Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What's Old Is New Again

Two things caught my eye in the media today, (well several things did, actually, but these two are fodder for a blog post!).

PRNews published its annual list of “Corporate Social Responsibility” award winners and in the introduction to the March 1, 2010 edition, the magazine’s editor talked about the “economic chasm” the country is climbing out of. And observed, “a fundamental change in thinking is sweeping through the business world: The concept that profits are not enough to keep organizations at the top of their industries. . .”

Meanwhile, in the competing PRWeek, there is a story about General Motors kicking off a “Vehicle Plant Tour” to “better engage its employees and their families. . .” The idea is to give its 40,000 remaining plant workers “direct access to the latest models.”

My dad worked for the General Motors plant in Bedford, IN until his retirement. When I was young, GM hosted an open house for employee families, and I looked forward to seeing where my dad worked. In those days in Bedford, GM was seen as a good corporate citizen, although that term had not yet been used. In the mid-60s, GM also had a travelling show that came to town, with specially designed trucks and displays called GM Futurama II. It was another way for employees and their families to connect with the company.

In the 40-plus years between then and now, the leaders of most organizations (not all) forgot about their employees and their families and the communities in which they operate. In recent years I have listened to executives complain that their employees and host communities don’t appreciate them nor the jobs they allow them to fill.

By choice, our company focuses on helping organizations prevent crises, and help them better manage those they cannot prevent. It never ceases to amaze me how well some companies and other organizations get through their disruptions, when they have “banked” goodwill with employees, suppliers, partners, community leaders, bankers and customers. At the same time, it never surprises me at how much harder it is to get past a business crisis when the organization has no existing goodwill with its key stakeholders.

The editor of PRNews concluded: “With trust in business at a low ebb, many organizations have realized that goodwill toward stakeholders and their communities is a concept whose time has come—it’s crucial in rebuilding trust and lifting reputations.”

I can only assume the editor that wrote that is too young to remember the “concept” once was the bedrock of good leadership.

By the way, congratulations to the CSR winners!

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