Follow these 3 steps to humanize your business beyond profit

Have you ever heard “It’s not personal, it’s just business”? 

Well, when you are invested in your work and that job is your livelihood, whether you founded the company or feel committed to its mission as a team member, it is personal by essence. 

We are not machines doing business, after all. We are humans doing business. 

Overlook the human side of business at your own peril. If anything, 2020 will have shown us that much. But how do we make sure that we build and scale up a business that does not forget that, ever?

That question was at the heart of the 2020 edition of the BASE conference entitled “Humanizing businesses beyond profit”. I had the chance to attend it and, while I missed some sessions, the ones I followed were quite illuminating on the topic. 

Know your mission

The first plenary talk kicked things off with a bang, thanks to Ynzo van Zanten. Tony’s Chocolonely Chief Evangelist is a man on a mission, a company-wide mission, working to reach 100% slavery-free chocolate. 

Yes, slavery-free chocolate: you may not realize it when you are reaching for the smooth comfort of a chocolate bar after a long workday (guilty as charged) but the cocoa industry is ruthless and relies on the exploitation of cocoa farmers and child labour. 

So Tony’s Chocolonely has defined a set of rules and a roadmap that the company is committed to follow to reach its goal. It is also spreading the word and fighting to get governments to act (you can sign the petition here if you want to help). 

If that is not humanizing business beyond profit, I do not know what is. 

There is no “I” in team but…

Because fighting for fair trade and fair employment should start in your own backyard, the chocolate company also pays attention to the way it treats its own employees. After all, strength lies in numbers, an idea that, I believe, was also at the core of the talk given by Daniel Roy, Co-founder of software company Infi. 

In his presentation about “Scaling up together”, Daniel explained how the whole company is designed around teamwork and team collaboration, how they mapped a system to ensure that each individual has a say in the definition of the company goals, and how expanding the company means giving opportunities to any employee who has the drive to grow and contribute, going beyond the current job title and degrees. 

I am particularly sensitive to that last idea: coming from France, a country where it can be challenging to enter a specific industry or start a career if you don’t have the “right” degree, I got to build in the Netherlands a career path that I would not have even imagined back home, because the work culture here gives individuals the space to grow and prove what they can do. 

Giving individuals the space to grow, yet another way to humanize your business beyond profit.

Communities are key

Let’s come back to that idea we mentioned before, that strength lies in numbers: it means that regardless of what we are trying to achieve, we are not going to get there on our own. We need a community that has our back. 

The impact we can make as a community is yet another lesson of 2020, don’t you think? It was also at the heart of the talk given by BASE co-founder Lana Jelenjev, “Designing Communities for Change”. 

Interweaving the importance of communities in her personal trajectory with Filipino terminology and concepts on the topic, Lana made a thoughtful and heartfelt statement about what a community may mean for an individual, for a culture, and, ultimately, for a business.

If we want our businesses to flourish, we cannot live and work in isolation, we have to get out in the world (either physically or virtually) to find our partners and our customers. We need to find our communities, the ones that share our values, the ones that feel comfortable but challenge us at the same time, so we keep growing.

3 essential ingredients in a scale-up recipe

So there we go, in a nutshell, we need:

  • A mission statement that acts as a driving force and keeps reminding us why we do what we do,
  • A company structure that is built on the understanding that each team member has something to contribute, 
  • The knowledge that, without a community, we cannot grow and develop. 

These 3 principles are key when scaling up a business with a strong human dimension. They also remind us how personal business can feel, should we ever forget it. 

Article written by Laurence Ogé, participant from BASE Conference 2020.


Join us for our Let’s touch BASE: Discovering Collaboration Across Borders event on November 4th:


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