There are many different ways to look at commercial enterprises. If you purchase something from a company, you will tend to look at it from the standpoint of a customer. If you’re retired and living off your savings, you may look at the same organization from the standpoint of a small shareholder. An employee’s frame of reference will be different from both and the local mayor will have yet another perspective.
To me, this speaks to the many functions that commercial organizations play as social and economic actors within our communities. Those functions are all important and we take an overly simplistic view of things when we ignore some aspects to focus exclusively on others.
I’m sure there are many others but personally, I can think of at least six different ways of looking at commercial enterprises of all stripes:
1 – As providers of goods and services: This is what commercial organizations actually do — the value that they provide to their customers.
2 – As sources of income or livelihood: Commercial enterprises can be either direct or indirect sources of livelihood for stakeholders as diverse as employees and their families, pensioners, direct or indirect shareholders, beneficiaries of community donations, etc.
3 – As skills and knowledge exchanges: Organizations are critically important for the transmission of skills and know-hows of various kinds, from very technical ones such as running a computer network to ‘soft’ ones like collaborating on a project.
4 – As vectors for progress and innovation: Whether through formal R&D programs or other means, organizations have acted as incubators for all types of innovations which have found their way into our daily lives.
5 – As human communities: Humans are social creatures and for many of us, the workplace remains a privileged environment to interact with others. The workplace is also one of many interlocking communities that add up, collectively, to the broader society that we are part of.
6 – As schools of character: Places where we get to develop—through many years and decades of surmounting problems and difficulties large and small—traits such as wisdom, courage, tenacity, respect, honesty, and many others.
Of course, all companies don’t perform the same on the various dimensions listed above. Some offer great products and services to their customers while others fall short; some provide many high-quality jobs while others offer mostly the low-paying type; some are hotbeds of progress and innovation while others struggle to keep up with the times and some offer rewarding work environments while others could use some improvement on this front. Some are good corporate citizens while others, unfortunately, are not.
Be that as it may, commercial organizations are inherently multi-faceted and looking at them from a narrow standpoint risks understating the many important roles that they play within our communities. This matters greatly because whether individually or collectively, the way we look at organizations plays an important role in the way we choose to engage with them. The vantage point(s) that you select will determine the kind of opportunities that you can seize and many people young and old would benefit from taking a broader view.
What about you? How do you look at the organization you work for?