Observations by Anne Bahr Thompson
The US, and indeed the world, continues to shift at an accelerating pace, one faster than we have seen before. And as it has, I’ve been asked by a number of clients and prospects if I believe the call for companies to do good will continue. Real change takes time—even when it’s a proactive choice. By nature, it’s full of competing demands, and it is far from easy. The path to fully embrace new ways of being is never straightforward. Sometimes one or two steps backward are required before we can leap forward.
Although digital technology has enabled us to live in a world of also with opposites coexisting alongside one another harmoniously, populist sentiment appears to be determined to drive us back to a world of either/or, where our social identities are singular rather than multidimensional mashups of conventional distinctions. Although the recent election in France demonstrated that the current populist movement may not be as broad and as powerful as many had thought previously.
An increasingly polarized socio-political climate has had many companies—large and small, new and legacy—on edge. During conferences I’ve attended and in a large number of my meetings with clients, the topic continues to come up. Ever hopeful to stay out of the political fray, executives across industries wonder which news flashes to respond to and which to ignore. In assessing each scenario, they consider their brand reputation, the interests of their business operations, multiple stakeholder concerns, and overarching public perception. People—customers, employees, investors, business partners, and fellow executives alike—have been watching closely, curious to learn which brands are stepping up to behaving responsibly and advocating for national, community, and individual well-being. Rather than decreasing the call for the model of good Brand Citizenship® that Onesixtyfourth’s CultureQ® research surfaced in 2011, populist sentiment and government policy may ultimately increase the pressure on corporations to do good.
The model that has guided business since the 1970’s has been shifting with the changing Zeitgeist. Increasing numbers of investors like Larry Fink at BlackRock and global businesses such as Unilever, Google, IKEA, Kimberly Clark, and Walmart to name a few, are promoting a reshaped concept of value creation. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase recently joined the call when he stated, companies not only have “a moral obligation but also a deeply vested interest in delivering on [the] potential for public good.”
These businesses as well as many others no longer are being guided solely by the short-term maximization of shareholder profit. Rather, each in their own way is promoting long-term, sustainable creation of value. Add in a growing number of start-up social enterprises and the fact that the speed of research and development has trained us to expect continual advancement, and the concept of business, and indeed society itself, returning to the past—in other words purposefully choosing to move backward—seems highly unrealistic, and even potentially foolhardy. After all, customers, employees, investors, and other stakeholders (in other words real people) have already had a peek at the future. And our five-step model of Brand Citizenship and many other new models being trialed offer successful ways to shape it.