The Four Circles – You in the Community

Posted by The Icehouse on 28/11/2023 12:00:00 AM

First conceptualised in Gearing Up: Leading your Kiwi business into the future (Kolb, Irving, Shepherd and Woods; Auckland University Press, 2020), The Four Circles are the four connected elements which, when working effectively and harmoniously, contribute to a successful and stimulating life for an owner manager. 

The Four Circles – You in the Community

The Four Circles idea also influences many of the concepts taught in The Icehouse's flagship Owner Manager Programme (OMP). Alongside The Business, You In The Business and You, a fourth circle was introduced more recently. 

‘You in the Community’ is the community and global context in which a business sits and the ways it can lead change. And while not a new phenomenon, the fourth circle recognises and celebrates businesses' ever-more entrenched role in doing good work.
"Owner managers have always been part of the community that they're working within and serving, and what we're seeing now is perhaps more discussion and a greater awareness around that," says Deb Shepherd, co-author of Gearing Up and Changing Gears, and a key figure in the development, design and delivery of The Icehouse programmes, including OMP, since 2001. 

"There is also a growing realisation of the role of businesses in contributing to the overall success of communities. A growing number of organisations are very explicit in thinking about that fourth circle, that social community side and/or social enterprise, where profit and purpose are both critically important."

Of course, the commercial realities cannot be ignored. Community involvement enhances brand reputation, as customers appreciate socially responsible businesses. As early as 2017, one influential study revealed, ‘87% of consumers would buy a product from a company that advocated for an issue they cared about’ (Cone Communications). 

There’s also some evidence to suggest that community-based business initiatives are getting  a significant push from the high-spending, social media aware incoming generation (both customer and employee). 

Pre-Covid; ‘87% of millennials and a staggering 94% of Gen Z expected companies to address pressing social and environmental issues’ (Sourcing Journal). Post-Covid, expect those numbers to be even higher.

There’s an undeniable truth that business can be a force for good. Best of all, Kiwi businesses are very good at working with their community; whether it's supporting local school initiatives, the employment of local families, contributing to the local op shop, running barbecues or sponsoring school sports, the list is endless.
Many of our alumni are doing wonderful things locally, nationally and internationally. Pic Picot, OMP alumni and owner and founder of Pic's Peanut Butter, established The Food Factory, a charitable trust that provides an affordable food-grade workspace and collaborative environment.

As part of his business's 'Sole Responsibility' initiative, Shane Anselmi, Founder and CEO of Overland Footwear and another OMP alumni, has seen to it that a significant portion of footwear is made by skilled local craftspeople at its factory in Chang-An, China – to gain control of its product and ensure good working conditions for the team. 

This is a good example of how the fourth circle also extends to ‘social justice’ in business – the lengths organisations go to create a sustainable and ethical product through their actions and operations regulated by the company itself, and employers, customers, and the wider community.

Thinking about doing something but not sure where to begin? Our alumni tell us that the first thing to do is not listen to the noise. Ask yourself some very simple questions. What are you genuinely passionate about, and how could that look locally? Then widen the concept out to the team. What would they like to do? You may be surprised at how many of your employees are already participating in community activities – the germ of an idea can be closer than you think. Moreover, buy-in from the team encourages employees to become more deeply involved in the business and can inspire uninvolved staff to be more engaged.

"At The Icehouse, we always say that our fourth circle is not about telling businesses to do more, but to acknowledge the great work they already do in the community and to inspire others to start somewhere or continue the journey in an attainable way," says Bryar Stewart, Community Manager (Growth) at The Icehouse. “Community involvement enriches the business experience, it can ignite new passions and take businesses and their owners on rewarding journeys they never imagined.”

Above all, you don't need to do it alone. Start small, and don't feel you need to make significant changes quickly. Consider working with your local network and tap into the knowledge of local chambers of commerce, trusts, charities and foundations to make a bigger difference. And be authentic – savvy customers can spot a cynical play from a long way off.

Evergreen supports rural families and communities in the wider Hawke's Bay region. We started in 2014, to support social causes staff cared about. Then it grew with the need, acknowledging that you don't need to have a big grand plan or huge resources,” says Brendan O'Sullivan, OMP alumni, Tumu and bbi Director and Evergreen Trustee.  “Imagine if every business looked at its resources and married it with social needs. We can create great community outcomes.”

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