The ultimate test of an individual or organisation’s beliefs comes in times of adversity. It is easy in the good times to stand up and say “We believe in these things. We will live by this code.”
Many individuals and organisations claim to hold ideals similar to those listed below:
* That being active within and supporting the community is a worthwhile and important function of business.
* That being loyal to and supporting one’s staff is an integral part of doing business.
* Less commonly held – That products and services should be sold only to those who need them and to whom they will help.
It is at times like the current global financial difficulties, that you get to see which organisations hold these beliefs in truth and which merely adhere to them for the PR benefits. Those organisations which scale back or renege on their community support pledges, those organisations which retrench their entire Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) departments, those organisations which render once-valued and experienced employees redundant, and those which embark on heavy-handed, non-needs-based selling programs with the sole excuse of “difficult times may lay ahead” have missed the entire point of their good works.
We need the good works of the various CSR departments more so in times of difficulty than in the good times. When more do you need experienced and highly competent staff than when work loads are increasing and pressure is mounting? Why is it suddenly acceptable to carte blanche ignore your previously stated core values?
I appreciate that there are times when one does need to make sacrifices to maintain the viability of an organisation. A group that runs itself into the ground trying to help people benefits no one in the long run.
There are times when redundancies and cut-backs are warranted and necessary. But I question how many of the redundancies in recent months were warranted and how many were merely Executive Management or the Board taking the opportunity to cut costs without taking the blame personally.
Boards and Senior Management have a duty and a responsibility to their employees and their communities to stick by their principles in both the good times and the bad.
A wise company should forever keep itself in a trim and well structured manner such that redundancies are never necessary.
A wise company should invest in its CSR department the most heavily when it’s community is in the most need – even if that means investing less in the good times and building a capital reserve for the bad times.
A wise company should function such that it need never make the choice between survival and sticking to its principles.
I have no doubt that many people will be saddened to discover that companies they admired or supported do not truly value the principles they claim to.
I will, no doubt, be saddened to discover how many companies try to hide their transgressions, to silence discussion within their ranks about redundancies, the cancelling of CSR programs, or to discover that when times get tough their employers put the pressure on the sales rather than providing the service and support they claim to hold as the essential priority.
Growth and financial success are not everything.
Indeed, they are nothing without a flourishing society in which to enjoy them.