There are several reminders in the news about the importance of living up to the promises and pledges we make.
It’s easy for marketing departments to come up with the right set of messages – the ones that more and more consumers want to hear.
These messages tell us that the brand takes inclusion seriously. That it supports diversity. That it’s all for accessibility and really is trying hard to mitigate its impact on the environment.
But the actions business take must stand up to those messages. Apart from being the right thing to do, we’re all operating in the age of transparency. If there’s a gap between your values and your actions, you’ll get found out.
Words are not enough
You can have amazing values on your wall, and messages that have been tweaked to perfection, but words are hollow if they’re not reinforced by action.
Social media has given us a way to tell the truth about our experience with a brand, organisation or individual – including our employer. If there’s a gap – perceived or real – between an organisation’s values and its behaviour, some employees will feel they have a moral or ethical obligation to speak out.
Rather than trying to shut down those conversations, look at why there’s a disconnect and what you can do to live up to your values and promises.
People speak out when they find inconsistencies between words and actions
We’ve just seen Boris Johnson’s ethics advisor step down. He says he was placed in an “impossible and odious” position when the Prime Minister asked for his advice over an issue that would break the Ministerial Code. Lord Geidt, who was in his position during the #partygate scandal, detailed the issue in his resignation letter, which was picked up by media.
The UK government is the perfect example of an organisation whose actions go against its stated values, particularly in this instance.
We’ve also seen brands being called to account for this during Pride. For example, US telecoms brand, AT&T was one of the brands called out on social media for publicly supporting Pride, while donating to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians.
As businesses start to recruit the latest generation of employees, they’ll find that there’s a growing unwillingness to allow organisations to get away with these double standards.
Research shows that employees want to work for an organisation whose values match their own. If they don’t, they’ll either be discontented in their work, leave to find organisations that are driven by a purpose they can believe in or speak out.
How can brands (and individuals) ensure they do the right thing?
1. Deliver on your promises.
Consumers are sceptical of promises of ethical behaviour – they want to see results or at least some good progress towards your goals. Campaign groups will always be there to remind brands (and people in power) what they promised to achieve. Hold yourself accountable to your goals, and talk publicly about what you’ve done, not what you think you might do.
2. Can you reconcile the business’ mission with the public good?
There are some industries where this is almost impossible now. In these cases, it’s vital that the business doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. Tobacco brands will never be bastions of public health, for example. Focus on where you can do good.
3. Read the room.
Listen to what’s going on around you. What do the people around you care about? Your employees, contractors, customers, consumers, the media, suppliers, business partners- all of these stakeholder groups will be telling you what matters to them, if you listen. Check in with them regularly, so you know what the public mood is.