Once upon a time, businesses solely cared about making money. For many people still reeling from the devastating impact of the 2008 economic collapse, today making money remains important--but so is a stable job. 

But over the last decade we've witnessed a new trend, especially among the men and women attending business schools. These people no longer are satisfied with only collecting paychecks and ascending the proverbial corporate ladder; now they want meaningful jobs.

They yearn for what is called a Career With a Heart. They want work to be aligned with their personal values. They want their jobs to positively fuel, sustain, and energize their work over the long-haul. And instead of aiming for the often unattainable work-life balance, negotiating a career with a heart allows their personal and professional lives to complement and nourish each other.

Beyond goals for individual careers, there's another shift happening in the business world; people, especially the Millennial generation, want to work for companies that innovate and have a positive impact on the world and society. This isn't just another call for corporate responsibility. It's people who truly believe that any business can serve as an agent of positive change in the world.

The Ross School of Business identifies these companies as part of the positive business movement, whereby businesses go above and beyond maximizing shareholder value, making the world a better place. Positive businesses place a premium on employee engagement by encouraging and building workplaces that thrive on the very things that support a career with a heart, such as innovation, creativity, integrity, generosity, and inspiration--all while placing a high premium on managing and leading their employees in a positive, cooperative manner. An excellent example of a positive business operating today is Zingerman's, a collection of small food-related companies and entrepreneurial ventures in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Zingerman's is led by CEO and co-founder Ari Weinzweig, who explains his business philosophy:

Instead of having a conflict-based, win-lose approach that is so endemic in most of the world where the customer is fighting with the business and the owners are fighting to hold down the employees, we can create something where everyone is in it together.

A positive approach to business and leadership doesn't just benefit employees--it benefits organizations as well. Numerous studies, like the one conducted by Gretchen Spreitzer, faculty member at the Center for Positive Organizations, have shown the power of positive employee engagement. In this study, she and her colleagues found that people who thrive at work demonstrated 16 percent better overall performance (as reported by managers) and 125 percent less burnout (self-reported) than peers. Plus these employees were 32 percent more committed to their organization and reported 46 percent more job satisfaction. That's a win-win for executives and employees.

But positive business is not only about the people factor. At the 2014 inaugural Positive Business Conference, Ross professors shared cutting-edge research on positive business practices through finance, accounting, production & supply-chain management, marketing, business law, and strategy. Yes, positive business includes treating employees, producers, consumers, and suppliers with dignity and respect--but it's as much about community, leading on social issues, and working to better the environment. It considers social and natural resources in a way that goes beyond sustainability to build flourishing healthy ecosystems.

Business schools need to quickly respond to this shift to view business as a way to do good, and develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world. For example, in my own negotiating classes and programs, I challenge my students to go beyond the traditional tug-of-war battles over resources and beyond the proverbial win-win approach. I teach them not only how to cooperate to co-create financial value but also how to embrace an even more positive approach that also benefits well-being. Students recognize that negotiating is a creative process in which both parties explore and achieve better outcomes by working together to share, exchange, and build new resources. They negotiate genuinely to affect not only profits, but to propel positive business.

And the magic is that when negotiating genuinely, profits and positive can go together. When asked how she measures social impact and corporate responsibility, Sarah Endline, founder and CEO of Sweetriot had a simple answer: Counting the chocolate she sells, because each chocolate is sourced and produced in a way that supports farmers and the environment. Are people willing to pay more for such products? Some definitely are. But if negotiated in a business savvy way, it might not cost more to implement positive business practices. 

This positive approach to negotiating, especially in business, is exactly what the world needs. We do not live in a zero-sum society. We face staggering global issues like natural resource depletion, poverty, political instability, and ongoing conflict and pollution, which threaten the world and all of humanity. If we're to solve the complex global problems we face, businesses must be on the forefront finding solutions, bringing people together to co-create value, and leading the way.

Can businesses inspire positive change in the world? Absolutely, and it's only just begun.

Published on: Oct 22, 2014