Tag Archives: corporate culture

Sustainability communications

ev logo[I was invited by Ethical Value to be a guest blogger, this post was originally written for, and published there, but the content remains my own and I thought I would share it here.]

“There’s a kind of self-fulfilling perception to it,” said Robert Lichter, a pioneering media-bias researcher who heads the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University. “Once people see something they don’t like, they notice things that reinforce the belief that there’s bias” in the media as a whole.

While the above quote supports politics, the truth is that our personal filter (conservative, liberal, eco-warrior and corporate raider alike) determines just how any messaging will resonate with us; and that is precisely my point.  As a communicator I often marvel how the truly well-intentioned manage to sabotage their altruistic intent, while the commercially focused manage to leverage all the ‘goodness’ of the sustainability message to greater profit. (In this I am focused only on messaging and not on the financial means to cover every eventuality and thus to dominate the landscape.)

“However great an evil immorality may be, we must not forget that it is not without its beneficial consequences. It is only through extremes that men can arrive at the middle path of wisdom and virtue.”

Wilhelm von Humboldt

Sadly many of those (thoroughly) invested in sustainability, in protection of the planet and its renewal, whose works span every aspect of driving ethos toward a common standard of good, are very much like (highly skilled surgeons or) engineers in the technology sector with whom I have worked – infused with passion and intelligence they make the tragic error (from ego-centricity) that they can also create compelling, succinct messaging which will engage both constituent audiences as well as the broader general public.  It simply isn’t so. To establish that ‘middle path of wisdom and virtue’ demands cohesion, breadth of skill and continuity, the satisfactory resolution of a problem demands active communication – (not as exampled with this link) and it requires the development of communications which while not offensive to the ‘choir’ will encourage the ‘to-be-converted’. There is an art and science to this. You have to be capable of switching the flavor of Kool-Aid to accommodate specific tastes!  Bridging the space between the über-conscience and the corporate bottom line must draw upon our common humanity and our unified status as stakeholders– a precept of effective management fostered by R. Edward Freeman in his influential book Strategic management: a stakeholder approach published in 1984.


Vintage Van Cleef & Arpel “birds” brooch (sadly, not mine).

The truest tragedy of sustainability communications, like our filters over choices related to primary source for news and information, begets the ‘birds of a feather, flock together’ syndrome. The message stays within a group already pre-disposed to the content; yet we are all stakeholders in sustainability.  Whether beating back human trafficking, climate change, fracking, Monsanto, big Agra-business and beverage companies over labeling or the total removal of GMO or the warmer and fuzzier challenges related to clean water, children’s education and immunization, the ‘eco-warrior’ is viewed as an extremist – even as all humanity would benefit from the changes being championed. Ironic isn’t it? And, as with the old adage about to mark true wealth is to be able to count on one hand those people you could call at 3 in the morning if you were in trouble, so too a resonate message for a cause our filter deems worthy will drive us toward engagement and support. ­­

Twenty years ago, what has now morphed into the sustainability dialogue was pitched as ‘cause-related marketing’ and those companies whose leadership ‘got it’ understood that alignment with something ‘warm and fuzzy’ was very good for the bottom line – especially with tax loopholes which allowed for the costs of deployment to be written off as charitable contributions or operating expenses.  Sustainability or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) takes cause-related marketing one step further – or should – and applies equally to the not-for-profit as well as for profit segments of our society.  CSR ideally is the active cultivation of a corporate conscience embraced by every employee from the mailroom staff to the corner office occupant that ‘doing good’ because it is the right thing to do and in doing so subsequently creates benefit for the corporation.  I am of the opinion that embracing CSR is the surest path to creating not only broad stakeholder value but ultimately improving the full breadth of perception including employment branding (which fosters retention and mitigates costs related to hiring and training), AR, IR and PR, shareholder value, sales as well as fostering change for the greater good.

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As children, parents, lovers, friends and employees we engage, learn compromise, encourage, accomplish the benchmarks of life, provide value and, in return, are compensated for our efforts in many different ways. Having recently decided to leave behind authorship and entrepreneurship (and all the solitary nature, long hours, and black hole financial nature entailed) to seek employment again, it is a wonder to me how much has changed in the relationship part of the application and hiring process.

I have listened to friends lament their frustration with ‘business intelligence’ software that is (theoretically) supposed to cherry pick the best candidates from amongst those who are submitting their credentials for a vacancy. Business intelligence software is failing the hiring process, jobs are going unfilled and company reputations are being negatively impacted as a result.  Image(Strong employer branding works in tandem with corporate communications but the underlying systems still need to function properly.)  Some estimates in the United States cite that recruiters and human resources talent managers average a mere 15 seconds per CV for their review; is it any wonder that highly qualified candidates are still unemployed after two years of rigorously applying and interviewing?

More than a year and a half ago a dear friend applied for a senior level position with Mary Kay Cosmetics. S/he was (eventually) shortlisted and a year after initially applying flew to their Dallas headquarters to interview in person.  Six months later – nothing; no one has been hired for the role and not even a blind email distribution communication has been sent, that ‘used to be’ considered rude, today it earns a Twitter #fail.

I just started applying for similar positions in Scandinavia – my experiences to date could not be more different.  For two of the three positions I have applied for in the last fortnight (incredibly) the hiring managers’ name, email and direct phone number (sometimes with hours of availability) have been included in the job description.  One hates to be a ‘bother’ and so for one position I didn’t actually reach out to the woman for fear of seeming a ‘pushy American’ and, with regret, this morning discovered that the company (in less than a week) has already identified their perfect candidate! Whoa. Might a different outcome been realized had only I reached out when the opportunity presented itself?  Yesterday I rose at 3AM EST to grab a shower, have a small breakfast and call the hiring manager at the other company which had provided these details. If I had any expectation it was that I might be given between 10 and 20 minutes of his time – I found myself both apologizing and expressing my gratitude for his goodwill in realizing that we had been chatting for over 45 minutes. This, I should say, was not even an interview! Yes, I certainly believe it was a fact finding mission on both our parts.  Image More importantly, because of his generosity and sincere enthusiasm for his employer I came to recognise that I would be delighted to have this man as my boss as well as work for this company whose culture was made so appealing.

Let’s assume for a moment that some level of discernment is being applied when an individual submits their credentials for consideration; that they are actually at least 85% qualified for the role and the remainder is within our capacity to ‘scale’.  Just as our chemical receptors signal synergy with a potential mate because of our pheromones the hiring process requires a dialogue between two people.  Our human-ness allows for sowing the seeds of a working relationship that will ‘get things done’ as well as be pleasant.  Much as engineers are invaluable to our society I come to doubt the improved efficiencies offered by their ‘coding’ (in this case SEO SaaS) are the answer when so much about working together depends upon the nuance of asking a question, engaged listening, (not) taking another call, (not) texting in the midst of a conversation or in uttering a sigh – in other words, finding mutual respect and building on it. Instead of innovation, maybe corporate America should consider disrupting the hiring process by re-engaging the ‘human’ to human resources functions.


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