Once, in graduate school, one of my professors wrote this on my friend’s paper – “Clearly, you have a clear problem with clarity.” The same can be said of many companies today – some are not operating transparently despite the clear call from consumers to do just that.
At our recent Inner Circle symposium, we discussed the pressing need for greater transparency and how several cultural macrotrends continue to point towards a future where transparency will be a corporate mandate.
Here’s a quick summary:
• In a recession, every purchase is scrutinized more carefully and people are looking to the government and companies to provide solutions for social issues. A triple bottom line is no longer a luxury.
• As environmental pressures continue to mount (resource scarcity, climate change, etc), companies who rely on these resources will be expected to have plans in place to minimize their impact – or else be seen as part of the problem.
• It’s easier to blame companies for social ills, so people are looking to companies to make it easier for all of us to make sustainable choices.
• Consumers are now also beginning to say to companies, “Hey, you gotta give something to get something.” Being a responsible citizen is an increasingly important part of the equation now.
For several years now, we’ve witnessed the explosive growth of word of mouth advertising, user-generated content and user reviews. These new consumer-based conversations have played a major role in increased transparency, and have largely replaced corporate PR and mainstream media as trusted sources of information.
You may already know about epinions.com, goodguide.com and consumerist.com. But here’s a new one – projectlabel.org. Like goodguide.com, it provides a ratings system for products, but unlike goodguide.com, these labels are voted on by real people instead of aggregated from multiple databases. That’s right – your consumers can now rate your products and your company on Social Nutrition Labels, featuring 11 different metrics. From health and nutrition to resource management, from worker safety to community impact, your rankings are now totally in the hands of the people. (Which makes the idea of educating those consumers even more important.)
The time when companies dictated messages and consumers swallowed them whole is long gone. The great age of openness is upon us, and your challenge is to tell your stories, no matter how imperfect they are, to people who will ultimately grade your efforts at the cash register.
One way to do this is to publish an annual corporate social responsibility report. It helps tell those stories in a meaningful way that you can still control a little. It helps set the stage for more openness and dialogue. And it shows your commitment to improving your common future. As you make plans for next year, is a social responsibility report in your budget?
Clearly, it’s a clear plan to achieve clarity.