I’ve long admired Seth Godin’s writings and blog posts. Today’s post got me thinking, since it covers situations I’ve needed to respond to, and on many different sides.
Seth points out:
“Anyone who has done the math will tell you that word of mouth is the most efficient way to gain trust, spread the word and grow.
It only takes a moment to destroy. Only a few sentences, a heartless broken promise, a lack of empathy, and it’s gone. Not only that, but the lost connection can easily lead to lawsuits.”
I’ve had team members act this way, seen my leaders act this way, and, most importantly, received this attitude many times: “It’s not my fault. I did a perfect job. Tough luck.”
It destroys connection. Word of mouth now will work against you. In today’s highly connected world, these sorts of slip-ups can go viral and bring you a great deal of negative attention. And, sorry, I don’t buy the “any attention is good attention”.
When I was at Starbucks, I was part of the Corporate Social Responsibility team. Environmental issues, business practices, and corporate charitable giving were key components of our work (though that’s not all inclusive). When asked once, what value we brought to the company, my reply was “being allowed to stay in business”. More and more people are expecting companies to live ethically (within a range of definitions of “ethical”, of course). Considering such things as communities protesting the building of Wal-Marts, it’s clear, to me, that companies are going to face expectations of behavior that they ignore at their existential peril. And expecting to wait 5 years before acting is probably the most fatal of all thoughts.
Over the years, I’ve had Milton Friedman’s statement “a business’ responsibility is to maximize shareholder value” presented to me many, many times. Though I my eyes roll at that (I’m firmly buy into the Triple Bottom Line engagement model), I find the response of “what time period are we talking about?” to be the best. “Maximized shareholder value” for today? This minute only? Should the future ability to operate be sacrificed for maximized profits for the next earnings report? How many times has Wall Street rewarded such short-term thinking? Massive layoffs create a super strong quarter? Exciting! Except now the company can’t scale, or, sometimes, can’t even meet their current business flow. Considering the long-term detriment for such short-term decisions needs to be rewarded.
One additional thought with all this: the power of the individual. Sure, I can post a nasty critique of <insert evil company> on <Twitter/Facebook/Instagram> and get thousands/millions of views, have the “contact us” section of your website crash, and your phones ringing incessantly for days. But there’s the other side of this. The power of the empowered employee who chooses to engage, and solve problems. Sadly, it won’t be as powerful. It would be great to see “Oh My God, <company x>, your <employee name here> did <awesome thing> and our lives are so much better” end up with 1.5 million likes and RTs. But that won’t happen without a significant cultural shift. But that pushes you in the right direction. And if you don’t have a huge global presence, that’s the gold. Might actually be the only gold. Which, once tarnished, is so terribly hard to get back. You might not be able to make that investment in time/money/energy to repair before your company fails.