Any market psychologist will happily tell you that values and beliefs define who we are and they inform the choices we make.
But what we do, at any point in time, defines our intent. Out to make a quick buck or determined to have a lasting, positive impact?
After all, good people sometimes do bad things. Bill Clinton springs to mind. On the flip side, notorious people can do some astoundingly good things. Just look at the philanthropic giving of Wall Street’s billionaires.
Not long ago a corporate culture consultant took the Shared Value Project to task via Twitter. Referring to the use of Bangladeshi garment factories by Australian companies, she said CEOs without strong social values would make decisions that have a negative social impact. It was an interesting proposition. Would they?
A CEO’s job is to improve brand equity (improve reputation and customer advocacy), create products and services that the market needs now and well into the future, and build a workforce that is engaged and committed to the company.
If the company, under the leadership of the CEO, makes social impact its business, it is highly likely to succeed in these key areas. If you can grow consistently over time, you attract long term investors. That’s good news for the CEO’s remuneration package.
Self-interest, greed even, can lead to social impact where there is an opportunity to solve a social problem – large or small – and create revenue or improve margins.
Short term business decisions that harm society represent untenable risk to long term investors – the kind that form the bedrock upon which a company can grow by fortifying the share price.
Marketers, product innovators, and customer service managers – in fact anyone working in a company – need to focus on the fact that shared value is about companies sharing purpose with consumers and stakeholders (suppliers, educators, etc.).
The successful socialite knows that wearing Prada means acceptance – Prada knows it too – and they work together to keep the game alive.
The health conscious consumer knows that products with natural sugars and no chemical additives are better for them, the environment and turning around runaway global health issues like diabetes and obesity. The company that demonstrates shared purpose – a focus on the bigger picture, a moral code – is no longer a ‘food manufacturer’ but a ‘positive change agent’. That completely changes the dynamic between consumer and company. It opens a host of opportunities to create new products and services to a market that is waiting for more.
The term ‘lead by example’ is all about purpose. We need companies to lead by example and we’ll be happy watching their chief executives receive worthy admiration.