Say What You Do, Do What You Say

Say What You Do, Do What You Say

The last 12 months has seen an unprecedented upsurge in what the public expect from businesses in addressing social and cultural challenges. Expectations – around issues such as gender equality, sustainability, globalisation, mental health and ethics – are at an all-time high.

It is no longer enough for a business to just say it does good things; it must also “walk that talk.” A disconnect between the Corporate Social Responsibility statement and corporate behaviour places the company at significant reputational risk. Just look at what has happened to Facebook & Miramax recently.

We are all significantly more sceptical about politicians, business figures, celebrities and other authority figures, than even a generation ago. Add to this the increasing polarisation of public views and it makes connecting with real human, cultural, ethical and environmental values even more vital for a business to survive and prosper.

As new generations become customers and employees, the pressures increase. To an even greater extent than their older millennial counterparts, Gen Z is leaving material baggage with previous generations and making it a mandate that corporations put their money where their social good mouth is.

Despite this shift in attitudes, I continue to meet businesses for whom their CSR policy and statements are just words and don’t reflect what’s going on in the business. This is not only a missed opportunity but presents a huge potential risk when it comes to procurement practices when the business itself and its suppliers’ actions aren’t aligned to the outward promises the business is making.

As an example, I was talking to the Head of Legal of one business about updating & improving supplier documentation. I pointed out that the advertised CSR commitments (for the businesses’ suppliers) shown on its web-site, should be made real in the Ts & Cs. The person answered that they’d worded the web-site very carefully so that neither the business or suppliers could be held accountable for ignoring these advertised CSR commitments. “We shouldn’t bother, it was too much hassle” was the conclusion.

In one sentence they’d not only ignored the reputational risk to the business – who would give a stuff about the niceties of legal wording if a business hits the press for flouting its own CSR claims – but also the manifold opportunities from Sales to Recruitment of doing the right thing. I’d have been shocked but unfortunately, I’ve encountered this attitude several times. My disappointment in this case stemmed from the active and loud advocacy by the business’s leaders about their CSR credentials.

However, this attitude will change; issues which were once seen as optional are now moving firmly into the regulatory field e.g. corporate manslaughter, conflict minerals, data protection, environmental protection, bribery, human rights. Compliance is becoming less of an option and these issues are moving more firmly into the public consciousness, failure to connect with CSR commitments is now bordering on negligent.

I’m not advocating bureaucracy for its own sake. It has been proven that aligning the business, and that means its supply-chain, with progressive CSR values will pay dividends by cutting costs, improving efficiencies, attracting and engaging employees etc.

I was with the CEO of a business which sells beds on-line. For every 9 beds sold he donated 1 to the homeless. His customers and employees loved being part of that and he considered it a major cause of his success.

It’s an old adage but never truer than now that “You won’t go wrong by doing right.”