No Good Deed Goes Unpunished) at the end of each chapter to start you thinking, and a resource list at the end. Cohen and Warwick take a chapter to discuss each possible component of the value-driven business: employees, suppliers, customers, community, and environment, both local and global. For instance, even a small business owner has to decide where to buy her office supplies, which accounting firm to hire, whether to locate near public transportation. Each of these choices, say the authors, has both a social and environmental impact to be considered.
While they acknowledge that there are many ways of injecting social consciousness into a company including traditional philanthropy, they gently advocate for a holistic approach, including the entire staff in the process for instance, rather than handing down policies from a president with a pet cause in mind. Cohen and Warwick profile businesses that run the gamut from Shore Bank, whose mission is to help underserved communities, to the White Dog Caf whose every move seems imbued with the mission to support local farmers and foster social justice. Unfortunately, difficulties in implementing these admirable programs are barely given a nod. The tough time had by Juniper Communities, a chain of assisted-living facilities, in convincing contractors to meet green standards is the only story in which obstacles are really fleshed out.
For those who worry that social consciousness and profits are mutually exclusive, Cohen and Warwick point to research that shows just the opposite: that the relationship between corporate financial performance and corporate social performance across industries found a statistically significant correlation between the two. The authors believe that this effect can be explained in part because its the better managers who are likely to integrate shared values into their businesses, and have a more global view of their impact. They also believe that consumers are more and more interested in patronizing companies they perceive to share their beliefs.
And yet, Values-Driven Business is such a bland read that I probably would not have taken it in cover to cover if I hadnt committed to writing this review. I wouldnt have scrapped it either, though. Its a good reference for the business owner who is considering changing his approach to reflect his world view, and Im sure itll come in handy for me as I start my own business. But Ill look elsewhere for real inspiration.
Reviewed by Review by Maryann Devine, smArts & Culture