5 Groundbreaking Ideas Shaping the Future of Business

  • January 16, 2020

We decided to take a moment to surface the five biggest change-making ideas of 2019, guided by you, our readers. We read the comments and tweets and saw what was catching your attention. As we enter the new decade, we’re feeling more motivated than ever to build an inclusive future that respects the dignity of all people and create regenerative business models to support a healthy planet.

If you’re like us, 2019 was a year of transformation. At the beginning of the year, we announced a major leadership change. Steve Piersanti, founder and president, stepped down and passed the torch to Johanna Vondeling and David Marshall, and moved into a full-time editorial role. With new leadership also comes organizational shifts—we doubled down on our efforts to work with authors committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion and moving ever closer to connecting people and ideas to create a world that works for all.

Here are some of the biggest ideas that’ll help us get there.

1. Building the company of the future, from the ground up

Looking ahead, we made a central focus of 2019 discussing how an inclusive and progressive company of the future is actually run. In one of his first posts as CEO and CFO of Berrett-Koehler, David Marshall envisages a New Business Paradigm, a revolutionary model in which organizations are “more earth-friendly, eschew hierarchical decision making, and share information freely.” We also hosted our third online summit, The People First Economy Summit, which brought together leaders and activists across industries to engage in dialogue on structural change and share tools that practically implement and develop a democratic, equitable economy that empowers the many, and not just the few. In his recent talk at The People First Economy Online Summit, David goes into detail about how Berrett-Koehler is eating its own cooking when it comes to embodying how this company of the future operates.

One of the leading groups spearheading this charge to support companies of the future and creating an inclusive economy is the B Corporation Movement, led by the non-profit, B Lab. B Corps and Benefit Corporations, including your very own Berrett-Koehler Publishers, are a group of certified businesses and organizations contributing to a growing global movement dedicated to making this new economy a reality. Companies like Patagonia serve as examples of how the B Corp movement is able to accomplish great things that are in the best interest of people and the planet. Last year the B Corp Movement issued the Inclusive Economy Challenge and introduced rigorous certification metrics around DEI work. Ryan Honeyman, the co-author of The B Corp Handbook, explains this shift in the second edition, and writes about his experience with confronting white supremacy in his own life and work.

2. Inclusion, or bust

Many organizations have announced their commitment to supporting initiatives for increasing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) over the years, but are still falling short of achieving true equity and respecting difference. So what gives? The problem is that, unfortunately, too many DEI efforts amount to little more than lip service.

The main roadblock getting in the way of effective DEI programs is the failure to acknowledge that many of these programs don't execute their goals, rely too heavily on shallow "diversity optics," and avoid the deep work of structural change. Though there may be good intentions fueling efforts to increase diversity, an inordinate number of organizations are actually thinking about Diversity and Inclusion backward and overlook the importance of inclusive workplace cultures. Without serious consideration about the implicit biases (like microaggressions, harassment, or underrepresentation) that make inclusion and a sense of belonging impossible, employees from historically marginalized communities will continue to leave in droves. Emphasizing inclusion is more than a “bleeding-heart ideal”; it’s critical that organizations acknowledge that DEI is a top priority for younger generations that are the burgeoning majority of the workforce. Effective DEI programs are vital to the success of any organization that wishes to remain viable in the future and attract young talent.

Inclusion must be an all-hands-on-deck effort, from employee-run programs to leadership to organizational development, all systems, processes, and modes of communication should be developed with inclusion at their core. BK author Jennifer Brown writes about where to begin in building an inclusive leadership style, and DEI expert and consultant La’Wana Harris offers the necessary tools to coach people through their DEI journey. Leadership, in general, can play a huge role in building a workplace culture where everyone feels included. If achieving true inclusion feels like an insurmountable task that can’t grow to scale, then think again. Successful companies like L’Oreal, Accenture, and Gap are already setting a precedent, and you can, too. And you’re not alone here, either, because building inclusive workplaces is at the front of our minds at Berrett-Koehler.

3. Create the leadership style that’s right for you and your organization

Speaking of the influence of leadership, it should come as no surprise that we’re big advocates of moving away from outdated, command-and-control leadership models. But the truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all leadership style, and no two people or organizations are alike.

One of our most popular posts of the year examined the leadership style of Satya Nadella, who embraces the transformational ethos. Nadella’s transformational leadership style has translated into steering the mega-organization Microsoft away from the brink of collapse. Transformational leadership focuses on the potential for growth in each individual and hones this positive transformation toward the greater good of the organization. In another popular post, we took a closer look at the nuances between transformational and servant leadership, both of which advocate for putting the employee first and leader second.

We also had the privilege of getting up close and personal with Ken Blanchard, a world-renowned servant leader evangelist. Throughout the year, Ken provided invaluable insight into navigating the biggest problems servant leaders face, including re-directing an employee’s behavior to promote success, differentiating between a “can’t do” and a “won’t do” performance problem, and how servant leaders can practice what they preach by developing the mindset and skillset.

Does your organization rely on control, class systems, or top-down leadership  tactics? Now is the time to change. Download our free infographic for a better  way.

4. All employee engagement, all the time

As it is with diversity and inclusion efforts, employee engagement and development are core to any organization's success. But too often, engagement and career conversations are pushed to the back-burner, leading employees to feel undervalued and aimless.

How can leaders and HR professionals flip the script so that employee engagement comes first? The first step is recognizing how widespread the problem of disengagement is and how a lack of engagement is one of the key issues in retaining top talent and keeping your organization from achieving success. Once acknowledged, each organization has the opportunity to look at the specifics of what an engaged workplace looks like in practice, which scales employee engagement from the individual to the whole organization.

Although it might be counterintuitive to think of employee development as essential to building an engaging workplace culture, there are steps every leader or HR professional can take to ensure that a positive employee experience remains an ongoing focus and central to business strategy. BK author, Samantha Slade, of Going Horizontal, demonstrates how something as simple as co-creating a collaborative agenda for meetings can encourage various team members to voice their concerns and observations and step into leadership roles. Career development and engagement experts Julie Winkle Giulioni and Bev Kaye distill the five key actions you can implement today to build a workplace that will make your best people stick around. And, remember our emphasis on diversity and inclusion, especially when it comes to attracting top talent? Well, it turns out that DEI efforts can also have a huge impact on employee engagement.

5. Books in action

Berrett-Koehler authors are on the front lines of change, and books become the tools in the arsenal that can create a future in which organizations operate from a place of respect for people and the planet.

Breakout bestseller, Decolonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva, aims to tackle an incredibly complex issue of closing the racial wealth gap in philanthropy. On a personal level, this book has offered solace to people of color working in philanthropy and encouraged provocative dialogue with the intention to heal divides between the oppressors and the oppressed. It’s also moved the needle in terms of national debate, as Villanueva issues a call to action to close the racial wealth gap and modernize philanthropy in venues like The New York Times, Colorlines, Vox, and Non-Profit Quarterly.

BK authors continue to shape the management, organizational development, and leadership fields. Thinkers like Henry Mintzberg, who released Bedtime Stories for Managers, which is filled with bite-sized lessons with major impact, in 2019, and Ed Schein, author of the Humble Leadership Series, are the founders and developers of cutting-edge theory in management, leadership, and organizational development fields.

These theories don’t only live in our heads—BK authors are making change happen. Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, recommends that his entire staff read the perennial bestseller Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute, bringing the stories in this book to life in the workplace. Beyond the workplace, authors like Marjorie Kelly and Ted Howard are thinking big and making moves toward creating a democratic economy that works for everyone, a subject that’s sure to heat up during the 2020 elections.

And that’s a wrap, folks! We predict 2020 will be an even bigger year for positive change and transformation, and we can’t wait to join you in building a better world.

This leads us to our most pressing question of 2020: When it comes to creating a world that works for everyone, what are you most excited to talk about in the coming decade? Let us know in the comments or hit us up on social.

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