This is the second in a four-part series based on The Power of the Dragon: 2012 is the Year for Change in which we ask corporations to deliver on the Dragon's Four Blessings of the East. In this post, Virtue.
"When you are increasingly naked, fitness is not optional. Survival will force you to get buff." - Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams in HuffPost Business
It's time for companies to shed their bulky clothing and show the world what's underneath. Some of what's under there will look pretty good and some of it will need some shaping up. Either way, we want to see what you've got.
Consumers have a genuine curiosity for what a company does. They want to support companies with whom they can connect and who share the same values. It's an emotional connection that can really only be felt once there is a deeper understanding of how a company impacts the world it operates in. And that requires some honest revelations.
Some companies seem to worry that they must already be doing everything right before going public with their Sustainability and CSR performance. Who can blame them? Being naked in public can be scary. But there may actually be a greater reputation risk when only some business activities and impacts are revealed (or if they're not revealed at all). Suspicions are immediately aroused when consumers believe that something has been deliberately omitted.
In their stellar article quoted at the top of this post, Tapscott and Williams rightly suggest that there is a fine balance between transparency and revealing trade secrets or compromising personal privacy of stakeholders. But that balance needs to be found in order for organizations to satisfy consumer demands for information.
It's exciting to see companies who recognize the need for a richer dimension in their relationship with stakeholders. Patagonia, for example, takes great pains to publicly examine their business practices via the Patagonia Footprint Chronicles (re-launching in February). They have also joined forces with other like-minded organizations to create the Sustainable Apparel Index, "a common, industry-wide tool for measuring the environmental and social performance of apparel products and the supply chains that produce them." Tools like these that will make it easier for a company to share its CSR performance will be welcome by consumers.
Unilever has set the bar high with its Sustainability Strategy, showing that companies can start from wherever they are and pledge to make changes for the better. And through other initiatives, like the Sustainable Living Index, go far beyond Corporate Social Responsibility as we know it.
Organizations don't need to be sleek and lean to feel comfortable baring it all for the world. Anyone who has made it through January and still hits the gym will tell you the recognition they receive from family and friends has made every painful moment worth it.