Precisely My Point!


Quoting from Vault / CNBC yesterday, “At a recent Conference Board event for marketing executives, Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh gave a controversial presentation in which he opined that innovative and collaborative company culture should trump profits.” 

Further, “Hsieh was followed by Ogilvy & Mather’s Chairman (and former CEO) Shelly Lazarus, who took the podium ostensibly to discuss the challenges ahead in marketing.

“Ever so subtly, however, Lazarus turned her address into a tutorial on corporate social responsibility (CSR), and why it is going to eventually become an unavoidable part—and expectation—of everyone’s job profile.

“Her argument: Being market-driven is not an excuse to avoid discussing your company’s corporate social responsibility, but the very reason for the discussion. She drove the point home with some eye-catching statistics:

  • In 1960, 70 percent of consumers felt business acts responsibly.
  • By 1980, that sentiment had fallen to 30 percent.
  • Today, that number is in the low teens.”

Here are two corporate leaders who get it!  And congratulations to Vault for picking up on it!  But I would take issue with Mr. Hsieh’s observation in a small way; profit and innovative and collaborative culture are NOT mutually exclusive!  Profit need not trump CSR.  Profit can directly result from an innovative and collaborative culture.  Given that point, I agree that the American consumer is tired of greed-based capitalism and begging for corporations to operate transparently and in a socially responsible way!

I believe Hsieh and Lazarus understand that successful organizations of the future will be principled, people-centered, servant-led, purpose-driven, community friendly and environmentally responsible.  Beyond that, they will make responsible business decisions that don’t throw the consumer or their employees or the communities in which they operate under the bus!  And, they will define their purpose as fulfilling an individual or collective consumer need, and recognize that profit is not the purpose, but is the reward for being successful.

To Lazarus’ point, “it [CSR] is going to eventually become an unavoidable part—and expectation—of everyone’s job profile.”  Of course it is, because performance is personal before it is organizational!  Every person in an organization will at some point be responsible and accountable for a piece of their organization’s social responsibility.  And, it will extend beyond the job profile to specific tasks and behaviors that will be expected of everyone in the organization from its board of directors to the shop floor staff.

We’re talking about a substantial shift in corporate culture for many organizations; but there are some, like Zappos, that are already there.  And, the profit is following the culture.

If your organization wants to earn back the consumer respect that business has lost in rather dramatic fashion over the last 50 years, be prepared to shift gears and let your mission, values, ethics, and responsibility to society drive every decision you make and action you take!  Culture and social responsibility, that’s where the money will be, and that’s where your organization had better be!

Here are some steps your organization can take:

  • Review and restate or redefine your mission, vision, and values
  • Redefine your purpose in terms of satisfying individual or collective needs
  • Make sure your ethics are real, not situational and that you have a code of conduct embedded in your organization, and FOLLOW IT
  • Create awareness of and measure your organization’s impact on the community and environment
  • Identify and clear away barriers to your employees’ success
  • Get all of your people on the same page
  • Clarify and communicate expectations and accountability throughout the organization, from the top down and the bottom up
  • Let profit be the measure of how well you are doing, not the purpose of your business
  • Make these changes personal for everyone in the organization

Yes, that’s fundamental and difficult change, but it’s a matter of survival, and yet another of those pesky little “better business basics!”

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