Beautiful Organisations for a Better World

How organisations can contribute to an earth for all

It has started to change my world and my view on organisations and their role in society and for the environment profoundly. It has changed the way we think about the role of organisations in our world, it inspires and overwhelms us. A lot of people asked about criteria or concretisations of what beautiful organisations should do or avoid.

Here are some thoughts on this. They are of course not finished, however with those criteria we want to start a dialog in our ecosystem about the contribution of organisations for an earth for all.

Criteria for Beautiful Organisations:

  • Constantly try to work for a better world (Club of Rome: Earth for all, 2022).
  • Process their beliefs and how they drive behaviour.
  • Are in resonance with the ecosystem / people
  • Produce ethically (= re-generative) and source from/invest in sustainable partners.
  • Are based on cooperation and dialog.
  • Are sustainably profitable.

Let’s start with the first one:

Beautiful Organisations constantly try to work for a better world.

The first criteria could be seen as a headline and comprises the term better world, which I would like to define following the latest Club of Rome publication “Earth for all”[1]. In this book we found the most compelling descriptions for this better world and the necessary “major upgrades” to get there.

The aspirations of this movement:

“It is feasible to redesign economic and social policies to put our societies on a pathway towards wellbeing for all within planetary boundaries. The five extraordinary turnarounds presented by Earth4All are the minimum requirements that support wellbeing for all, whilst protecting the planet.”

To reach this we need 5 major upgrades:

  1. Eliminate Poverty with the goal: GDP growth rate of at least 5% for low-income countries until GDP per person is greater than USD$15k per year.
  2. Reduce Inequality with the goal: The wealthiest 10% take less than 40% of national incomes.
  3. Empower Women with the goal: Full gender equity in terms of agency, rights, resources, and power in both law and employment.
  4. Transform Food System with the goal: a regenerative, sustainable food system that works for all within planetary boundaries
  5. The Energy Turnaround: Goal: Net-zero emissions by 2050.

The upgrade of our (economic) system will demand the strengths and drive of all of us and needs to happen within the next ten years. With those upgrades organisations will have an excellent orientation to streamline their goals according to these big shifts an “earth for all” demands.

The second criteria is:

Beautiful organisations process their beliefs and how they drive behaviour and patterns. 

Belief (systems) are the most concrete and fundamental foundation for our aspirations and motivation for our actions. They are much more concrete and therefore also more pragmatic than values, which are too universal and far away.

Blick von schräg unten auf grüne Bäume und deren Wurzeln. Der Himmel scheint durch.

Be honest: who could be against trust or freedom? Yet, beliefs show us what we think and how we care about relevant topics like nature, equality or money. They force us into deeper self-reflection and awareness about our drivers.

Sokrates taught us to use reflection processes in cases of doubt or ambiguity. He knew that as soon as people start to stick to old prejudices or produce bullshit bingo, they should strive for intensive reflection about their core beliefs and formulate the consequences of those. He saw his core competence to help others to realise who they are and to make them more truthful”[2].

A competence that consultants need today, a competence and practice that we need excessively in the world we live in. If we ask questions like: How much do you believe in a bigger responsibility of managers for the ecosystem? Not only for profit but also for a contribution of your organisation to the wellbeing of all within the planet’s boundaries?

As soon as we start to reflect and have dialogs in the relevant teams about such topics, we are already one step closer to a better world.

The third criteria is:

Beautiful organisations are in resonance with (their) ecosystem / people.

What does resonance mean: Hartmut Rosa[3] argues in his eponymous book that human beings have an innate need for resonance. He defines it as the experience of being in harmony, of resonating with oneself and the world.

We all know this feeling from music, when we sing with others or listen to music that moves us, when we forget time and space around us. Rosa suggests that modern society, with its emphasis on growth, individualism and constant acceleration, has led to a fragmentation and alienation of people from themselves and their surroundings. This, in turn, has led to a growing sense of disorientation and a loss of meaning in life, being of course also true for organisations and their players.

In the end we could say that as we have lost our connection to nature. We have begun to exploit it in a non-sustainable way leading to a destruction of the earth literally beneath our feet. There is an urgent need for contact, dialog, for touching and being touched by others on an emotional or spiritual level leading to more connection, to more awareness.

Connectedness and awareness with what? This is one of the major shifts necessary in the world we live in. Organisations (and people & society) need to expand their focus towards the ecosystem, comprising nature, biodiversity, climate, society and therefore also challenges like gender equality, closing the dangerous economic inequality and alike. Being in resonance in that respect means to constantly observe these phenomena in the ecosystem and integrating positive actions for a better world in the own business models and strategies.

The fourth criteria is:

Beautiful organisations produce ethically (= re-generative and in line with social and democratic standards) and source from / invest in sustainable partners.

Once resonance and awareness has risen organisations will stop denying or neglecting the very concrete topics of producing CO2-neutral and regeneratively. I.e., not exploiting more than the earth can give. They apply the universal human rights and keep social standards in all parts of their value chain. As most companies (and most people & nations) are far away from that status, striving for ethical production, transforming business models, services and products over time towards circular models, not about being there tomorrow.

We are not naïve. However time is fleeting and the earth needs to see that shift in the next 10 years. This needs to happen predominantly in industrialised countries whereas the less developed countries should be supported and enabled to catch up in order to create more balance, hence more climate and economic justice.

Let’s get concrete: this means that every business strategy should speak about those topics and how the way forward is planned and organised. As the younger generation is urgently asking for this shift, pressure is rising, and the dry labour market is even amplifying the call for action.

The fifth criteria is:

Beautiful organisations are based on cooperation and dialog.

Not much needs to be said here. The whole new work movement with all its demands and approaches speaks about it. Our beliefs about leadership and management are at stake here and subject to deep learning and change. Can we still apply images like pyramids or hero-metaphors? Can we still believe a few people run or turn around companies? However, organisations clearly need more transparency, more dialogue (and not one-way communication or information) – dialogue with the aim to understand not to argue.

This is based on appreciation and evidence. We need spaces that hold us[4], like (management) team meetings, strategic large group conferences, face to face talks or informal spaces around the coffee machines. There trust evolves, ambiguity and ambivalence can be expressed and organisational interests and conflicts can be processed and solved.

In the end, organisations are vessels of utmost importance for the social cohesion of societies and for the healing of the environmental crisis of this world. The mere (neoliberal/ capitalist) role of organisations as profit making (“the capitalists”) – and labor-generating (“the socialists”) – machines is at its end.

Having called resonance into play as one of the major shifts for social systems, we underline it here when it comes to organisational dialogue, communication structures – real time communication that helps organisations make transparent and meaningful decisions in order to create commitment and self-responsibility.

A phenomenon that cannot be commanded but only actively granted by people as soon as things make sense to them, as soon as they feel touched and inspired and most importantly when they feel that they really matter and can make a difference. Only Organisations that are built in such ways will attract and retain people who care. And we as customers will only care for such organisations.

The sixth criteria is:

Beautiful organisations are sustainably profitable.

The last criteria “making sustainable profit” speaks for itself. It is like health. We need it to be able to flourish, to live up to our full potential. Sustainable means built for regeneration, built without exploiting (own) resources more than what is given back to the earth.

An organisation needs profit to be able to invest in its own future, in its own capabilities and in practices that help to continuously innovate products, operations and thinking. That’s it. The rest is nice to have.

I am deeply convinced that only organisations applying those or similar criteria and continuously aiming to work for a better world will survive in the long run. On that path they can fail or make mistakes, yet it is no option not to try hard to upgrade our economic system. Nothing more than our planet and our global society is at stake. Two good news at the end:

We already have (more and more) beautiful companies in that direction and yes, we still can change the world.

[1] Sandrine Dixson-Decleve et al: to the Club of Rome: Earth for all, a survival guide for our planet, oekom, 2022

[2] Hannah Arendt: Hannah Arendt: Von wahrhaftigen Bürgern, DIE ZEIT Nr. 30/2016, 14. Juli 2016

[3] Hartmut Rosa: Resonanz, Suhrkamp, 2019

[4] Gianpiero Petriglieri, Insead

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Lothar Wenzl

Systemic organisational consultant for profound transformation processes that help to create beautiful and successful organisations.
+43 664 150 23 70