Monday, 6 February 2012

Dedicated to Service

Today the Queen has renewed her vow of service, "In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness." Sixty years since her accession to the throne, her message fits well with the current trend for austerity thinking, big society and a glance over the shoulder at a more responsible view of business.

On Radio 4's Thought for the Day on Friday, Lord Harries quoted the mission statement of what he referred to simply as 'an American company': "The business of business is serving society, not just making money. Profit is our reward for serving society well. Indeed, profit is a means and measure of our service—not an end in itself." What an astoundingly Good (with a capital G) and, well honestly, unlikely corporate motto.

After a bit of digging on Google, I'm not surprised that he was a little coy about who this 'American company' was. It was Dayton's, founded in 1902. In 1969 it merged with the J L Hudson Corporation to form the Dayton Hudson Corporation. In 2000 it took on the name of its discount retail arm, Target. So, the mission statement of Target now is: "To make Target the preferred shopping destination for our guests by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and an exceptional guest experience by consistently fulfilling our Expect More. Pay Less.® brand promise." 

Not so compelling. Not so memorable. Not so distinctive. And, OK, not so Good. But they do go on, "To support our mission, we are guided by our commitments to great value, the community, diversity and the environment." So not so bad either.

Some companies set up at the turn of the century by philanthropist businessmen do seem to have the potential for retaining a set of values that distinguish them from other, less great, companies. The over-quoted (and now hijacked by the likes of Nick Clegg) John Lewis Partnership's mission is actually spot on. It is so refreshing to see an organisation who maintains its value-led philosophy, "The John Lewis Partnership's seven principles define how we run our business. They are as relevant today as they were when they were set out by our founder, John Spedan Lewis, in our constitution."

The first of those principles is Purpose: "The Partnership's ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business. Because the Partnership is owned in trust for its members, they share the responsibilities of ownership as well as its rewards profit, knowledge and power."

In the current turmoil of bonuses, incentives and salaries maybe we should all dwell on the idea of finding happiness through service. And hold dear family, friendship and good neighbourliness.

In this age of transparency...

A new wave of 21st century companies is emerging. These 'vanguard companies', a term coined by Rosabeth M. Kanter in 2008 at the Harvard Business School,  'are market leaders that are able to change themselves and the world because they put values at the center of their enterprise.'

The importance of values driven philosophies can never be underestimated. Our recent work with companies on engaging their (brand) customers with their 'corporate story', the obligations they have to deliver reports on CSR and sustainability, developed unexpected outcomes - rather than sustainability being purely a duty, a dragging anchor, it can become THE catalyst for innovation. So brands from companies committed to a wider view of their place in the world, a real commitment to genuinely making the world a better place, can also be those brands that are at the bleeding edge of inventing the future.

At the core of every successful, engaging brand narrative are a few empirical requirements: purpose, transparency, innovation, authenticity and provenance. The work of innovating around sustainability objectives can deliver solutions that both deliver tangible improvements in working practices and supply chain as well as customer benefits in branded products. For example, it is easy to see how goals of lighter, faster, cleaner can be both brand and sustainability benefits.

In this era of transparency every brand, every organisation, must constantly seek permission to exist from their customers. The concept of sustainability needs to shift from the green agenda to the agenda of good business. Where every other conversation includes 'responsible capitalism' how can we not be looking more holistically at our brand strategy and creating the responsible brand?