At a certain level, communications is a process of asking oneself a series of quite simple questions: What do I want to say? To whom should I say it? What do I want them to do?
For me, though, there is one question that is more important than most: Who cares? In a sense this is two questions. Firstly, does this (whatever it is) matter to anyone at all? And secondly, is there anyone taking responsibility?
One of the things we know from our research into authenticity is that three of the nine drivers of reputation relate to society benefits. Whether or not a company or brand is seen to be looking after its employees, contributing to its community or taking care of the environment has a manifest impact on how it is perceived and the reputation it builds. This reflects the fact that increasingly companies are having to look beyond compliance (which is essentially a legal requirement) toward ensuring “freedom to operate,” granted or denied by society based on the extent to which expectations match with the experience of the company. This is not necessarily rational or fair, of course, and is difficult to predict and manage.
It may or may not be right for the burden of responsibility to fall increasingly at the door of the corporate world, but in a very real way this is not relevant.
Most organizations get this. A recent survey by Ethical Corporation on “The State of Sustainability in 2015” found that 69 percent of corporate CEOs are convinced of the value of sustainability to their company. In part this is based on enlightened self-interest – companies do not want to be pilloried and, with social media, it has never been easier for protestors to gather and for damage to be done.
Equally, though, companies are expected to fill in gaps left by government. In many ways, people have asked themselves “What is the purpose of business?” and have decided that it has to be more than just to make money. This brings us back to expectations. It may or may not be right for the burden of responsibility to fall increasingly at the door of the corporate world, but in a very real way this is not relevant. It only matters that stakeholders, audiences, customers, clients, people expect companies to step up, and are constantly expecting more.
Twenty years ago, CSR was generally little more than a recycling policy and donations to charity. Now companies are supposed to be on top of their entire supply chain, to demonstrate an ethical commitment to society that transcends legal requirements, and to have leaders who can inspire and represent their industry.
Which brings us back to our starting question: Who cares? Companies do. They care because caring is the price of entry, because everyone expects them to, and because expectations, more than anything, matter.