Running a business that is productive, innovative, and responsive needs to be a priority for any CEO. While no two businesses are the same, certain strategies exist to set yours apart. Lately it has become evident that companies that are comprehensively committed to those they serve see numerous benefits, both financial and otherwise. It’s simply good business in the 21st century to be fully immersed in your environment. This is the keystone of taking the holistic approach to business.

A holistic approach is one executed with the understanding that all parts are interconnected to form the whole. Not just within your business, but in the ways your business relates to the outside world as well. In a great many high profile business failures (in companies big and small), a fundamental problem was a drastic misunderstanding or willful ignorance of how their actions affected the outside world, and just how much that inward focus came back to hurt them. A business with holistic methods is respectful of these issues and creates overall good-not only for itself and its investors, but for their environment as a whole.

One primary principle in running your business holistically is the concept of creating shared value. Pioneered by Michael Porter, head of Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, creating shared value refers to the mutual dependency between a business and the community it serves. It states that businesses, while they create value for themselves, must prioritize simultaneously creating value for those they’re dealing with, whether they’re suppliers, customers, or simply the residents of the surrounding area.

One example of such comes not from a young, lean company, but an established conglomerate that didn’t necessarily have the most pristine reputation when it came to community engagement. Swiss-based Nestlé, responding to issues with their coffee bean suppliers in impoverished areas, started to provide farming advice and assist growers with procurement of necessary materials as part of a companywide initiative to focus on creating shared value. Not only that, but they began to pay higher prices for higher quality beans, incentivizing improvements while voluntarily spending more with an eye on long-term mutual benefit. The shared value came in the form of higher quality coffee for Nestle, and higher quality of life for their farmers. This holistic approach resulted in better conditions for both Nestlé and the wider community.

Porter advocates for this concept as a fundamental reinvention of capitalism, from a system that only supports its own growth to one that shares growth with the population at large in various ways. With greater attention being paid (thanks to the amplifying power of social media) to the potential negative effects your business may create, this strategy will certainly keep your corporate conscience clean.

You personally might not be in a position to support impoverished rural farmers, but there are some guideline principles that will help your company take on a holistic approach.

Be Sustainable

It might seem like just a buzzword to some, but sustainability is the difference between serving only your own interests and being in tune with those of the rest of the world. As global citizens, you and your organization must acknowledge that to use finite resources means you’re taking something that nobody else will be able to use. Using those resources responsibly (that includes materials and people) shows that you are the kind of leader that takes more than just the bottom line into consideration.

Listen to outside voices

It’s always tempting to dismiss criticisms from those who you feel don’t completely understand your mission, but if you’re not listening to those you’re affecting (even from far away), you’re not getting a complete picture of your impact. You never know where the next great idea will come from, or you might just be missing out on critical feedback. Trust yourself, but also trust that others might have something to contribute. Be open.

Encourage internal communication

Your employees are a vital resource that needs the same kind of care and attention as your clients and customers. A holistic approach is something that your entire team, from top to bottom, has to be on board with in order to have it work. Keeping them appraised of your thoughts and encouraging two-way dialogue shows them that you’re interested in what they have to say, a major component of good morale. While they will primarily be focused on their individual projects, an understanding of where they fit in the big picture is key.  

Remember the fundamentals

It’s tempting to chase trends to feel like you’re ahead of the competition, but often times you’ll only end up complicating things that are already working just fine. Knowing yourself and your strengths and weaknesses is an important component of the holistic approach. Of course you should stay appraised of what’s happening in your industry and in the business world as a whole. What you shouldn’t do is waste time looking for the hot new thing that would be better spent keeping your core constituents satisfied. Don’t complicate things that don’t need it.

Stay Curious

If you’re running a business, it’ll be tempting to conflate leadership with always knowing the right thing to do, or being sure of everything, no matter what. This can often lead you in the wrong direction, with nobody willing to step up and tell you that the emperor has no clothes. An open mind is a vital hallmark of the holistic approach. When you’re curious about what your employees are thinking, or looking to learn about new developments, you’re staying connected with what keeps your business moving in a positive direction. Asking the right questions is often equally as important as having the right answers.

For too long, business success has been synonymous with stepping over others to get your way. The holistic approach to business will change that perception. Being aware of the ways your business affects others, and being willing to change in order to fix any problems, ensures that you and your business are positioned to create real, lasting value. Not just for yourselves, but for the world you live in.