It’s time to stand for something*
In 2020, change happened. Yes, we were hit with the start of a global pandemic, but there was more… we experienced what seemed like a seismic shift in social activism. It was as if many of us woke up.
We started to take more notice of what was going on beyond our own worlds, perhaps because we were all at home, looking out, as events asked us to hold the mirror up to bias and inequities. We watched and engaged through our devices, or even broke Covid rules and took to the streets. We witnessed the change unfold in real time and we felt part of it. Somehow, despite the pandemic pushing us into isolation, we felt more connected to and concerned about the issues.
What transpired from a business perspective was remarkable. People didn’t just react to tragedies, such as George Floyd’s death, from a personal perspective; they looked for and expected support from their employers – in another big shift.
Organisations were caught off guard, not knowing how to respond to being expected to make a stand, and were called out by employees when they didn’t.
Our latest Generation Z research suggests this isn’t a passing phase. Gen Zs want to work for businesses that are ethical and whose values align with their own. 80% of respondents said it’s important (Important and Very Important) that the organisation STANDS FOR SOMETHING and cares about the same things as they do. You might think, ‘This is nothing new, haven’t we always wanted this?!’ The difference now is it’s become a non-negotiable, a number one priority, whereas it’s previously been further down the list of what’s important.
Consumers are also on the same page. 52% of respondents to a Ford survey (Looking further with Ford: 2020 Trends) say that, beyond price and quality, they are attracted to brands that stand for something bigger than the products and services they sell, something which aligns with their own personal values. We are increasingly looking to businesses to respond to and solve social issues – never more than now. For example, related to the war in Ukraine, companies have come under extreme pressure to ‘do the right thing’ and pull out of Russia, facing backlash when they’ve delayed. Many consumers, if they are in a position to choose, will simply no longer buy from businesses whose stances on ethics, sustainability, inclusivity or fair treatment of employees (to name only a few) do not stand up to scrutiny.
Does your business take a clear view on or have a natural leaning towards a social cause? If the answer is ‘No’, now is the time to turn that into a confident ‘Yes’. It will help you become more competitive in attracting consumers of the products and services you offer as well as great employees. Here are our talentsmoothie thoughts on how to develop a strategy that enables your business to stand for something:
1. Start with your values
To be able to authentically stand for something, you have to be clear about your values. Are they meaningful both for the business and your employees? Do they help drive the right organisational culture? Have they become outdated or require a rethink? Then, once you’ve established them, you need to articulate them clearly and action them daily.
Values are your guide. Take Adidas, whose stated attitude (reflecting values) is, “Impossible is nothing” and “We are rebellious optimists driven by action to shape a future together and we see the world with possibilities where others see only the impossible”. This is clarity that can live and breathe in products, services, consumers, and at every level throughout the organisation.
When integrated fully and woven into all areas of your people strategy and ways of doing things, from attraction and selection through to exit, your values create the environment you need, both for a great Employee Experience and for your business to thrive.
2. Align with a cause
Link your values with what’s important to your business and your people; brainstorm the cause or causes you want to stand behind. You can’t stand for everything.
Get employee input. Get customer input. What do they CARE about?
Establish your What, Why and Who: What will genuinely make a difference in your community, locally and further afield? Why will this work for your brand and your values? Who will it support? Then decide what your organisation’s unique, positive contribution is going to be – and what you are going to do about it.
Once you know the core issue or issues you support (and those that you don’t support), you can develop goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) around them. Create a clear narrative around cause and action – write (or re-write) your purpose and/or mission statement so that everyone can instantly know what you stand for.
Continuing the Adidas example, their stated purpose is “Through sport we have the power to change lives” with the subtext “We will always strive to expand the limits of human possibilities, to include and unite people in sport, and to create a more sustainable world.” Their mission statement sits alongside this “To be the best sports brand in the world”.
And as further food for thought… could you actively stand against something? Patagonia is a brand known for taking this approach over the years, challenging excessive consumption as part of its mission “We’re in business to save our home planet”. Consider whether a bold stance of that kind could fit better with your Why.
3. Be active – create a movement
If you really mean what you say you stand for and it is reflected in everything you do, you are on track to create a movement around your cause. It doesn’t have to be on a huge scale – you can make the difference you choose. Or aim high but start small and encourage others to help you grow.
Salesforce’s approach was to think big, educate, and invite people to join them on their journey. In January 2020, they announced a company goal to support and mobilise the conservation, restoration, and growth of 100 million trees by the end of 2030. They are on track – at time of writing they’ve planted 43,797,243 trees. Their website trees.saleforce.com leads with a tracker so you can see what’s been achieved and gives a range of ways, like becoming a “tree champion”, that you can get involved and be a part of the change. It’s a giant goal but through connecting with like-minds and creating a movement, everyone is invited to join in. They are a founding partner of 1t.org (“a platform for the trillion trees community”). Their other environmental projects reflect their sustainability priorities, and their product ‘Net Zero Cloud’ empowers both Salesforce and their customers “with a complete, actionable view of their carbon emissions data”. Their 2021 Sustainability Action Plan is published on their website for all to read and learn from.
Strive to be educational. The most interesting movements start by identifying a problem and helping us see what we can do about it. The outcome isn’t just about selling; it also gives back to the consumer in terms of new knowledge, including about what they can do.
Create employee and consumer experiences that support your cause and show the world that impact can be made one step at a time. Encourage people to follow you and engage with your cause – start a discussion, respond appropriately to external events, build a community around what you stand for, and keep communicating it clearly.
People want to see more action and fewer empty promises. In 2020 Nike flipped its tagline “Just do it” into “For once, don’t do it. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America. Don’t turn your back on racism.” And recognising that words alone don’t cut it, Nike’s Chief Executive, John Donahue, wrote to all employees recognising the need to “put our own house in order” and pledging 40 million dollars over four years to support the Black community in the USA. (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/05/nike-ceo-note-to-workers-on-racism-must-get-our-own-house-in-order.html for the full letter) When it comes to how you state and live your values, purpose and mission, any hint of inauthenticity or opportunism can have a negative impact on your business. Be genuine in your choices and follow through on them, in practice, with sincere, consistent action.
How talentsmoothie can help
Whatever stage you’re at in this process, we bring the pragmatism, experience and expertise to guide you. Whether you need to review your values, establish new ones, or more consistently embed those you’ve already identified, we can help. We know how to integrate all aspects of the work needed so you can clarify, communicate and act on your purpose, mission and the things you care about. With our support, grow your confidence to boldly STAND FOR SOMETHING.
*Included in our report Generation Z What They Want from Work (2022) are six questions to help you shape your Gen Z strategy. ‘How do you STAND FOR SOMETHING as an organisation?’ is the first of these. The full report is free to download here.
Make even better connections with your people. We are talentsmoothie, organisational development consultants and the employee experience experts. We can help.
+44 (0)20 7127 4741