According to the 2012 European Communications Monitor, 60 per cent of communications professionals have faced an ethical challenge at work during the last 12 months, the majority of them ‘several times’. It’s a growing problem. Either the communications department has taken to hiring lots of overly sensitive types, or something ominous is going on. What’s happening that’s so terrible that so many comms folk are feeling professionally compromised? Are they being asked to lie to journalists or investors, to stall and defer paying supplier’s invoices or have they been asked get nakedto recreate a photograph of a naked royal in Vegas?
We’ve all been involved, at one time or another, in business discussions that left us fearing that the company’s brand values had either been mislaid or traded in for something less demanding. As the economic fog continues to outstay its welcome, it’s understandable that businesses will sometimes consider actions that wouldn’t get a hearing in happier times. Should prices be raised, simply because they can and quarterly targets look optimistic? Maybe the IT system investment should be deferred, even if customer service levels diminish? Or perhaps components can be sourced from a cheaper supplier, despite the shortfall of the cheaper supplier’s human rights record?
Running a successful and an ethical business when trading conditions are disagreeable is a tough gig. Cutting moral corners might be the only way to stay afloat, to win a key contract or remain competitive. Rather than feeling compromised and going home and kicking the cat, the comms team, as key guardians of the company’s brand and corporate reputation, needs to remind the business of its brand values and explain the long-term reputational risk of ignoring them for short-term gain. Have you ever heard a CEO complain that lower cost competitors can get away with doing things that his premium business would be crucified for? Me too.
But they’re the standards the business set for itself. It’s the promises made to customers, employees, investors, suppliers and other interested parties. If they’re no longer affordable in the long term, they might need redefining.
Business decision-making should be guided by the values the business stands by. When faced with a decision-making dilemma, clearly expressed values provide a reliable and consistent guide. If you’ve claimed customer service as your main market differentiator, a proposal that would undermine service should be rejected.
Similarly, if you have identified your people as your greatest asset, or operational safety at work or environmental leadership as core beliefs, they should remain core – even when the cost of sticking with them impairs short-term commercial return. Customers that have chosen you for your values will not tolerate your failure to live up to them, whatever the weather and difficulty of doing so.
If members of the comms department feel compromised, it’s likely other functions do too. With no end in sight to the economic headwinds, now might be a good time to reaffirm the business’ core values and remind everyone what those values are and why living them every day, and reflecting them in every business decision, is core to the business’ long-term success.