And the next question is: but how do we know what values companies really have? To what extent can companies, like individuals, declare themselves to be socially conscious, creating a mismatch between image and reality? I know, it seems cynical, but I’m not the first to suggest that values spin is part of the problem.
Lewis Green asks the values question in a thoughtful post titled "Do Values Matter" in yesterday’s MarketingProfs Daily Fix. He tracks some interesting research, and concludes:
Are business values important to most Americans or are they just words on a piece of paper that make us feel better about ourselves? Many of you know where I stand based on my book and my other writings. But where do you stand?
The research is intriguing:
The 2004 “Cone Corporate Citizenship Study” revealed that 80% of Americans trust companies that work for good causes, a 21% increase since 1997. Social outreach is only one factor in a values-based business but I believe it is the most apparent one to those outside the company.
“Our report is the nation’s longest study of American attitudes toward corporate support of social issues,” says Carol Cone, CEO of Cone, a Boston-based strategic marketing firm. “This study, in a series of research spanning over a decade, shows that in today’s climate, more than ever before, companies must get involved with social issues in order to protect and enhance their reputations.”
So far, so good, but something in Lewis’ introduction caught my eye. I think there may be another angle on this. He says, before introducing the research:
…businesses such as Starbucks, IBM, HP and Merck built their ethical and moral foundation on stated values through which they filter business decisions. I’ve begun to wonder if anyone cares.
What catches my eye there is some doubt about large-company examples. Starbucks, for example. I’ve admired Starbucks several times in this blog, but I also liked Steve King’s post, Doing Too Well by Doing Good, on Small Business Labs, which looks at one small piece of Starbucks lore from a very different angle. That’s just one example. IBM? Merck? Maybe. I wonder if they still achieve premium pricing in developing countries, like they used to.
So then again, about values in business, maybe it isn’t that nobody cares, but rather that nobody really believes, particularly not when we’re talking about larger companies that presumably understand and manage the power of spin.
Maybe that’s why I still like the smaller business, in which values are (I think) more visible, more about treatment of employees, and customers, and what they sell, to whom, and how. Or maybe it’s just late at night, and it was a long day.