Triple meter and triple bottom lines

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A triple meter is defined by wikipedia as a musical meter characterized by a primary division of 3 beats to the bar, usually indicated by 3 (simple) or 9 (compound) in the upper figure of the time signature. If that seems wrong, contact wiki-nerds@gmail.com. Street cred is important in purchasing as it is in any other field. This post helps me keep my street cred in the purchasing neighborhood, so bear with me. The title of this post damages it a bit, but I hope to get it back with the rest of the post. Triple meters have nothing to do with triple bottom lines, but they do remind us of an something very important that I once said, but have since decided was not true…hey, it’s my right as a skeptic.

A quick scan of the procurement topics of the day reveals that ISO26000 is up and running as a set of guidelines for corporate social responsibility. While I believe wholeheartedly in the concepts of people, planet, and profit, it seems that, just like in any system, serving three masters doesn’t normally turn out very well.

The triple bottom line goes against the reasoning behind having a single bottom line – the bottom-lineness of it all. What am I talking about? Well, a system is designed to achieve one goal, even though we can rarely find a single measurement that will directly link to that goal. Let’s take each one in order.

Planet – Could not agree more that keeping the planet healthy is everyone’s responsibility, and in spite of that disclaimer, there will be people that read what they want to read into the sentences that follow. However, businesses that score very high in the triple bottom line in planet, but low in profit, will tend not to exist anymore. Thus we will have someone, in the future who, not very versed in statistics, will forget about the survivorship bias and say “see, businesses that score high in “planet” cause improvements in profit.” Cue also those that say “you can do both!!!” Stop shouting, and calm down, because I agree. And actually, the environment part contributes to the profit figure in terms of a) consumer perception of your business b) governments “guiding” you to environmental friendliness and leveling the playing field – don’t want to get into “incentives” to hit arbitrary targets that can be gamed (the subject of a whole separate blog post when I get there…if I remember) and c) innovation can be a result of doing things in a more environmentally friendly way. Now, what do all those things have in common – yep – more profit.

People – Developing the minds and skills of those that work in the organization is a fundamental responsibility. But why? Is it to serve the second of three masters? The thought here is that the answer is no. Developing people that can think and are open to new ways of doing things increases people’s happiness at work as well as retention levels. Those items as well as the regular doses of process improvement all contribute to profit. Now, “command and control” style organizations will value things like loyalty and ability to carry out the wishes of others in a robotic fashion. However, I’m a big believer in reacting to customer needs rapidly and developing a system that flows without heroic intervention from the boss. Those items require people who can think and act in the absence of rigid structure. So, people, then, are not developed for the “people” portion of the bottom line, but rather developing people feeds the profit monster (and I use that jokingly, as it seems as though many times, profit is perceived so negatively).

Profit – the natural result of many other things working well, including people and planet.

The Triple Bottom Line includes worthy goals, but I’m not yet convinced that the framework is necessary. It’s a blog, so, since I don’t feel like repeating what I just said, so no long conclusion.

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