This HBR article is worth a read. It describes the increasing transparency of our media age as a catalyst in changing the conditions under which business must operate. Adding the quality of behavior to the quality of product and marketing will be increasingly required as citizens become more discerning about whom they do business with. To do that, tin ear managers cannot just put on a happy face as they have with diversity of gender and skin color, but not thought. They must actually open up the talent evaluation process to include new kinds of managers.
What must companies change about themselves in a world where people judge them by how they do business as much as by what they produce or provide? The first priority is to promote managers with a mindset of sustainability, and assemble orchestras around them who share and amplify it. This mindset needs to inform environmental management, certainly, but it also needs to extend beyond green concerns to social issues that affect employees, customers, and other stakeholders — in other words, to guide the company’s conduct in all affairs and in all corners of the world.
I often speak to groups of business leaders, including CEOs, and I ask a simple question: “How many of you, in partnership with your head of HR, can quickly compile your list of top performers?” Most are sure in their response — hands fly up, showing how proud they are of systems and structures to identify that talent. Then I ask: “How many of you can do the same with regard to your top ethical leaders — the people who exemplify your organization’s values and standards for doing business?” The hands sink from the air.
As so many of the readers of this blog have commented, the current consensus is to do just the opposite. Managers feel increasingly threatened by the new transparency and try to control messages with empty marketing campaigns, making up values to fill a vacuum. But the challenge to the system is arising from within. Upcoming generations are not “company men” with loyalty to the firm coming above all other loyalties. Quite the opposite. Managers that do not open up or step aside for new ethical leaders eventually find themselves on the defensive. That is a good thing.