“Being good is good business.” High principles used to make a brand stand out from the crowd; in 2018 they’re a must-have.
The quote is from the late great Anita Roddick, founder of a natural cosmetics chain in the UK – The Body Shop. Back in 1984, she replaced product promotions in store windows with Save the Whale posters. It wasn’t a business decision, but it was good business. Within a decade, major companies around the world were seizing opportunities to raise their ethical profile by supporting good causes.
Fast forward 25 years, and it’s no longer enough to throw corporate weight behind a local community scheme or third-world programme, however worthy or high profile.
Today’s consumers and investors demand more. Much more.
They want brands to be ethical across every aspect of their business activities. From where and how they source raw materials and manufacture products, to the way they treat employees and business partners – being good has never before had so many dimensions, or meant so much to so many. Today everyone and everything is connected, so seamless external and internal communications are essential.
Trust and belief is at a premium, and brands can no longer rely on shiny advertising to gloss over their shortcomings. What a brand does on the other side of the world matters. In today’s connected world, brands cannot hope to hide unethical practices behind a façade of respectability.
Social media has given consumers the power to punish the unethical and reward the ethical. Twenty-five years ago, a dissatisfied customer might tell as many as 15 people about a bad experience. Today a trending complaint can reach 15 million or more, fatally wounding a brand in the process.
Unethical companies are not just punished by consumers, they also suffer at the hands of their own employees. Being ethical does not just mean championing a good cause, it means ensuring that every part of a business operates in a ‘good’ way and engaging employees behind this mission. Setting expectations about what ‘good’ looks like – for example, the company’s corporate values – is fundamental and creates a strategic space for internal communicators to step into.
Of course, before companies can reap the benefits of ‘being good’, they need employees to be aware and regularly engaged in what their organisation is doing to build ‘a good business’. In this regard, companies across Asia are defining and delivering these messages within the framework of an employee value proposition and an employer brand. This framework is a fundamental platform for engaging employees through pride and advocacy in their company.
Any cracks will be exposed, and a lack of authenticity in communications can do more harm than good. So the message to internal communicators in Asia is: Challenge your leaders if changes need to be made, then enable these changes to pay dividends by being open and transparent with your employees.
The rewards for being good are significant. Research shows that people in ethical organisations work harder and perform better than those in unethical companies. Pride and advocacy are key components of employee engagement, and it is no coincidence that high-performing companies also have strong business ethics.
Ethical standards impact recruitment as well. Millennials in particular place a high value on business ethics, which can be the decisive factor in their decision to apply for a job.
Ethics now a must have
Concern about business ethics is, of course, not new. Marvin Bower, who led McKinsey & Company in the 1950s and 1960s, commented: “There is no such thing as business ethics. There is only one kind – you have to adhere to the highest standards.” What’s new is the growing evidence linking high principles directly to high performance.
Cutting corners to make a quick buck will boost this year’s financials, but unethical business practices are a recipe for failure. Being unethical is not an option for companies with mid-to-long-term growth in mind.
In 2018, high principles in business are no longer a ‘nice-to-have’, they are essential for any company wanting to succeed in the consumer market, the stock market and the jobs market.
The value placed on ‘being good’ has been growing exponentially since 1984, and 2018 looks like being the year that ‘being good’ emerges fully into mainstream business strategy from its corporate social responsibility closet.