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Date: 2024-02-28 Page is: DBtxt003.php txt00004543

from the Ethical Corporation

How to embed sustainability and corporate responsibility in management processes ... Save money, eliminate risk and generate new business


Peter Burgess

How to embed sustainability and corporate responsibility in management processes ... Save money, eliminate risk and generate new business

It's OK not to have values

Some companies have doing-the-right-thing in their corporate DNA. For those that don't, all is not lost, says Mallen Baker

Just about every company will profess that they have values. They will be able to point to the poster on the chairman's wall that describes what they are. And the vast majority of them are wrong. But the good news is that's OK.

I want to be clear – my favourite companies of all time are ones that do have values. They can be inspiring and are never dull. They can do things because it's the right thing to do and then try to find ways to make them work, rather than fretting endlessly about the decimal point in their business case spreadsheet.

Companies such as Southwest Airlines, which is so true to its position that its people come first that it was the only US airline not to lay people off following the September 11 terrorist attacks. And it was, incidentally, the first to recover from the financial blow of that event.

Not that the company knew that would be the outcome when it took the decision not to sack people. Not that it had a business case document explaining why it would turn out to be profitable. Southwest just wouldn't do it, and the loyalty and commitment of its staff as a result turned out to be the magic ingredient that pulled it through.

Values-driven companies have a purpose beyond profit. They will lose a bright talent rather than have someone who doesn't fit the values. They will lose short-term profit if there is no way to make it without compromising their integrity.

If you phone the call centre, or the front-line administration, or the post room – they know what the values are and they see them affecting day-to-day decisions at every level.

Such companies are extremely rare. All the more precious for it.

And you know, it's easy to say all that and to conclude that all companies need to change themselves to be more values-driven. Every company must do it, or else they're not really serious about social responsibility.

But that's not the case. If you recognise that your stated values are aspirational rather than a solid description of the status quo, you just have to go about a more systematic approach to achieving consistent behaviours.

Values-driven companies can operate on high informality in cases of integrity, because the values are the guide at every level.

Where that's not the case, you have policies and processes that, properly executed, guide people into consistent behaviours across the reach of your empire. That's what you do when the leaders sign up to values, but these are not embedded in the heart and soul of the company.

We need both

Hopefully it will be obvious by now that I am not advocating companies display a disregard of values. The leadership should be able to demonstrate values and integrity, and they should be able to bring this to bear in how they exercise their duties.

But most top executives are rubbish at framing values in ways that anyone will care about. They produce values statements that read like gobbledegook, are often about outcomes not values in any case, and having framed them they then print the poster, put it on the canteen wall and assume that's job done.

The best values-driven companies have really, really childishly simple values. The sort of values that might come across as a platitude. Such as 'always do right by the customer', or 'our people come first'.

Driven consistently and relentlessly through the business, these are the values that become powerful drivers of behaviour. In any given situation, if you can refer to the values and know intuitively what you therefore ought to do – that's the power of a purpose beyond profit. When you can mobilise people to care about their work beyond the payslip, because their work is something they completely believe in, that's the rare benefit such companies can achieve.

But you can run a fine, respectable, profitable and responsible business that doesn't have that going for it. Indeed, we need to, because if we can only deliver a sustainable future through the actions of values-driven companies, then we're doomed.

We just need to be clearer and more honest about the space we live in. Tata Group has powerful values based on never, ever, paying bribes. Everyone else needs a written procedure, checks and balances and an internal training programme to achieve consistency.

Some companies will never be values-led, in spite of their firm, indignant, mistaken belief that they already are. And that's fine. If I were chief executive of BT, the Royal Mail, or BP, I wouldn't spend time trying to turn them into an animal they patently are not.

But I could run them creatively and responsibly to do some amazing and fantastic things in the corporate responsibility space.

Mallen Baker is managing director of Daisywheel Interactive and a contributing editor to Ethical Corporation

If you are a company that is looking to be value driven then successfully embedding CSR into management processes is vital. The new 62-page intelligence report looks at a range of embedding practices and a series of corporate functions, to help practitioners see how their efforts can be most effectively scaled across their company, to create shared values. It provides hundreds of examples of good practices from real companies, based on dozens of interviews with leaders.

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