07-05-2018 | Redacción CEU
Sustainability, responsibility in data management, social inclusion, diversity, transparency, salary equity, corporate social responsibility, creation of shared value, alignment with the SDGs... These are just some of the most addressed topics in company dossiers and the announcements of initiatives of some of the most important companies in the world. All of them have something in common, the growing interest and concern for the care of ethics and the social commitment of the corporations that back them, but, what happens when these values are not real, but imposed?
If we turn the head and just look back a few years ago, we find that there are many things that have changed in our experience and conception of businesses. These changes are generated mostly by the impact on the economy of new trends like the boom of the shared economy, the blockchain appearance or the new alternative financing formulas; by a new work approach that is more focused on people, as in customer experience, but also on employee experience; by a change in patterns of behavior in society, such as hyper-connectivity, the growing smartphones use or the online purchases; or by, in short, everything that is related to the digital transformation of companies.
In this new way of understanding business, ethics also acquires a greater weight, problems such as climate change, the lack of harmony among different generations, the custody and use of data or the fight against corruption occupy a significant space in the corporative agendas. New figures that monitor the proper behavior of the firms like the Compliance Officer, a professional responsible for supervising and managing all matters related to the regulatory compliance of the company, or the Data Protection Officer, a specialist guarantor of the compliance with data protection in organizations, also appear in companies. It is evident that there is a clear interest in an ethical and social commitment in the contemporary business world, but what if this is not real in some cases, but just dramatized?
The Oxford Dictionary gave the category of word of the year to “post-truth” in 2016. A year later, the Royal Spanish Academy incorporated it into its dictionary. This institution has defined it as the "deliberate distortion of a reality, which manipulates beliefs and emotions in order to influence public opinion and social attitudes". This neologism is based on something that is not so new, the power-force of the emotion as a shaper of public opinion and a formula for reinforcing personal beliefs or prejudices.
If this concept has reached its current relevance, in large part, it is due to the proliferation of fake news in digital media, the use of data to spread personalized images or messages and its great influential force in society. Some experts argue that the inaccurate publications could have affected the results of the last US presidential election or the ones from the "Brexit" referendum. The post-truth allows that something that seems real and according to our way of thinking, although it is not, can be taken as indisputable and true without any need for questioning.
Some unethical agents can achieve short and medium term objectives using this technique. However, although the motor force of post-truth is viral and eclipses, in the long term it does not maintain. The same happens in the business world, the greatest guarantors of the behavior of a company are the ethical commitment and transparency. Words, empty messages and isolated actions are dust in the wind. It is the coherence, perseverance and integrity that really place a company as ethic. A work that implies that companies do not only look inside, but also outside.
The consumer is increasingly concerned about how the company that is behind a product or service behaves. This is one of the defended premises by the study "The company behind the Brand II" carried out by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research where thousands of consumers from 21 markets participated through online surveys. Among the most valued factors by consumers they found: the way in which these companies respond to problems, their ability to provide welfare to consumers and their social impact.
Companies increasingly depend on how customers talk about them, especially in terms of how ethical and honest they think they are. However, there are often obvious differences between what these clients talk about and what the companies themselves communicate. If this distance is large, the companies are at risk of losing consumers trust. When the 36% of global consumers say that they discuss with others or share information about corporate scandals or irregularities, the behavior of companies becomes crucial to not fall from public grace. The reputation of a company influences on the loss or support of customers, but also of partners, investors and public opinion.
In the short or medium term, a company can use an aesthetic or fake care of ethics, but maintaining this false image for a long time is difficult and can constitute its ending in the future. Now that the business ethic has gone from sitting in the back seats to get on stage, the theatricality and dramatization of social commitment and the values care can annoy the spectators. In this digital environment characterized by immediacy, use of social networks, bidirectionality of communication and hyperconnectivity, users can discover lies or fallacies and, likewise, make a "real news" viral that is uncomfortable for the company.
The growing awareness of ethical issues and corporate social responsibility in business is very positive, but getting to develop and integrate these values and principles in companies is not a simple job that can be implemented from one day to the next. It takes dedication, effort and a tough will that have to be present at all levels. Companies not only have to work inwards (fighting against corruption, managing the conflict of interest, promoting the employee experience, the social inclusion or the elimination of inequalities, etc.) and outwards (protecting the environment, caring about social impact, designing healthy products, etc.), they also have to learn to look forward. In order to achieve a real ethical commitment, companies need to respond quickly and efficiently to problems and changes in the environment, identify and solve the new dilemmas that the legislation still does not contemplate and, above all, manage to transfer this ethical commitment to all the members of the company, because companies are the reflection of the group of people that compose them.
At The CEU IAM Business School we are aware that change is the only constant in the business world, to adequately respond to that unchanging transformative force, we believe that companies must also work from a persistent and strong ethical commitment. This is the approach that we have adopted when designing our Global MBA, without a firm commitment to clarity in values and a deep ethic of business, leadership is not possible.